Girard hopes to develop bike trails along the Mahoning River
By Samantha Phillips
City officials aim to use the former 27.5-acre Ohio Leatherworks property off North State Street, acquired in 2013, for bike trails to encourage an active lifestyle and bring more visitors to the city.
The Trumbull County Planning Commission released a comprehensive report in 2000 recommending that Girard acquire more greenspace property to use for recreational purposes.
That year, the Girard Bike Trail committee was formed with the hope of creating a bike trail in the city. The city was in fiscal emergency at the time, so the idea had to be put on the back burner.
“But we always thought that once we emerged from fiscal emergency and our fortunes changed positively that this would be a project that would make Girard a better place to live,” Mayor James Melfi said.
For years, the city was in litigation with Ohio Leatherworks but settled with the owner and acquired the property at no cost to the city.
The city is still negotiating with the Ohio Central railroad, seeking to acquire some of its 42-acre crescent-shaped property along the Mahoning River.
“We don’t want to interfere with railroad operations; we just want to use the excess property not being used by the railroad,” the mayor said.
The crescent-shaped area Melfi hopes to develop for trails runs from North State Street to however much property the city can acquire form the railroad, and from U.S. Route 422 to the Mahoning River.
The proposed bike trail is planned to be adjacent to the railroad, far enough to keep people safe and not disrupt railroad operations.
Jason Kentner, associate professor of practice in landscape architecture at the Ohio State University, has his students involved in creating artistic renditions of what the trail may look like down the road, incorporating the picnic area and parking lot city officials would like to have by the trails and a walking trail alongside the bike trail.
Melfi hopes that, along with the canoe launch that was installed along the river last year, more nature-loving visitors will be attracted to the city.
The Western Reserve Port Authority awarded a grant to the city to clean up and remove any contaminants from the Leatherworks property, and the city will pursue grants from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources if plans for the trail progress.
The city must wait until litigation with the railroad company is resolved and city council approves the bike- trail plan to move forward with discussions.
Melfi said he would like to have old pictures and information about Ohio Leatherworks in the trail area.
“The idea is to make it more family-oriented, a natural park setting. We are gong to try to blend in the history of our industrial past. Ohio Leather has probably been the city’s most famous industrial center,” he said.
Melfi’s father and many of the city’s senior citizens and immigrants worked at the site, and the guard house is still there, he noted.