by BOB GAETJENS | GATEWAY NEWS EDITOR
Making connections between existing trails is a big part of Portage Park District Executive Director Christine Craycroft's vision for the northwest portion of Portage County, including Aurora, Streetsboro and Kent.
One trail expansion that would involve all three cities is extending the Franklin Connector from Kent northward along Tinkers Creek or the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway easement to Tinkers Creek State Park and Aurora.
"The vision is to connect Aurora, Streetsboro and Kent and have a trail along the west side of the county," said Craycroft. "It's still an active [railroad] corridor."
Streetsboro Mayor Glenn Broska said he'd be happy to help make that vision a reality, adding there's a possibility of connecting to Liberty Park in Twinsburg as well.
"What we'd do is explore and research every opportunity we can to participate in any program or venture that would benefit Portage parks and Streetsboro, and possibly surrounding communities," said Broska.
Craycroft also said she hopes to connect the Headwaters Trail in Mantua to Chagrin River Headwaters Park, Sunny Lake Park in Aurora and the Aurora branch of the Chagrin River.
Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said she, too, would be willing to explore the possibility of trail expansions.
"We'd certainly be interested in potentially working with the park district on the extension of a trail through Aurora," she said.
Craycroft said both of those trail projects are possibilities, but they're only realistic if the Portage Park District is able to increase its budget.
"Long-term, we'd like to expand [the Headwaters Trail] to Solon, but we're not able to do it with our current budget," she said.
The Portage Park District, which operates on $99,500 per year, has a 0.5-mill, 10-year operating levy (Issue 10) on the May 6 ballot that would bring in an estimated $1.63 million annually. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $17.50 per year in property taxes, according to Craycroft.
IN ADDITION to more aggressively exploring trail expansion, Craycroft said the additional money would help provide staffing -- the park district employs two currently -- improve programming, and develop and open to the public four existing parks: Chagrin Headwaters Reserve, 95 acres in Mantua; Breakneck Creek Reserve, 63 acres in Ravenna Township; Morgan Preserve, 504 acres in Shalersville; and Walter Preserve, 80 acres in Palmyra Township.
"We're going to develop parks that are closed because of lack of funding," she said.
The Portage Park District owns 1,300 acres and maintains 14 miles of hike and bike trails, but more than 800 acres are closed to the public because of lack of funding.
Because its current budget is not enough to provide matching funds, Craycroft said the district has to turn away many grants that require local contributions.
In addition to expanding the Headwaters Trail and tying Kent, Streetsboro and possibly Aurora or Twinsburg together, Craycroft said the Portage Park District also is planning trails elsewhere.
Around Kent, the district envisions connecting the Franklin Connector to the Portage Hike and Bike Trail, connecting Ravenna to the Summit County Hike and Bike Trail, which heads into Stow and eventually Boston Heights.
In the southern portion of the county, a trail running north from Wingfoot Lake State Park through Brimfield to Kent is being studied by the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study.
The study will contemplate connecting neighborhoods, schools, shopping areas and various parks, including Wingfoot Lake, Mogadore Reservoir, Cooperrider Bog and the Portage Hike and Bike Trail.
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