The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 11, 2013

Ashtabula County Metroparks Board tells ATV group answer is still ‘no’ on trail

Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — Hit the trail.

That’s the message, both figurative and literal, that the Ashtabula County Metroparks Board gave to William Schlegel of ATV Traction, a group that wants the board to open the Pymatuning Greenway Trail to off-road motorized use.

Schlegel attended the board’s meeting Monday evening and told the board that it was “reckless and irresponsible” of the members to consider a levy when opening the trail to ATV riders would bring in far more money. Schlegel said each ATV rider would spend between $200 and $600 annually in the county if the trail were opened to them.

“Absolutely will not happen,” was Commissioner Terry Berkey’s response to Schlegel’s request.

At the center of the controversy is a 30-mile strip of land, an abandoned rail line, between Dorset and the state line, that the Metroparks purchased about a decade ago with Clean Ohio funds administered through the Ohio Public Works Commission. The grant agreement restricts the land to non-motorized use. The park board could convert the land to other use, but would have to pay a steep penalty, in the range of $750,000 to $1 million, according to sources.

The board has the option of asking the director of the OPWC to amend the agreement. Berkey said he spoke to an official in that office earlier Tuesday and learned that the director is solidly against that idea, a stance taken by the board, as well.

“We believe that (motorized use) is not the right usage,” Berkey said of the property, which is overgrown and has not been developed due to a lack of funding.

Berkey cited a number of reasons, in addition to the grant stipulations, for the board’s refusal to convert its use:

• The board does not have the money to hire law enforcement to police the trail. The cost of hiring a sheriff’s deputy, including a car, would be around $100,000 annually. Because of safety issues, the board does not want the responsibility of an un-policed trail.

• There are 149 properties along the trail, most of which are privately owned. Berkey pointed out that the properties would be exposed to unauthorized ATV use and the board would have no policing or enforcement power.

• The board lacks funding to maintain the trail. Berkey said the volunteers who maintain the Western Reserve Greenway Trail are between the ages of 62 and 80 and can’t take on another property.

“This is a job for them,” said Paul Carpenter of Grand River Trail Riders, a snowmobile club that has provided match money for Greenway Trail equipment, as well as volunteers to maintain the trail. “They spend 40 hours a week doing this.”

Schlegel said there are 25 members in the local chapter and the board could draw upon that resource for assistance.

• Developing the trail would be expensive, starting with an engineering study that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Berkey pointed out that the trail is in very poor condition and there are creeks and gorges over which bridges would have to be built. Each bridge would require engineering and construction money.

When Berkey asked Schlegel if he had ever actually walked the trail to see what kind of engineering challenges it presents, Schlegel admitted he had not.

“You are asking for a trail you haven’t even walked?” Carpenter asked.

• ATV riders who have been disrespectful to the Greenway property have given the sport a bad name. Berkey produced photographs of the damage to the Lampson Road parking lot as proof of the ongoing problem. Schlegel said he understands that responsible ATV riders face an uphill battle because of the bad image a small percentage of the riders have created, but promised cooperation from the club.

Berkey said the board would rather support the purchase of several hundred acres of land upon which ATV trails could be built. He and several others pointed out that riding the Pymatuning Greenway Trail would be boring and offer little in way of destinations.

Schlegel and his group also was criticized for not having presented a written plan for financing and maintaining the trail, as they were asked to do three years ago. Schlegel agreed to put something together, but Berkey said the issue will still come back to having the finances to ensure property policing and maintenance.

“My answer right now is ‘no,’” Berkey said.