The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 28, 2013

Snowmobile group wants to develop abandoned Ashtabula County rail line

Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — A former rail line that once connected Jefferson to Jamestown, Pa., is being eyed as a trail for snowmobiles and perhaps other off-road recreational vehicles.

Gary Hines, an Ashtabula resident and president of the Ohio State Snowmobile Association, recently met with Commissioner Daniel Claypool to discuss the possibility of developing the abandoned right-of-way for recreational use. Claypool said that at the time of the meeting, it was understood that the county owned a portion of the property. However, further research showed that the deed was not filed correctly and the section between Dorset and the state line is owned by Ashtabula County Metroparks.

Terry Berkey, a Metroparks board member, said the line was purchased years ago with Clean Ohio grant money. Metroparks dubbed it the Pymatuning Valley Greenway Trail, but the organization has lacked the funds to develop and police the property.

“It’s abandoned,” Berkey said. “It is basically just sitting there, growing up brush.”

Claypool said the section between Jefferson and Dorset is still being researched, but it appears there are private owners involved.

“We’re trying to identify all the property owners,” Claypool said. “We want to see if they will work with (the snowmobile association).”

Both Claypool and Hines said that developing a trail would boost tourism, especially if the Pennsylvania part of the line also is converted to recreational use. And Hines said connecting the trail to the existing Western Reserve Greenway Trail and, eventually to the Lodge and Conference Center, would be of even greater benefit to tourism.

There is a dearth of public snowmobile trails in the county, Hines said. The 20 miles of the WRGT open to snowmobiles are the longest single public trail. Shorter trails are in the state parks. Members of the Grand River Trail Riders are interested in volunteering their labor to improve the former rail corridor for snowmobile use.

“We’d like to get it drained and the overgrowth cut back,” Hines said. He said the club would like to keep the trail primitive rather than pave it.

That’s fine with Berkey, who personally favors development of the trail for hiking and snowmobile use. He said a problem arises when ATV users also want to use the trail. Clean Ohio Funds come with a restriction on motorized vehicle use, with the exception of snowmobiles. If the trail were opened for ATV use, the Metroparks would have to repay the state, plus interest, the money the board received to buy the line. Berkey guesses it would cost $1 to $2 million to do that.

He feels that it would make more sense for the Metroparks Board to acquire several hundred acres that could be developed just for ATV use. Problem is, the board’s annual funding is below $20,000, so there is absolutely no funds for acquiring land, let alone developing and policing properties it already owns.

Claypool is scheduled to meet with the Metroparks Board in May. Hines said there have been discussions with the trustees of affected townships and their response has been positive. Economic opportunities in communities like Dorset and Andover would include gasoline and food sales, as well as hospitality establishments.

Hines said Ohio as a whole is losing snowmobilers’ dollars to Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where private landowners are more willing to open their properties to the outdoor enthusiasts. He said the cooperation of private landowners in Ashtabula County would be essential to linking the Pymatuning Valley Greenway to existing public trails. One big advantage of the Pymatuning Valley Greenway is that it passes through the Pymatuning State Park.

According to an article written by Paul Stumpff and published on the website, the rail line under consideration was once part of the New York Central’s Franklin Division. Both passenger and freight once moved on the  line, most of which was abandoned in 1962. A portion remains in operation from Carson Yard to Jefferson by the Ashtabula, Carson & Jefferson Railroad. Conrail abandoned most of the trackage from Dorset in 1988, leaving just a short spur from Dorset Junction to just shy of Route 193.

The freight and passenger depots from Andover are at the Ashtabula Antique Engine Club in Wayne Township, which is along the low grade of the former line.