By Ed Runyan
As dozens of people on bicycles enjoyed the annual World of Wildlife bike ride Saturday morning, a dozen or so gathered on the newest segment of the Western Reserve Greenway south from Champion Avenue to dedicate it to Commissioner Paul Heltzel, who died last June at 69.
Ninety minutes later, a similar group gathered nearby on another part of the bike and hike trail to honor Ada Callahan Sutter of Howland, an early advocate for the Western Reserve Greenway who died in December 2012.
Standing near a sign naming the newest segment for Heltzel, his brother Carl, of Girard, spoke of his brother’s love for fitness and sports of all kinds.
Paul Heltzel, an attorney who served as county commissioner for more than a decade, was probably the most interested in fitness and health of any of the members of the Heltzel family, Carl Heltzel said.
He enjoyed riding bicycles, but he supported the idea of building bike and hike trails for another reason, Carl Heltzel said.
“I think what Paul was interested in was the permanence – something that would be here for a long, long time,” Carl Heltzel said.
County Auditor Adrian Biviano said Heltzel, “my buddy,” was looking forward to the new segment opening, something he didn’t get to see in life. “But he’s looking down on us today. It is a great memorial to him,” Biviano said.
“Paul loved riding. He’s proud today,” Commissioner Frank Fuda added.
“He was certainly a dedicated county commissioner,” Commissioner Dan Polivka said.
“He was a great elected official, but a great man,” said Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa, who took Heltzel’s place on the board of commissioners.
A marker and bench on an earlier phase of the bike trail on the north side of Champion Avenue were dedicated later Saturday to Sutter, who family members and others said promoted the idea of turning a former rail bed into a bike trail at a time when few local people understood the benefits of such facilities.
Michael O’Brien, now a state representative for Trumbull County, was a county commissioner in 1995 when Sutter and Dave Brown of the Trumbull Soil and Water Conservation District approached the county commissioners with a request to secure grant funds to build the trail in the northern part of the county.
Ultimately, the county in the coming decades would construct the first two phases of the bike trail from the northern county line to Champion Avenue. The newly named Heltzel segment, which was completed last winter and spring, is Phase 3. A future Phase 4 will connect the recently completed Warren and Niles phases to finish the trail in Trumbull County.
Sutter, who cared about the the environment and quality-of-life issues in general, brought the county commissioners to the railway bed in 1995 and provided them with horses so they could experience the beauty of the trail for themselves, O’Brien said.
Her efforts helped persuade the county commissioners to make the trail a priority project, O’Brien said.
“She was like a dog with a bone,” one of her daughters, Patty Callahan of Champion, said Saturday of her mother’s determination to see the trail become a reality.
“She had the vision. She brought us here,” O’Brien said of Sutter, who founded the Friends of the Western Reserve Greenway group.
The WOW bike ride also took place on the Western Reserve Greenway Saturday morning, with a record 486 riders taking 20-, 40- and 68-mile rides, most of it on the Greenway. The event started at nearby Kent State University at Trumbull.