Council voted unanimously Tuesday to allow the city to apply for the ODOT grant for property that Norwalk purchased from Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway in the late 1990s. The first phase would go about two miles north of Veterans Memorial Lake Park and end behind Bishman Park across from the Ernsthausen Community Center.
“Research for the multi-use path was the focus of a recent Huron County Project Leadership group and plans for the path appear in the city park plan clear back to 1997,” Norwalk Safety-service Director Dan Wendt said.
“In terms of safety, the path will allow residents to traverse the north-south length of the city while only crossing four streets. The project will include traffic control such as cross walks, signage, fencing and bollards. Historically, selection committees have favored applications which emphasize connectivity, so we are hopeful.”
Construction for the paved, multi-use trail would start in 2021. If Norwalk is awarded the grant, the money would come from the capital improvement fund that same year.
Fruen Street resident Scott Ford told council it’s “a golden opportunity to pursue.” By connecting the recreation center to the reservoir and creating the trail, he said he believes people would use it every day and would cut down on young people walking on a more dangerous path, the U.S. 250 corridor.
“Right now it’s a trail of trash,” said Ford, citing the weeds, dirt, railroad spikes, trash and possible drug paraphernalia in the railroad bed. “It gets more each day. … If you’ve been down there, you know what I’m talking about.”
In its present condition, Ford said the area is an “eyesore” and “it’s not a good idea for kids to be there.”
Norwalk Public Works Director Josh Snyder discussed the ODOT grant with council in late March. He has said it’s an 80-20 grant with an additional 15 percent coming from the toll revenue credit (aka turnpike funds), so Norwalk’s contribution would be $150,000 on the $1.1 million project.
Joe Missler, secretary for the Firelands Rails to Trails Inc. board of trustees, also is in favor of Norwalk applying for the grant. He said the trail would be a great investment and “a real asset to the community,” which would provide opportunities for fresh air, exercise and improve nearby property values.
Vince Thompson, of Christie Avenue, who ran for council in November, said creating the trail would be the first step in connecting the southern part of Huron County to the northern end.
In addition to connecting the reservoir with Ernsthausen and Bishman Park on each end and various neighborhoods, Wendt said the trail also would link various businesses and areas of the city. Those locations include: the Huron County administrative offices (board of commissioners, health department and board of elections); Norwalk Industrial Parkway; Borgers Ohio; New Horizons Bakery Co.; Lefty Grove Baseball Park; Alex Waite Memorial Trail; North Coast Inland Trail; U.S. Bike Route 65; U.S. Bike Route 30; Great Blue Heron Disc golf course; Whitney Field; Perkins Family Skate Park; and the Norwalk Area Friends of Youth Sports athletic fields.
City hall had received nearly a dozen letters in which businesses and organizations recommended applying for the ODOT grant.