Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks plans to begin work this year on a mile-long section of the Olentangy Trail in Delaware County.
Meanwhile, the Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks is working to extend the trail in Franklin County this year to Clubview Boulevard South.
But no plans exist to connect the two parts, which might include a controversial route through the hamlet of Mount Air.
The Olentangy Trail now ends at Worthington Hills Park along the Olentangy River north of Interstate 270; the trailhead is not far from Clubview Boulevard South.
The purpose of Columbus’ part of the project, according to columbus.gov, is to provide the “missing link” from the trail to the Worthington Hills neighborhood on the west side of state Route 315.
Metro Parks has said its ultimate plan is to extend the trail north along Olentangy River Road into Mount Air and then into Delaware County, connecting the River Bluff area of Highbanks Metro Park to the Big Meadows area of the park on the east side of the river.
The Metro Parks board on March 12 approved a $202,000 contract with Korda/Nemeth Engineering of Columbus for design work that might include a new bridge over the Olentangy River. The entire project is expected to cost about $1.5 million, said Tim Moloney, Metro Parks executive director.
Most of the new trail will be along Olentangy River Road west of the river and through the Delaware County sewer-treatment-plant property.
“It’s a challenging site,” Moloney said.
But he said the new trail section would give visitors a different perspective of the river and the 50- to 75-foot-tall cliffs along its banks.
He said officials also have to decide whether to build a new bridge across the Olentangy or dismantle and move the old Orange Road bridge, an iron structure that Delaware County still owns.
The bridge at Route 315 and Orange Road, now more than 120 years old, closed to traffic in 2007 and was replaced with a new bridge two years later. Various plans have been proposed over the years to preserve the span, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but none of them have gained traction.
The Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks expects to begin work to extend its section of the trail in June, with completion by late fall at a cost of $475,000.
But Moloney said there are no immediate plans to connect the two new sections.
Four years ago, Metro Parks came up with three possible routes, including one through Mount Air, but right of way and other issues are complicating the project.
“There’s no clear way to get there,” said Steve Studenmund, Metro Parks’ strategic-planning and land-acquisition manager.
Mount Air resident Robert Knepper has long opposed the proposed route through his neighborhood and said he’d rather see the route run along the east side of the river.
Knepper said there’s no space for the trail along Olentangy River Road on the river’s west edge.
“That’s always been an issue,” Knepper said. “Again, they’ve talked about following the road before. The houses are very close to the road.”