Development of the Plum Creek Greenway is being undertaken by Oberlin city council.
Sylvan Long, the chair of the city’s open space and visual environment commission, spoke April 3 about the history of the greenway and gave recommendations for improving the natural feature.
First though, it begs the question: What exactly is a greenway?
“The most useful definition for our purpose is: A greenway is a linear open space established along a natural corridor, such as a stream valley,” Long said. “This could be natural or landscaped. It often links parks, nature reserves, cultural features, and historic sites with populated areas. It’s usually used by pedestrians and sometimes used by bikes; cars are typically prohibited.”
Oberlin already has a greenway, thanks to one of its forward-thinking community members, according to Long.
More than 100 years ago, Adelia Johnston created a plan to create a connected system of parks along Plum Creek after founding the Oberlin Village Improvement Society — a precursor to the Oberlin Heritage Society.
“Around the time they created this plan (the creek) was essentially used as a town dump,” Long said. “Part of what their group did was organize community members to clean some of this trash out of Plum Creek.”
The parks included in Johnston’s plan included what are today known as Wright Memorial Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park, and Spring Street Park. The Society acquired land through donations and purchase for the parks along the creek, according to Long.
He said the land that is now Martin Luther King Jr. Park once had houses on it.
“Wright Memorial Park was created by converting some industrial use that was there,” Long said. “There was a sawmill there, and some other manufacturing use. Their group eventually acquired and converted the land into the park that is there today.”
The open space commission wants to see several improvements made to the stretch, according to Long:
• Designate public lands along the creek as the Plum Creek Greenway. “This will help us recognize Adelia Johnston’s vision of creating this connected park system that we have today,” Long said. “She didn’t think of these as individual parks, although they’re wonderful as individual parks. She thought of them in terms of a coherent entity.”
• Increase public access. With this recommendation, the city would obtain property or easements to sections along the creek that are not publicly owned, where feasible.
• Maintain and improve pathways and amenities. Long highlighted two areas that need attention: The Wright Memorial Park Connector and the Spring Street Park Connector. He recommended the city explore adding a woodchip trail, gravel pathway, or a paved pathway that would make the areas fully accessible to all in Oberlin.
• Add informational signs for wayfinding. This would include adding Plum Creek signs at stream crossings, adding Johnston Trail signs at each park, and could tie-in with community-wide wayfinding for businesses, the library, and other destinations.
• Add designated crosswalks where the greenway trail system crosses city streets.
• Seek grant funding or partner with local conservation and recreation organizations.
“I’m sure folks are wondering about the cost implications of this,” Long said. “I’ve done a lot of research on grant funding that’s available, and I’ve also talked to some regional parks organizations that have received funding for similar projects.”
Additionally, council said it would like to consider some of the expenses during its next budget hearings in the fall.
“Talking about this during the budget session will allow us to layout some priorities for the trail,” councilman Bryan Burgess said. “Certainly we wouldn’t do it all at once but I can see some key areas we could address in short order.”
• Fund and implement projects which restore and enhance water quality, stream function, and the natural characteristics of Plum Creek.
“Part of what we’re trying to do is raise awareness about the watershed, and the importance of water quality in Plum Creek,” Long said. “That water quality is important because it provides habitat locally to fish and other species that are living in the creek, but Plum Creek’s water also ends up in the Black River, which eventually flows into Lake Erie, and provides drinking water for 11 million people.”
Long said this was just the first step in the process of completing several items that have long been on the city’s to-do list.
“This is a policy proposal, so we’re not presenting a detailed final design plan,” he said. “This is an introduction of this concept to council and the community. What we really need is feedback from the community and council.”
Scott Mahoney can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @sm_mahoney on Twitter.