Trail advocates keeping Powell, Liberty Township residents connected

JIM FISCHER
editorial@thisweeknews.com
A cyclist makes a loop around the northern end of the Olentangy Trail at Worthington Hills Park last year. One goal of the five-year-old Olentangy Powell and Liberty Trails group is to connect the city and township trail systems to the Olentangy Trail.

Advocating for a formalized and expanded trail system can be a long and winding road.

In its five-plus years, however, Olentangy Powell and Liberty Trails, chartered in 2014 as an advisory committee by Liberty Township trustees, has had more than its fair share of success in assuring that area residents have access to usable, off-road pathways for walking, running and cycling.

The group's charge, chairman Les Wibberley said, requires keeping abreast of and working with various governmental entities, including Liberty Township, the city of Powell, Delaware County, Olentangy Schools and the Ohio Department of Transportation, as well as parks and natural-resources agencies and developers.

OPAL, as the group is called, advocates both for the inclusion of trails within new developments and works to provide connectors between these often-disconnected projects, Wibberley said.

"It's a lot of coordination and collaboration," he said. "We work to try and get segments of trails in place at developers' expense and then seek funding to complete and connect them."

For example, at the Aug. 20 OPAL meeting, members heard an update from Wibberley and Liberty Township administrator Mike Schuiling on a Jewett Road connector trail that would extend east along Jewett, through a residential development and, ultimately, connect to the Olentangy Trail in Worthington Hills, which offers both regional and statewide trail access.

Schuiling said he has been in contact with the department of natural resources regarding funding and with CSX regarding railway crossings.

Wibberley also reported on piecemeal progress of the Home Road Library trail, which would offer access to the future Delaware County District Library location at Home and Steitz roads, on which construction is set to begin later this year, according to library officials.

Wibberley said there has been a pause in a request for funding from the state through Sen. Andrew Brenner's office, but said he was told by Brenner that he expects the grant to be approved once the state budget process resumes.

"We have had a lot of residents contact us, interested in this trail," Wibberley said, adding it would provide access to the new library from several residential developments along Home Road.

New trail sections along Hyatts, Steitz and Home roads also have been completed by developers, Wibberley said.

OPAL continues to update its master plan, created with resident input, that prioritizes these projects.

"OPAL is a textbook model of how a committee should operate," said Liberty Township trustee Shyra Eichhorn. "They are extremely organized, active, think creatively and are passionate about their purpose."

Wibberley said the formation of the committee was in response to increasing traffic on township roads and the subsequent need for safe, off-road options for residents.

In 2020, he said, that need has been enhanced by behavioral changes as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"So many people during the pandemic are walking and biking as a way to be outdoors," he said. "We're just always going to need more trails."

Trails, he said, are roughly defined as off-road, preferably paved and preferably 10-foot-wide pathways, intended for use by nonmotorized vehicles. Other ongoing projects include consulting on an initiative by the city of Powell to formalize naming of and rules for use of trails.

Powell City Council member Brian Lorenz told OPAL members that funding for signs, as well as ongoing efforts to coordinate the project throughout the city and the township, are the next steps.

He said he expects to be able to bring the matter to council within the next 90 days but added he might expedite the rules language "since so many people are actively using the trails."

"This is an important project for the city for the health and wellness of residents," Lorenz said.

OPAL will next meet Sept. 17. For updates on whether that meeting will be held via Zoom or in person at the Liberty Township offices, follow "OPAL-Olentangy Powell and Liberty Trails" on Facebook.

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