AKRON — A road in the national park that the county may vacate will be closed to vehicles effective Jan. 30.
At the same time, a Summit County Council member said he is working with bicycling, hiking and horseback riding groups to hopefully provide a trail that they could continue to use along the road.
County Council voted unanimously on Monday to close Everett Road from Farmstead Road to Wheatley Road in Bath, Richfield and Boston townships. The road is in and around the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Heidi Swindell, spokeswoman for the county engineer, said closing the road "would limit our liability on the roadway while we're still having the ongoing discussions about the vacation."
Council member Jerry Feeman (D-6) said he was concerned about a bicyclist riding around the gate and getting injured. Swindell said once the road is closed, there will also be "No Trespassing" signs posted.
"So hopefully that will limit our liability on that end," said Swindell.
Swindell said employees from her office posted signs on Tuesday notifying motorists about the upcoming closure. After the meeting, County Council member Jeff Wilhite (D-4) said a swinging gate will be installed both at the Everett and Farmstead road intersection, and at the Wheatley Road and Everett Road Extension intersection.
Swindell noted that the gates will have padlocks on them, and keys will be provided to the Richfield Fire Department, Bath Fire Department, Valley Fire District and the Cuyahoga Falls Fire Department so that their vehicles can use the road for emergency responses. She added that those fire departments will be asked to sign waivers acknowledging that if they take their trucks down the road, "you understand that you are taking that responsibility unto yourself."
The Summit County Engineer's Office last fall proposed vacating Everett from Farmstead to Wheatley, and Oak Hill Road from the intersection of Everett Road running east and south to the south line of Boston Township. Swindell previously explained that the county is considering the vacation because 260 vehicles per day travel on this section of Everett Road and added that it would cost $3.6 million to repair it. There are also no homes, businesses or any other private property along this part of Everett Road. Swindell noted the Oak Hill section considered for vacation was closed to vehicle traffic several years ago.
She said the county currently owns the right-of-way for Everett Road. Vacating the road means the street will be transferred to the adjacent property owners — Summit Metro Parks and Cuyahoga Valley National Park — and make them responsible for maintaining the road, according to Swindell.
The vacation proposal was put on hold in November 2017 after concerns were raised by the fire departments about being able to access Everett Road for emergencies and by local bicycling groups that would like to see the road converted into an all-purpose trail. In addition to emergency vehicles' access, Wilhite said the engineer's office was also concerned about cars continuing to use a road that needed a lot of repair work.
While those safety issues have been addressed with the upcoming closure, more work is being done to potentially offer a trail for bicycling, hiking and horseback riding groups, according to Wilhite. Groups that are involved with the issue include the Akron Bicycle Club and the Ohio Horsemen's Council.
Wilhite thanked the county engineer's office, prosecutor's office and executive's office for working on the issue.
"I appreciate the willingness to take a new approach to this and we'll see what we can come up with as to an alternative solution," said Wilhite.
After the meeting, he said the bicycling, hiking and horseback riding groups are researching similar projects and are "also looking at potential funding sources."
"We're going to seek out every possible thing that we can and the closure gives the opportunity to continue that work without removing any infrastructure at this point," said Wilhite. "The folks that have been involved have a very passionate interest in making that … a public asset and we'll see what we come up with."
Though there is no set timetable, Wilhite said he and the groups would like to find a solution "sooner rather than later."
Swindell added it is not known when the county will make a decision about vacating the roads.
Schmidt re-elected County Council president
John Schmidt (D-2) was re-elected to serve as County Council's president in 2018. Council voted 9-1 to re-elect Schmidt as its leader. Council member Gloria Rodgers (R-3) was the lone dissenter.
"Thank you everybody for your vote of confidence," said Schmidt. "I really appreciate it."
Wilhite was unanimously elected to serve as County Council's vice president.