COPLEY — A trail system through the township might be years away, but officials hope it will one day become a reality that would create public green space and potentially help curb flooding in Barberton and other communities to the south.
"It's just an opportunity to kind of start to reveal to the community what potential exists in this area,” said Matt Springer, the township's director of community and economic development.
It all started in 2008, when the township, using a $20,000 grant from the Ohio and Erie Canalway Coalition, purchased part of a defunct railroad bed that runs along Pigeon Creek from Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway.
Since that time, Copley has been buying other land for a trail system and at the same time cleaning up blight and demolishing vacant buildings. Much of the area is in a floodplain, which is “not conducive to development,” Springer said.
With the township buying properties and removing houses and other structures in the floodplain, that township-owned land could then be flooded with few ill effects. Springer said that could help with flooding in the region — including Copley’s neighbors to the south, like Barberton.
Springer said although it would take “a lot of work” to get there, the area could eventually include a stormwater retention basin.
“This water that's flooding Barberton, a lot of it's coming right through this area of Pigeon Creek,” he said. “So if we were able to find a way to retain that water on property the township owns and let it flood naturally without displacing anybody or hurting anybody's property, that's something we would definitely take a look at.”
The township now owns the section from behind Dunkler’s Farm Market on Collier Road down to Knox Boulevard.
“This trailbed is not improved currently for pedestrian use, but that was the goal when we first acquired it back in 2008,” Springer said.
Since about 2015 or 2016, the township has been working with the Summit County Land Bank to acquire and demolish tax-delinquent parcels in pockets of the township's Little Farms area: the areas around Jerome Avenue and Knox Boulevard.
The township has acquired more than 50 parcels using money from its general fund, with about $30,000 set aside for that purpose this year.
Where would the trails be?
Using a $10,000 grant from Summit County Public Health, the township worked with consultant Environmental Design Group in 2016 to create a conceptual map of 6.5 miles of trails, including paved sections, natural surface sections and boardwalks.
“That wouldn't be possible until we had the right parcels under ownership,” Springer said. “So we really don't have to own everything, but if we can put enough parcels together that are all contiguous, then conceivably, trails, off-road trails could be installed throughout that area."
The part of the township that could soon include a trail system is known as Little Farms, located in the southeast portion of the township, with Akron to the east and Norton to the south.
Much of the neighborhood has the township’s strictest zoning designation because of the wetland there. The area includes the Panzner Wetland Wildlife Reserve, a 104-acre property once part of the Copley Swamp that the Panzner brothers donated to the University of Akron in 2012 for education and research.
“We’re completely all about it,” University of Akron biology professor and Field Station director Randy Mitchell said of Copley’s potential trail project. “The Panzner wetland was sort of meant to encourage this kind of activity.”
A Walk and Talk event from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sept. 14 on the 0.4-mile stretch of the Pigeon Creek Trail behind Dunkler’s Farm Market, 1350 Collier Road, will allow residents to learn about the project and give feedback.
There’s no timetable or cost estimate for the project, which Springer said is “seen as a long-term project that will take many years to bring to fruition.” Springer added if the township does pursue trail development, officials would need to look for grant funding.
Township Trustee Helen Humphrys, who helped clean up the site at a recent volunteer event and found everything from old fences to broken dishes, called the area along Pigeon Creek, a Tuscarawas River tributary, a “hidden jewel of the township.” She envisions a canoe livery there.
“This is just not one dream of one person. It’s a dream of many,” she said of a trail system. “And I know it will happen.”
Eventually, Springer said he hopes the trail system in Copley could connect to trails across the county as part of the Summit County Trail and Greenway Plan, with the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail serving as “the main artery of it all” and other trail systems connecting to it.
According to the Ohio and Erie Canalway Coalition, the Wolf Creek/Pigeon Creek Trail is a proposed regional trail spanning 13 miles, starting in Barberton and heading north to Fairlawn.
“That's years down the road. It's a lot of work to make it happen,” Springer said. “But we're trying to do our small part in making our trail system a reality.”
Contact Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.