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Making connections between existing disparate trails is a big part of Portage Parks 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 would be extending The Franklin Connector Trail to a future trail that would follow either Tinkers Creek or the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad easement north to Tinkers Creek State Park and Aurora, she said. "The vision is to connect Aurora, Streetsboro and Kent and have a trail along the west end of the county," said Craycroft. "It's still an active 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 would do is explore and research every opportunity that we can to participate in any program or venture that would benefit Portage Parks and the city of Streetsboro and possibly the surrounding communities," said Broska. "We did have a preliminary discussion with the railroad."
Craycroft also said she hopes someday to connect the Headwaters Trail in Mantua to the 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 would certainly be interested in potentially working with the Parks District on the extension of a trail through Aurora," she said.
She said she was unaware of the possibility of a trail along the Tinkers Creek corridor, but said she'd be happy to discuss any opportunities for collaboration with the Portage Parks District, whether they're trail projects or other initiatives.
Craycroft said both of those trail projects are possibilities, but they're only realistic if the Portage Parks 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 a year, has a .5-mill, 10-year operating levy on the May 6 ballot that would bring in an estimated $1.63 million annually and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $17.50 a year, according to Craycroft.
In addition to more aggressively exploring trail expansion, Craycroft said the additional money would provide help provide staffing (the Portage 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, due to lack of funding," she said.
In all, Portage Park District owns 1,300 acres of parkland and maintains 14 miles of hike and bike trails, but more than 800 acres are closed to the public, due to a lack of funding, according to an online flier at http://portageparkdistrict.org/citizens-for-portage-parks/.
With its annual budget of $99,500, Craycroft said the Portage Park District has to turn away many grants that require local contribution. Being able to provide local shares of grants would enable the Portage Park District help improve the park system.
In addition to the trails expanding the Headwaters Trail and tying Kent, Streetsboro and potentially Aurora or Twinsburg together, Craycroft said the Portage Park District also is planning trails elsewhere in the county.
Around Kent, the Portage Park District envisions connecting the Franklin Connector trail 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 State Park, Mogadore Reservoir, Kent/Cooperrider Bog and the PORTAGE Hike and Bike Trail.
FB: The Gateway News/Bob Gaetjens