MetroParks Butler County is mere miles from completing the Great Miami River Trail countywide, thanks to $1.3 million in grants and it appears the county commissioners might help the economic development driver even further.
The county park district has received a $1.1 million grant from the OKI Regional Council of Governments and $200,000 from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to build a new 1.6-mile Middletown-Monroe trail segment.
MetroParks Executive Director Jackie O’Connell said recreational trails like the GMRT are big economic benefit to local communities along them.
“Every dollar invested into projects like the GMRT supports local businesses, job creation and improves people’s quality of life,” O’Connell said. “MetroParks strives to make a positive impact on the lives of Butler County residents by contributing to the physical, mental, economic and environmental health of our region.”
The GMRT is a multi-use paved trail that currently runs contiguously from Middletown to Piqua. MetroParks completed construction of the 0.7-mile Timberhill trail extension at Rentschler Forest MetroPark earlier this year, adding onto 10.6 miles of the GMRT that connect Rentschler Forest to Water Works Park in Fairfield.
Butler County is home to the only remaining trail gaps between Piqua and Fairfield.
The Southwest Ohio region has become known as national destination for its trail network, which now stands at more than 340 miles of connected trails. The Miami Valley’s trail network has a $13.4 million annual economic impact on the region, and a recent study by the Butler County Visitor’s Bureau identified parks and trails as two of the top attractions that would make Butler County more inviting to visitors.
The complete plan for the trail system runs 96 miles from Sidney to Fairfield, passes through five counties and benefits about 1.3 million people. Katie Ely-Wood, supervisor of community and park relations for MetroParks, said with recent sections added and funding secured they are about 3.1 miles away from completing the project here, the Lemon-Liberty-Fairfield townships segment is it. She said it costs about $1 million per paved mile to construct the trail.
Last year MetroParks asked the Butler County commissioners for a slice of their $74.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding but weren’t successful culling their $4.5 million request in the first round of allocations.
President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act into law March 11, 2021 and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Butler County’s direct share was nearly $75 million.
The commissioners have allocated $52.4 million so far and are getting ready to award the rest in the next couple weeks. Commissioners Cindy Carpenter and T.C. Rogers wanted to give the parks $3 million and $2.5 million respectively in the first round of funding and both said they are still committed to those amounts.
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she was excited to hear they got the other grants and that it appears with the commissioners help can complete the trail.
“As we know from our visitors center that’s going to bring in a lot of visitors here who are interested in biking, it’s a whole different category of visitors,” Carpenter said. “It’s a different kind interest in where they spend their funds and I think it’s good to have that diversity here. I’m really, really excited to have them move forward.”
Rogers said this project is a great economic development tool — as witnessed by the wildly popular trail in Loveland in Clermont County where new business are continually popping up — which was one of the goals the commissioners all shared when they received the windfall from the federal government.
“There is a new generation out there and they like it, it’s been proven across the country people want that type of exercise and it’s part of their new quality of life component,” Rogers said. “For us to complete the final leg of it and give an alternative to that successful one in Loveland, we just want part of the action.”
Originally MetroParks submitted a request for $13 million for a whole host of things but by the time they presented to the commissioners in the summer of 2021 the amount dropped to $9.5 million. They wanted the $4.5 million for the trails and $5 million to create scenic overlooks in nine parks in the rural reaches of the county. Ely-Wood said they have withdrawn the overlooks request.
She said they have funded some of the trail project but couldn’t access to concrete numbers by the Journal-News deadline.
“MetroParks relies on grant funding for most capital improvement projects, as our current levy doesn’t leave much room to fund projects like the GMRT on our own without grant assistance,” she said. “Much of the grant funding we do receive has a local match component to it, including the recent OKI grant.”
Commissioner Don Dixon said he did not put the parks requests on his priority list for either funding phase, but he is willing to give them something.
“I think it completes that last link for the trail it does certainly have a link to economic development,” Dixon said. “It’s on the list for funding in the last round, the amount is unknown so it will be decided on, it is on the list. I think the recreational part is important for quality of life and it does bring a lot of presence and business opportunities will come with it.”
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