Crowd for Devola trail meeting

Reaction was mixed Monday evening to a proposed bicycle and pedestrian pathway that would connect Marietta’s River Trail with the Devola area.

More than 150 residents showed up at a public meeting in the Devola Fire Hall to discuss the trail proposal. The session was led by Marietta Councilman and biking enthusiast Roger Kalter. Washington County Engineer Roger Wright and Ohio Department of Transportation District 10 planning engineer Alan Craig were also in attendance, along with county commissioners David White and Ron Feathers.

“I was expecting about 15 people and the Muskingum Township trustees, but I’m pleased that so many more members of the community decided to attend,” Kalter said, noting the meeting had to be relocated from the township hall to the fire hall due to the large crowd.

He said the whole purpose of the meeting was to see if there is any interest in a proposed multi-use trail.

“This is simply to start a conversation, to see if you would be interested in pursuing this project,” Kalter said, adding that no trail designs have been developed or routes mapped out at this point.

Devola resident Mark Wurtzbacher was among several people concerned about funding for a trail project.

“What are we going to have to pay for this?” he asked. “If you use grant money, that’s the same as tax money. We have other needs and don’t need to be paying for a bike trail.”

Kalter said many trails are built by volunteers on privately-owned land without using any tax dollars.

“Marietta’s River Trail was built using a wide variety of revenues from agencies like Ohio DNR and the Department of Transportation, but there are also people who build trails without grant monies,” he said.

Judy Burkhart from Devola noted the latest leg of Marietta’s trail was built at a cost of around $1.5 million.

“This trail to Devola would be about five miles long. So is it going to cost us more than $5 million?”

She asked what the estimated cost would be.

“There’s no plan, so we can’t make an estimate now,” Kalter answered. “There are a number of options available to build this trail, but without knowing how and where it will be built any estimate we gave would not be accurate.”

Wright agreed, noting the costs could vary widely, and would largely depend on the trail location.

“When you start talking about costs, if people who live along the old trolley line, for example, would want to allow the trail on their property it could cost nothing,” he said. “But if it runs along the current Ohio 60 roadway it would probably be more costly due to government regulations that would have to be met. And we can’t really answer as far as dollars to be spent on this because there are no plans.”

Wright said there were many people in attendance at the meeting with a lot of ideas about the proposed trail project.

“If you’re interested and the township trustees are interested, I’ll be happy to work with you, but it’s ultimately up to the community to decide what they want to do,” he said. “I’m only here to listen at this time.”

Local resident and businessman George Broughton offered to allow the trail to cross a portion of his property that runs along the former trolley line for about two miles from the intersection of Ohio 60 and 821 to the Shawnee Village area of Devola.

“We would have no objections,” he said. “We maintain a trail there now, and the cross-country team and others already use it. And it’s a safe area away from the main highway. The only pinch point where we would need some assistance from ODOT would be a trail crossing at the intersection of State Routes 60 and 821.”

Ellen Jones, who lives along Muskingum Drive in Marietta said she, too, would be willing to allow a trail to cross her front yard if a pathway was built from Marietta to Devola.

But Devola resident Ed Russell, a retired police officer, expressed concern that multi-use trails built in other areas of Ohio have become high-crime locations.

“When they opened the Olentangy trail (in Columbus) it became an area for murder and rape,” he said. “Devola is virtually felony-free. Do we have the funds to pay the Washington County Sheriff to police this trail?”

Broughton noted the former trolley line area along his property is in a very safe open and visible location.

Others said Russell’s concern may apply in larger cities, but would be unfounded in low-crime areas like Devola and Marietta.

Danny Kilmer of Devola said he liked the idea of a bike trail.

“I know this is just a beginning conversation, and I think it’s great that to share these ideas,” he said. “There are safety concerns for people who ride bikes on trails, but I think there is a way to do this.”

Devola area resident Joanne O’Brien said she hoped the local community would keep the proposed trail project in perspective.

“This is a bike path, not something that would be harmful to the community,” she said.

O’Brien added that bike trails allow people to get out and exercise, noting that if people have nothing to do they may be more inclined to get into trouble.

County Commissioner David White made it clear that, if the trail project moves ahead, it would not be a county project.

“Our only involvement would be if and only if the trustees would ask the county engineer for assistance,” he said.

And Muskingum Township Trustee Carolyn Dempsey added that no township money would be expended on the project.

“We have no extra money to put toward a bike path, so no one has to worry that any of our money would go to the trail,” she said. “But if we can help to locate outside grant funding or in some other way, we would be willing to do so.”

Kalter said it’s totally up to the Devola community if they want to pursue a trail project.

“I wanted a conversation, and we had a conversation tonight,” he said, adding that he was glad for the turnout.