Thu 6/12 @ 8am
By John Benson
“Go take a hike” is the spirit behind the dozens of trails and greenways that can be found throughout Northeast Ohio. As much as residents cherish the areas, the truth is the design and construction of the trails weren’t by accident.
These natural routes and paths are the result of foresight and design by city planners and environmental activists. In fact, these are the same people who will invariably be attending the Greater Cleveland Trails & Greenways Conference taking place Thu 6/12 in Mayfield. The goal of this biennial affair is to explore emerging trends in design, build skills for funding and project success and to understand how trails and greenways benefit the economy, environment and health of thriving communities.
Cool Cleveland talked to conference co-chair Bob Gardin, who is also the executive director of Big Creek Connects (formerly Friends of Big Creek), about the gathering and the current state of trails in Greater Cleveland.
Cool Cleveland: First of all, what is the Greater Cleveland Trails & Greenways Conference?
Bob Gardin: It’s a day-long conference that looks at the importance of trails and greenways for the Greater Cleveland area. It’s an opportunity to listen to nationally recognized Mark Fenton, who will be our guest speaker. It’s an opportunity to learn about the importance of trails and greenways, learn how to build communities that support healthy and physically active populations.
We’ll be learning how thoughtfully considered community designs lead to environmentally, economically and socially thriving communities. Learn about how trail connections can link populations and create mutual benefits. And then a lot of it is how to overcome obstacles to building trails and greenways. Such as land acquisition, construction, design challenges, legal issues and then also best management practices.
From a laymen’s perspective, it would appear Northeast Ohio boasts a healthy amount of trails and greenways. Is that accurate?
Right now we’ve got a good system with the Cleveland Metroparks but there are a lot of gaps and linkages we can do with the towpath trail and the outer ring, the Emerald Necklace. Communities are seeing how important they are as an amenity to attract and retain residents and businesses. So we’ll be featuring a lot of these different projects and talk about those that are on the way, those that are in the planning stages and how important they really are to the growth and the ability for our communities to continue to thrive.
Considering this is the third biennial conference, what sort of previous impact has it had in local communities?
Parma Heights’ economic development director came to our first conference and he claims that was the incentive for them to create a major Big Creek Linkage Trail to their community center, the Greenbriar Commons. The Mayfield Village Trail Greenway has been on the way and that will be a feature project for this conference being held in Mayfield Village. That’s a good model we’ll be looking at. The first one we featured in the Rocky River watershed the Big Creek Trail connectors and how it connects to Southwest Hospital. The last conference was in Independence, Ohio, and looking at those connections to the towpath trail. There’s a lot of opportunities and projects out there we’ll be talking about during the conference.
Finally, looking big picture, what’s on the horizon in Greater Cleveland?
We want to see the towpath completed to the lake: the Lakefront Trail System. We’re thrilled the Cleveland Metroparks stepped up and took leadership with the state park system and [City of] Cleveland being on board with that, but there are a lot of gaps we want to make sure the communities become aware of and that they receive the support needed. We want to try to make as many of these connections between the different systems as we can so that we’re competitors with the other markets throughout the country, really.
The Greater Cleveland Trails & Greenways Conference takes place at 8 p.m. Thu 6/12 at the Hilton Garden Inn, 700 Beta Banquet & Conference Center, 700 Beta Drive, Mayfield Village.
When he’s not writing about music or entertainment, he can be found coaching his two boys in basketball, football and baseball or watching movies with his lovely wife, Maria. John also occasionally writes for CoolCleveland.com.