A historic agreement between Ashtabula County Metroparks and the City of Ashtabula caps the first phase of a process that could extend the Western Reserve Greenway Trail to Ashtabula Harbor and Lake Erie. Metroparks has completed a multi-year planning and acquisition grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to secure the now updated trail route.
A map of the 4.2-mile project shows a main route and an alternate route for the new bike corridor. The primary course under development will lead bicyclists north on West Avenue and then cross over to Michigan Avenue before following a gradual decline along West 8th Street to Goodwill Drive to Bridge Street. The route then climbs the scenic staircase at the Harbor with a proposed bicycle trough to wheel bicycles up the steep hill to Walnut Boulevard and Point Park and the Maritime Museum overlooking Ashtabula Harbor.
The primary trail route concludes at Walnut Beach and Lake Erie. A scenic route is now included, linking the conclusion of the current trail to a scenic route along Lake Erie and Walnut Boulevard to Norwood Road. Both portions of the trail will utilize public roads for the vast majority of its mileage.
“The final trail route provides a more gradual, less congested descent to the Harbor,” said Ashtabula County Metroparks’ Executive Director Larry Frimerman, who completed the final negotiations and grant process.
“We are grateful for our partnerships with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, City of Ashtabula, Civic Development Corporation (CDC) and local property owners,” he said.
An alternate route will be developed in the future and use the Ashtabula Gulf as both a bypass and loop, according to the CDC. Connections will be made to and out of the gulf through Main Avenue to Cederquist Park and Mary Street Hill (East 24th Street) to Lake Road.
A Clean Ohio Trail Fund grant paid 75 percent of the cost of easement acquisition. The CDC paid the local portion (25 percent) out of the 2010 Campaign grant given to the Ashtabula County Metroparks.
The total North Shore Trail project was originally estimated to cost about $2.2 million, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
However, changes in route and elimination of now unneeded trailhead and off-road trail development will likely shave over $500,000 from the project course, Frimerman said.
City Manager Jim Timonere said he’s excited to see the North Shore Tail extended to the Harbor District and the recently signed a memorandum with Ashtabula County Metroparks and the city spells out responsibilities for each entity, such as construction and maintenance for the portion of the trail in the city of Ashtabula.
“This has been a long time coming and quite a few people have worked tirelessly on this project,” he said.
Once the Western Reserve Greenway is fully developed, it will tie into a nationwide network of hiking and biking trails, according to the Metroparks website.
Greenway: A testament to dedication
The Ashtabula County Metroparks’ Western Reserve Greenway, like its northern extension, took more than 20 years of dedication and perseverance. The Western Reserve Greenway, also known as the Trail or the Greenway, is the former PennCentral right-of-way which was closed in April 1976. The right-of-way, which served industry, is now serving the recreational needs of Ashtabula County, and remains an important part of the community.
The Ashtabula County MetroParks secured a 15-year lease agreement from the property owner, the state of Ohio. The lease, signed by Gov. George Voinovich in May 1997, and recorded in the Ashtabula County courts authorized construction of the Western Reserve Greenway on the Ashtabula portion of the former roadbed.
The Western Reserve Greenway is 43 miles long, 27 miles of which are in Ashtabula County. The trail begins next to West Avenue, across from the former Ohio Department of Transportation garage, in the city and then south below Orwell. From there, the trail goes to Champion, just north of Warren.
“The Western Reserve Greenway will serve to anchor future trails traversing the county and connecting many of the county’s scenic, historic and natural destinations like metroparks, covered bridges, Lake Erie and area businesses,” Frimerman said. “This will help to provide additional amenities for county residents and tourists alike.”
These trails are a testament to the vision and perseverance of 30 year Ashtabula County Metroparks Board Member Charlie Kohli.
The many trail volunteers call Kohli, “the father of the Greenway Trail,” because he was the first to start investigating the trail concept for Ashtabula County in 1989.
“I was at work, in the break room, when I saw a Reader’s Digest article on Rails to Trails,” Kohli said. “I contacted the Rails to Trails organization, from that they talked to us about a trail from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.”
He never imagined it would be such a long process. He gave credit for the success to the efforts of the volunteers.
The trail got started after money was awarded to the Ashtabula County MetroParks by the Civic Development Corporation of Ashtabula (CDC) and the Ashtabula Foundation.
Among other things, it allowed the group to hire Kevin Grippi as Greenway Project Administrator for the development of the Western Reserve Greenway in Ashtabula County. Early in 1999, they were awarded a grant which, with matching money, totaled nearly $1.3 million for trail construction. “That job was by far the most meaningful and rewarding work I have ever done,” Grippi said.
Koski Construction was awarded the paving contract in early November 2001 for the trail’s first phase of construction. The formal opening ceremony for the Western Reserve Greenway was held July 15, 2002.
Because the trail construction is federally funded, motorized vehicles are prohibited except for motorized wheelchairs and maintenance vehicles.
Snowmobiles are allowed on the trail when winter weather conditions permit. Funding was contingent on the trail being usable year-round, and Ashtabula County is known for snow.
Partnership with the Illuminating Company (First Energy) resulted in clearing overgrowth from the Greenway between South Woodman Avenue and West Avenue in the spring of 2000. Besides giving the local residents an early opportunity to use the trail, it also benefit the city by providing installation of a 35,000-volt feeder line for residents.
Income from state road taxes was used to pave the new staging area at the Austinburg Road Extension. The new road and parking lot were completed in early 2000. The trail in Austinburg on Route 307 near the U.S. Post Office also is paved.
More recent improvements include the parking lot on Woodman Avenue where the trail crosses the street. The land was donated by the Herzog family, and the local Rotary Club funded the improvement, which was finished in 2003.
Not long after, a restored 1897 King Bridge was installed at the Clay Street crossing. The bridge, built with steel from one of Andrew Carnegie’s steel mills, is the only steel bridge the King family knows of that has been restored and put to use instead of being scrapped.
In 2008, a 5.6-mile section in Orwell and Rome townships was paved and a tunnel under Route 84 in Ashtabula Township was constructed. The 208-foot tunnel replaced the hazardous crossing at the intersection of Route 84, near Hide-A-Way Lakes campground.
Koski Construction did the work, which totaled $1.3 million.
The major portion of the funding, $728,000, came from a line item that the late Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Concord, placed in federal highway legislation.
A Transportation Enhancement Grant from ODOT was the second funding source. The grant required a 20-percent match, which came from the Clean Ohio Trail Fund.
The Trail Fund grant had a 25-percent local share requirement, which worked out to $30,000. That portion was funded by the Ashtabula Civic Development Corporation.
The Penn Central Right of Way is one of many now abandoned rail corridors throughout the nation, but Ashtabula still has a significant amount of commercial and industrial rail usage.
The romance of the railroad continues today in Ashtabula County, Timonere said.
Hundreds of people traveled to Ashtabula to see a historic steam locomotive in July 2015.
Nickel Plate Road 765, a 1944 steam locomotive, took passengers on round-trip excursions in from Youngstown to Ashtabula as part of Norfolk Southern’s 21st Century Steam Program. Norfolk Southern Corporation and the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society worked together for the event.
Most major railroads stopped regular use of steam locomotives on trains by the early 1960s, according to the Railroad Historical Society.
Even so, area residents had a great time when the steam locomotive was in town, traveling to downtown Ashtabula and several railroad crossing along the way to see it, Timonere said.
“We would welcome them back again,” he said. “As of now, we have not heard if we will make the schedule.”