Whitehall officials are collaborating with the cities of Columbus and Gahanna to plan the extension of a multiuse path along Big Walnut Creek.

City leaders are seeking public input on placement of a potential new section of the Big Walnut Trail at an open house set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, at Whitehall City Hall, 360 S. Yearling Road.

Beginning last fall, Columbus, Gahanna and Whitehall began working with staff from Columbus-based OHM Advisors to create an alignment study to build a new section of the Big Walnut Trail, extending about 4.5 miles south from Price Road in Gahanna, through Whitehall to Big Walnut Park in Columbus.

The Big Walnut Trail is the easternmost north-south component of the Central Ohio Greenways trail system, said Whitehall recreation and parks Director Shannon Sorrell.

The trail runs intermittently from the Delaware County line in Westerville south to the Three Creeks Metro Park area, punctuated by large gaps on the east and northeast sides of Columbus and in Westerville in addition to Whitehall.

While the trail system has for decades been identified as an essential part of Central Ohio Greenways, "trail placement through Whitehall was literally a blank map," Sorrell said.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission created Central Ohio Greenways in 2015, Sorrell said, to increase the number of people using central Ohio's trails systems.

Its other trails include the popular Olentangy Trail, which runs from Worthington Hills to downtown Columbus; and the Alum Creek Trail, which also extends from Westerville to Three Creeks, but via the Bexley area and Easton.

Use of the Alum Creek Trail has increased 40 percent since connections were completed from 2014-15, Shannon said, "and it is estimated that a completed Big Walnut Trail would be similarly used."

Extending the Big Walnut Trail would meet MORPC's goal of increasing walkable neighborhoods, providing alternate transportation and improving quality of life, Shannon said.

The purpose of the open house, Shannon said, is to discuss ideas for the trail's location between Gahanna and Big Walnut Park, especially where it may pass through Whitehall.

The study, commissioned by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, cost $20,000, said Brad Westall, planning manager for the department.

"(Columbus, Gahanna and Whitehall) are looking at how we can develop a regional trail together," Westall said.

"For the last few months, we have been looking at what is feasible and where (the trail) can be placed to make it most accessible," he said.

The open house is meant to gather information that will be included in final recommendations for trail alignment, which OHM Advisors is expected to present to all three cities by the end of April, Westall said.

Jeff Barr, director of Gahanna's parks and recreation department, said extending the trail between Price Road and Big Walnut Park will provide residents from throughout central Ohio greater recreational opportunities.

"Development of this trail goes even beyond recreation by providing alternate sources of transportation," Barr said. "We are all supporting each other in our collaborative effort to get it done."

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo

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