This article appeared in the July 21 edition of the Geauga County MapleLeaf. Our thanks to the MapleLeaf for permission to republish the article here.
JULY 21, 2016 BY DIANE RYDER
The Geauga Park District’s plans to pave a portion of the Maple Highlands Trail through Middlefield Village met with opposition at the July 14 Middlefield Village Council meeting.
A trio from the Geauga Horseman’s Council teamed with local Amish to raise their concerns.
“We want to thank you for making the Maple Highlands Trail available for horseback riding,” Bainbridge Township resident Kathryn Sickling told council.
She said more than 100 horse riders from the county use the trail and her group regularly rides from Headwaters Park into Middlefield to have lunch at Mary Yoder’s or visit some of the other businesses.
“We do a lot of riding and we don’t want to lose that ability,” she said, as Claridon Township resident Sue Mulhall displayed a composite of photos of horses and riders using the trail.
Sickling asked whether council could delay passing a memorandum of understanding with the park district to authorize infrastructure improvements (asphalt paving) of the trail, which would make it easier for bicycle riders and walkers to use, but next to impossible for horses, including Amish buggies.
The resolution, 16-11, was on the agenda for its first of three readings Thursday.
“It’s there any way you can hold off until you hear more from the riding community?” Sickling asked.
Local Amish resident Sam Miller said the trail is commonly used by buggies to avoid traffic on the major roads.
“We didn’t know the park was planning this,” Miller said. “We don’t like to see that because the horses and buggies use it a lot. We would appreciate you saving it. We hope we don’t lose it altogether.”
Horse trainer Elmer Byler, who is also Amish, said he uses the Maple Highlands Trail frequently to train horses for pulling buggies.
“We can use green horses and not worry about traffic. We will lose a lot if we lose that trail,” Byler said.
Sickling proposed paving one side of the trail, but councilman Rick Seyer said that would mean the trail would need widened to accommodate both bike riders and horses.
“This will have to be addressed by the park board,” Seyer said. “The area drops off significantly in one area, and is wet and impassable for bike riders. That’s our problem area.”
Seyer said the village has applied for grants to add more buggy lanes to busy state routes 608, 528, and Burton-Windsor Road. He told the group the majority of council members have expressed support for paving the trail.
Councilman Carl Hornung asked Sickling if her group has approached the park district with their concerns.
“Not yet,” she replied. She again asked council and the park district to delay making any decisions until her group can compile a list of people who use the trail with their horses.
Seyer said council was likely to hear the resolution’s first reading at that meeting, but would not waive the other two required readings, so the issue will not come to a vote for at least a month.
“But my personal opinion is (it will pass). The park district wants it,” Seyer said.
Village Solicitor Tom Lee told the group that the park district will be making any final decisions.
“That’s where you need to go,” Lee said.
“It’s there any way you could work with your Amish community to make this work for both buggies and bikers?” Sickling asked.
Lee said paving will make it necessary to prohibit horses using the trail, unless the asphalt would be several inches thick because horses’ hooves would tear up the material.
Thicker paving would be too expensive, he added.
Seyer said the trail originated as a utility easement.
“The park district came to us for a bicycle lane, too,” Seyer said.
“I’m sorry we can’t give you a better answer, but you will have an opportunity during the next 30 days to marshal your troops,” he told the group.
“We recommend you (present your case) to the park district,” said councilman Scott Klein. “Two hundred horses may use the trail, versus 500 bicycles. It’s a numbers game.”
Council unanimously approved the first reading of the resolution.