The article below was originally published by the Chagrin Valley Times. Our thanks for permission to republish the article here.
Chagrin Valley Times
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
It may be the shortest 50-year agreement in history.
A little less than two weeks after the Geauga Park District Board of Commissioners approved a 50-year agreement with Middlefield Village for an extension of the Maple Highlands Trail, the board appears to be on the verge of rescinding the deal.
The board approved the 50-year agreement Sept. 20 for an extension of the Maple Highlands Trail south that included village-owned land. It included a provision that allowed snowmobile use.
Park Commissioner William Gertz, who was on the losing side of a 2-1 vote, voiced objections to the inclusion of snowmobiles on the trail, saying he had concerns about allowing the snowmobiles alongside the Amish horses and buggies. “Ever seen a horse and snowmobile?” he asked. “It’s no fun.”
Despite the board’s approval, Geauga County Probate Judge Timothy Grendell, who appoints park board members, asked in a Sept. 28 letter to park Director John Oros of the park board to modify the agreement.
“I believe the park board should modify its agreement concerning the South Maple Highlands Trail with Middlefield Village to preclude snowmobiling for the safety of the Amish community,” Judge Grendell wrote.
Judge Grendell wrote that misrepresentations by an anonymous village official led to the agreement that must now be rescinded.
“I understand that the original decision concerning snowmobiles on the South Maple Highlands Trail in Middlefield was based on prior representations by a Middlefield Village official that the path would not be used for Amish buggy travel during the winter,” he wrote.
Who may have given a false impression is a mystery to Middlefield officials.
“I don’t have any idea who said that,” Middlefield Village Manager Dan Weir said.
He said the village has a history of plowing the pathways specifically to allow safe passage for Amish traffic during the winter.
Village Council President Richard Seyer said he did not know who would make such representations. “I can’t imagine anybody saying that,” he said.
Judge Grendell wrote that he has spoken with Mr. Oros in the past about the use of snowmobiles in the park.
“As we have discussed, Amish horse and buggy use is not compatible with snowmobile use due to safety concerns,” he wrote. “Therefore, the park district should not permit snowmobiling on the South Maple Highlands Trail in deference to the Amish public safety concern.”
The judge, however, did acknowledge that he favors using Geauga County parks for snowmobiles when appropriate.
“While snowmobiling should be permitted, if properly managed, on an appropriate park property, the Amish use of the path for buggy travel provides the Amish with a safe route and that takes priority in this case.”
The park district did open Observatory Park in Montville Township to a trial run of snowmobile use there at the start of this year. Sampling of its impact was limited because of a lack of snowfall. Other trail users were prohibited from using the trails during the trial runs because of safety factors, Mr. Oros said.
NOTE: Protect Geauga Parks documented several violations of the snowmobile use regulations at Observatory Park in February and March of this year. Mr. Oros’ report to the Board about the trial use of snowmobiles failed to mention these violations and questions about them have remained unanswered.