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Published: Tuesday, 4/15/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Willard gets $50,000 to open park for train watchers

Grant from state helps offset $130,000 cost

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WILLARD, Ohio — Ohio’s freshly adopted 2015-16 capital budget includes $50,000 for a train-watchers’ park that city officials hope will kick-start an effort to raise money for the rest of the project’s estimated $130,000 cost.

“We feel pretty confident we’ll be able to raise the money,” city manager Brian Humphress said Monday, noting that Willard used a similar strategy for soccer fields it built recently.

The park would be modeled after a similar facility that opened last fall 40 miles to the west in Fostoria, though it would not be nearly as big or expensive.

Both Willard, in southern Huron County, and Fostoria, at the junction of Wood, Hancock, and Seneca counties, are astride CSX Transportation’s busy former Baltimore & Ohio main line between Chicago and the East Coast. Both communities have attracted railroad buffs to watch and photograph the train activity.

Willard does not have two major main lines intersecting the former B&O track the way Fostoria does, but it is home to a major train switching yard and a junction with a branch line operated by the Ashland Railway. It was called Chicago Junction before it adopted the name of Daniel Willard, a 19th-century B&O president.

In a letter to state Sen. Gayle Manning (R., North Ridgeville), who sponsored the project’s funding in the capital budget, Mr. Humphress estimated the park could draw 15,000 to 25,000 visitors annually. Its proposed location near Second and Motson streets would put them within a five-minute walk — or one-minute drive — of Willard’s downtown shops and restaurants, he wrote.

“This project is good for local jobs and good for the long term health of our region’s tourism industry,” Ms. Manning said in an emailed statement Monday.

While Mr. Humphress said that some of those train-watchers probably already visit Willard, having the park will provide a safer place for them to pursue their hobby. Some now linger on the State Rt. 99 overpass east of town “and they can’t really stay there,” he said, while others trespass on CSX property.

The park’s $130,000 budget is based on $50,000 for a raised wooden platform, $40,000 for a restroom, and $20,000 for fences, signs, and historical exhibits, plus a $20,000 endowment for major maintenance.

It includes no money for land acquisition, Mr. Humphress said, because CSX owns the roughly half-an-acre site, and the railroad has indicated a willingness to donate it to the city.

A CSX spokesman did not respond to a message Monday seeking comment.

City officials expect park visitors to park on Second Street, which now dead-ends at the tracks, or other nearby streets, he said.

Land acquisition, site preparation, and construction of a driveway and parking lot were major elements of Fostoria’s train-watching park, built on an old pork-packing plant site. Opened in mid-November, its construction cost $1.1 million in mostly state funds.

Mr. Humphress said city officials hope to draft formal plans and raise Willard’s planned $80,000 share in time for the facility’s construction to start about a year from now.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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