BY D’ARCY EGAN
The Ottawa County Commissioners got the ball rolling a year ago when they approved the Ottawa County Transportation Plan. On Monday, the commissioners put that plan on the fast track with the creation of a board of seven public officials to shepherd the county-wide vision of creating hiking and biking facilities and water trails.
The official name of the group is the Ottawa County Transportation Improvement District (OCTID). The new board members are Rep. Steve Arndt, Ottawa County Engineer Ronald Plajti Jr., Director Jamie Beier Grant of the Ottawa County Improvement Corporation, Sen. Theresa Gavarone, Ottawa County Auditor Jennifer Widmer, Director Mark Messa of the Ottawa County Regional Planning Commission and Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick. Rep. Arndt and Sen. Gavarone are non-voting members of the board.
The Ottawa County Parks Board and The Friends of Ottawa County Parks will play a significant role in implementing OCTID, said the county commissioners. The wish list for Ottawa County includes hiking trails on main county corridors connecting the east and west boundaries of the county, one that parallels the Portage River and a second corridor along the Lake Erie shoreline. Trails that would connect Port Clinton, Lakeside and Marblehead are being actively discussed.
The Ohio Department of Transportation has been promoting its Active Transportation Plan around the state in the past year, and Ottawa County is one of 40 of the 88 counties that have signed up. It certainly helps that ODOT will provide a $4.5 million annual grant to Ottawa County to develop safe, user-oriented infrastructure that responds to residents and visitors’ desires to use alternative modes of transportation and improvement opportunities for an active lifestyle.
Many expect to see trails created for biking and hiking. Plans for the North Coast Inland Trail from Lorain to Toledo, a 105-mile stretch for hikers and bikers, is already being constructed. The trail includes a stretch from Elmore to Genoa in Ottawa County.
Mike Shadoan of Oak Harbor and the Portage River Water Trail Advisory Group want to make a big splash, too. Shadoan proudly points to the recreational facilities, including a boat ramp for canoes and kayaks, already constructed in his town to access the scenic Portage River. Shadoan has helped create the Portage River Water Trail Advisory Group as an expansion of the county tourism industry, complementing this week’s huge crowds of birders and anglers.
Recreational facilities add a lot of value to the region, said Shadoan. The Portage River access in downtown Oak Harbor is ample proof that if recreational opportunities are created, people will come. And if they have a wonderful experiences, they’ll bring their friends the next time.