MANTUA -- The Portage Park District and Rotary Club of Mantua are making headway in developing the Headwaters Trail, with plans to install historical signage and connect to Aurora and eventually Cleveland. Headwaters is located along the former Erie Lackawana railroad line and crosses from Mantua to Garrettsville.
Stephen Zabor, president of the Rotary Club of Mantua and treasurer of the Portage Park District Foundation, received $7,000 in funding from the Rotary District, Portage Park District Foundation and the Downtown Mantua Revitalization Corp. to install historical signage along the trail.
"We lose our sense of history very quickly," he said, standing at Headwaters Trail, which in its heyday was a double-track railroad heading into Cleveland. Some traces of the railroad remain, such as an old telephone booth unique to the Erie because of its shape and size.
"There was a telephone here and they could call ahead to get the tracks switched," Zabor said.
An avid cyclist, Zabor teamed up with a group of government officials from Aurora, Mantua, Hiram and Garresttsville more than a year ago to place informative signs highlighting the history of the railroad and the village along the trail, similar to other hike and bike trails throughout the country.
"We're developing the rail-to-trail for recreational reasons, but also as you go around and look at other bike trails, a lot of them are very functional for promoting their community and encouraging people to come into town," Zabor said. "I've ridden on portions of trails through Pennsylvania. When there's signage, people tend to stop."
The plan includes placing signage at Headwaters near the original train station in downtown Mantua; the former Jeddo station, which burned down in the 20th century; on the east side of Route 700 in Hiram; and the Glacial Esker Trail on the outskirts of town.
Historically, the Erie Lackawanna was used to transport passengers into Cleveland from the 1840s until the late 1970s. The line began at Erie's New York-Chicago mainline near Warren and traveled west, passing through Garrettsville, Mantua, Aurora, Solon, Bedford Heights and Warrensville Heights.
As part of the project, Zabor held a community meeting recently at Hilltop Church to learn some oral history from residents who remember the railroad. Carrie Cox was a passenger on the final commuter train heading from Cleveland into Mantua in January 1977.
"I didn't ride it every day," Cox said. "I lived in Cleveland and worked downtown. My sister lives in Mantua. If the weather was bad on weekends, I took the train. I could just walk down to Terminal Tower and she picked me up here [in Mantua]."
Chad Angermeier, a student at James A. Garfield High and an Eagle Scout, is working with area historical societies and the Rotary Club to collect history on the former Jeddo station to put on a commemorative sign. The third sign will give information and the location on the glacial esker in Mantua.
"It's really nice to have that interest at that age to recognize the history of the area," Zabor said of Angermeier.
As part of a long-term goal, the Portage Park District has plans to extend Headwaters Trail into Aurora and Cleveland. The district is in negotiations with property owners and Norfolk Southern to acquire a trailhead at the right-of-way on Chamberlain Road. It also has applied for a grant and will receive word in the fall.
"We're going ahead with purchase agreements for some of the right-of-way to be acquired," said Christine Craycroft, Portage Park District executive director. "Then it would be developing. It's still years out before we would be in a position to construct a trail."
The park district also hopes to extend Headwaters, with cooperation from the railroad, into Trumbull County. Craycroft said the trails have the potential to cross into Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.
"It's a big vision, long term," she said. "The potential is there for Headwaters to head east," pointing to the fact that an expansion west will take more time and money.
Zabor noted that Headwaters will be resurfaced with crushed limestone this summer and the Portage Park District, operating on a $1.5 million budget, will provide new nature programs for bird watchers in the near future.
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