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Suburbs will one day link future to bike trails and greenways

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/19/09 @ 3:36pm

"The Lake to Lake trail hits all of our issues ? conservation of important natural areas, recreation and outdoor education," explains Cleveland Metroparks Senior Planner, Jim Kastellic, who helped usher the 2.4 mile all-purpose trail in to the Big Creek Reservation this year.

The woodland trail is bookended by duck-and-heron-filled Lake Isaac and the panoramic but marshy Lake Abram, a tributary of the Rocky River, to the north. Linking the two is a ten-foot wide asphalt trail that winds through woodlands, behind residential areas, tunnels under a CSX freight line, and connects to businesses such as the Polaris Vocational Center, where a trail spur connects the students to a covered boardwalk with a view of a huge wetland area.

"This is Cuyahoga County's most significant wetland complex," Kastellic explains. Only chance ? it was too wet to be developed ? saved it from being filled in.

"This area used to be known as Podunk Swamp. In the 1830s, the land was drained and The Ohio and Erie Canal led to a boom for the celery and onion farms established here. After The War, the Interstate highway system was built here and the farms dried up. The land around Engel Road was sold off for industrial property."

The creation of a green corridor that links the busy Bagley Road and quiet residential areas was years in the making. When Hopkins Airport expanded its runway in 2000, it required part of nearby Abram Creek to be rerouted into a pipe, and for 87 acres of wetlands to be filled in. The EPA required the airport to set aside millions of dollars for environmental mitigation in the same watershed. The Metroparks used some of these runway expansion funds to acquire land between the two lakes because of the existing wetlands. It paid for a significant portion of the $4.7 million project including the expensive work of building a tunnel under the rail line (another $400,000 came from the state's Clean Ohio Trails fund and $140,000 came from the state's NatureWorks fund to build a nature trail around Lake Abram).

The massive area of wetlands today serve an important ecological function by cleaning water running off Bagley Road and from a massive parking lot at Middleburg Town Center and nearby development. Also, the Lake to Lake trail connects with the existing 7.6 mile Big Creek Trail and 9.6 mile Mill Stream Run.

The participation of the city of Middleburg Heights-which wants to explore links between other parts of the city and the trail-also helped raise the priority of the project, Kastellic says.

Cooperation between cities and acceptance in the community are crucial, but often lacking in suburban communities where bike trails are not always welcomed with open arms.

"We proposed connecting Big Creek to West Creek along a utility corridor in Parma, and I've never seen so much venom come out against a trail," Kastellic recalls the public meeting where the idea was quashed. In recent years, fear tactics were also used to torpedo a bike trail in Pepper Pike and Moreland Hills.

On the brighter side is a joint proposal from Brecksville, North Royalton and Broadview Heights to extend the Big Creek Parkway and Trail for 6 miles south. The three cities won a NOACA Transportation for Livable Communities Initiative grant to study trail alignment along Valley Parkway. And the Metroparks is discussing trail connections with Brooklyn Heights, Seven Hills and Independence.

The 2.4 mile Lake-to-Lake Trail brings a total of 85 miles of multi-purpose trail under Metroparks management (that doesn't include bridal and hiking trails. It also added 310 acres of land under their ownership or permanent easement). The Metroparks is interested in 'greening' their trail materials-all trails are asphalt now because they're easy to snowplow. It recently installed test areas of the West Creek Trail in permeable concrete and a new product, Sta-lok, an aggregate of sand and polymers.

The importance of the Lake-to-Lake trail is, big picture, it provides a connection-both to nature and in a limited sense from place to place ? for residents of this area. It provides a refuge from the brutal and monotonous landscape we built in the 1950s and '60s to serve the car and shopping mall owners. History is not destiny. We need to build a case why Parma and Brookpark and Middleburg shouldn't fear bike trails. The most attractive cities are clamoring for bike trails and surrounding greenways because they recognize their existence depends on attracting new residents, families with kids, for example, who really do want these great features.

To see a photo gallery of the Lake to Lake Trail, click here.

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