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Published: Monday, 5/22/2006

Greenways plan aims for linkup of nature areas


Area residents today can learn more about a loosely defined, yet highly ambitious, effort to link northwest Ohio's recreational parks, wildlife corridors, historic sites, cultural centers, and education facilities together like an emerald necklace.

Through a variety of land acquisitions, conservation easements, bridge projects, and an expanded network of trails through rural and urban landscapes, the goal is to unite park districts, private property owners, and government entities with a master plan for more green space. The objective? To establish a light-recreation/outdoor theme throughout the region before more of the landscape gets chewed up by overdevelopment - aka urban sprawl.

The campaign, called the Northwest North-Central Ohio Greenways Initiative, formed in 2002 with the help of the National Park Service.

A community forum is set for 4 to 6 p.m. today at the Main Library in downtown Toledo to update area residents and let them offer ideas about how they'd like to see the effort evolve.

The concept is in various degrees of development in Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Columbus, and Indianapolis.

The strategy is to do away with piecemeal planning and a smattering of unconnected tracts. By creating linkages, the hope is that people will get more use of available green space and, as a result, become more involved in preserving what's left.

"Some of the decisions we're going to be making will not necessarily be implemented by us but by future generations," said Jim Speck, Toledo Area Metroparks planning and construction director.

Monty Meyer works on Maumee's Fallen Timbers Bridge, which will include a pedestrian walkway and bike path that could link Side Cut Metropark to other features in the area. Monty Meyer works on Maumee's Fallen Timbers Bridge, which will include a pedestrian walkway and bike path that could link Side Cut Metropark to other features in the area.

Several more meetings will likely follow anywhere from the vicinity of the Ohio-Indiana state line to the Lake Erie shoreline to central Ohio, he said.

"The objective is to help people understand this isn't necessarily a trail plan," Mr. Speck said.

The Toledo area park district has been pursuing land to the south and east of Toledo Express Airport, including prime real estate in the heart of the Oak Openings region - a sandy belt where oak savannas and tall prairie grasses once came together. It is the home of rare plants and animals, and is Ohio's most diverse ecosystem.

The western Lucas County green space corridor envisioned by the park district would be only one of many pieces of a big, regional greenways puzzle involving several counties.

"We need confirmation from the community we're on the right track," Mr. Speck said.

But the linkages aren't all necessarily paths through forests.

The Fallen Timbers Bridge at the edge of Maumee, for example, is being built with a pedestrian walkway and bike path that could be used to connect Side Cut Metropark to a large trail system throughout rural and urban areas of metropolitan Toledo, said Scott Carpenter, Metroparks spokesman.

Maumee River jogging-biking paths could even be enhanced near the I-280 bridge project in downtown Toledo to link the center of the city to other areas, Mr. Speck said.

Metroparks has been able to buy more land thanks to a 10-year levy voters approved in 2002. Its acquisitions have allowed area residents to have more viable ecosystems and fewer biological tracts of land with a museum-like quality, said John Jaeger, Metroparks natural resources director.

"The whole idea is connectivity," he said. "We don't want those places isolated from people. We're trying to get people out to appreciate them. It's a quality-of-life issue."

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.

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