ALLIANCE: To fill a gap within the heart of town, Stark County recreation officials are joining with city administrators and the University of Mount Union to extend the Iron Horse Trail for hiking and bicycle riding.

The object is to link the downtown area in the north with the university area to the south via a one-mile extension.

Currently, the Iron Horse Trail has a component in the northern portion of Alliance running from the downtown area north about a half mile to Earley’s Hill Park. And there is an existing portion that runs south from the university area through the southern portion of the city and about two miles into Washington Township.

“We have done two phases of it,” city Engineer Curtis Bungard said. “We are partnering with Stark Parks to get a grant. We won’t find out about the grant until September. And construction will start next year.”

The source of the grant would be the Clean Ohio Fund. The grant amount would be $417,195 and the total project cost is estimated at $556,261.

Much of this proposed trail extension would run through residential neighborhoods and eventually into the university campus.

“It goes down a few different streets,” Bungard said. “And eventually it goes down an old railroad path behind the (college) fraternity houses until it gets to Simpson Street.”

At that point, the plan is have the Iron Horse extension pass through the college campus. That is where city and Stark County Park District officials will have to work with the university on an acceptable path.

“We looked at about three different options,” Bungard said. “We can’t impose it on them. But they have been a very cooperative partner in this.”

The Iron Horse Trail is designed to follow the path of what was a railroad line that served eastern Stark County.

“The Iron Horse goes from Alliance down to Minerva,” said Superintendent Robert Fonte of the Stark County Park District.

“It goes through town, some of it on the former railroad right-of-way. If this grant is approved, then we will be building it next year. Eventually, it will be built, even if we don’t get the grant. I am not saying how soon. If we don’t get the grant, then we will have to do it out of the general fund.”

The Iron Horse portion that runs just north of downtown follows the path of sidewalks. However, it is wider than the traditional sidewalk. And it is a mixture of asphalt and concrete surface.

“Most of what we are building for this middle section will be gravel,” Bungard said. “There will be some exceptions. If we don’t have the room, we will just make wider sidewalks. And through the university campus we will most likely be using their existing concrete sidewalks.”