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Published: Wednesday, 7/6/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Land purchase will add 11 miles to multiuse trail

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The trail would be for hiking and skating as well as bicycling. The trail would be for hiking and skating as well as bicycling.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

A proposed multiuse trail that would connect college campuses, parks, and existing trails is about to clear a major hurdle with the pending acquisition of an 11-mile former rail line from CSX Transportation Corp.

The consortium developing the Westside Rail Corridor is in final stages of the negotiations with CSX for the abandoned rail bed, which winds from Laskey Road south to River Road and across the Maumee River into Perrysburg Township.

The nearly $6.5 million purchase, which includes $1 million in levy money from consortium member Metroparks of the Toledo Area, is being negotiated by the national nonprofit Trust for Public Lands on the groups' behalf.

In addition to the metroparks, the University of Toledo, city of Toledo, Wood County Park District, Wood County Port Authority, and Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments are partners in the project, planning for which began in 2004 when the parties signed a memorandum of understanding.

Warren Henry, transportation director for the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, which is working with the trust on the trail purchase, said a closing date was recently moved from July to September.

Federal funding for the trail conversion was set aside in 2005. The $6,495,000 purchase price was reached through appraisals on the property.

"It has taken this long because we have been trying to reach an actual value on the corridor," Mr. Henry said.

The Westside Rail Corridor would follow along the path of what was the Toledo Terminal "Back Side" rail. Idled in 2000, the rail bed parallels parts of Douglas Road, Westwood Avenue, and South Detroit Avenue in Toledo and River Road in Perrysburg Township.

Mr. Henry said the land purchase would only secure the right of way for future development because no money is available now for construction of the bicycle and pedestrian trail.

"All we are trying to do at this point is preserve the rail line for public use. That is the primary objective," he said. "We have a willing buyer and a willing seller."

The corridor would connect at the east end of the University-Parks Trail on the University of Toledo campus and give users access to trails in Ottawa Park in West Toledo.

Plans also call for rebuilding the rail crossing on the Maumee River that parallels the Ohio Turnpike bridge to connect to the W.W. Knight Nature Preserve in Wood County.

"This really is the rails to trails network that forms the backbone connecting existing trails, parks, hospitals, schools, colleges, workplaces, and even stores and extends to form a regional system of trails that are being developed in the state," Mr. Henry said.

The rail bed conversion would be the first joint project for the Metroparks in Toledo and the Wood County Park District, which operates the 44-acre preserve in Perrysburg Township.

"We are looking at a regional network serving all the county residents," said Neil Munger, Wood County Park District director. "Whatever we can do to open up that corridor to public use would be fantastic."

Ultimately, the completed trail would provide a badly needed connector to the 64-mile Wabash Cannonball Trail and the North Coast Inland Trail, which runs from Millbury to the west side of Cleveland, making it the longest rails-to-trails project in the state.

Mr. Henry said recreation trails like the Wabash Cannonball and North Coast have been proved to enhance property values and marketing of homes.

"There is a quality of life issue," he said. "All across the county and even locally, rails to trails projects have been viewed as a definite benefit to communities. The term that keeps coming back is livability and encouraging healthy lifestyles."

The rails to trails, he said, also give people who choose to commute to school or work on foot or bicycle alternatives to streets and roads, opening up the opportunities to ease people from using vehicles.

Mr. Henry said trail systems also offer a location for underground utilities, an alternative to burying pipes, wiring, and lines under congested streets, disrupting traffic and neighborhoods.

TMACOG sent letters to residents who live in the vicinity of the former rail bed, informing them of the land purchase and the long-term trail development plans.

Heather Mitchell, a South Toledo resident who rides a bike to her job at a Sylvania bike shop, said the completed pedestrian path would cut her commute time to work while offering a safe route.

"It would make it easier to get to work without having to ride my bike on major roads," she said.

Mr. Henry said that if funds become available, the river crossing would be among the first issues to be tackled. The bridge is deteriorating and the concrete piers are being evaluated to determine whether they can be preserved, he said.

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6199.



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