Updated Wed, Aug 6, 2014 4:23 am
Progress is being made toward funding construction of a priority bridge for the Moonville Rail Trail, but more financial assistance is needed.
The recreational trail, which extends from Zaleski in Vinton County to Mineral in Athens County, is a former railroad bed. However, when the railroad tracks were removed, multiple bridges also were taken out. For several years the Moonville Rail Trail Association has been working to replace the bridges, but funding has been an issue.
The state’s capital budget approved earlier this year earmarked $50,000 for bridge work and construction on the trail.
“We were looking for a project to do in Vinton County,” said State Rep. Ryan Smith, who said he and Sen. Bob Peterson were responsible for the earmark. “That project, I feel like, was a good one.”
Smith said the rail trail takes advantage of the county’s natural resources, and also promotes a healthy lifestyle.
“I would have liked to have had a $100,000, but we were able to get 50,” Smith said.
Neil Shaw, president of the Moonville Rail Trail Association, said the money has not yet been received. He said paperwork needs to be submitted to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
If the money is obtained as expected, it will be applied to a priority project — replacing the bridge over Racoon Creek that is nearest to the Moonville Tunnel, Shaw said. Concrete abutments have already in poured in anticipation of doing that project.
A former road bridge from Athens County was donated, but Shaw said an estimate placed the cost of installing the bridge at $131,000, so more money is needed. Shaw said an application for a Clean Ohio Fund grant will be submitted in December.
The bridge is between the Moonville Tunnel and Hope-Moonville Road, the road along which people park when visiting the bridge. Shaw said the idea has been “kicked around” about also putting in a parking area, but that would require state approval because it would be on Zaleski State Forest land.
With the railroad bridge gone, people go to an area where a road bridge crosses Raccoon Creek, then hike through woods to get to the tunnel, or they ford the stream near the railroad bridge abutments.
The former Athens County bridge is one of five donated bridges for which funding is needed for installation, and Shaw said there is an offer for donation of another bridge.
He said efforts to obtain grant money will continue.
“We just keep trying, keep trying,” Shaw said.
Meanwhile, The Messenger recently reported that Athens Conservancy has purchased another piece of property at Mineral, part of the conservancy’s effort to establish a trailhead on the Athens County end of the Moonville Rail Trail.
The conservancy now owns two parcels, and two others were purchased by a third party who is holding them for the conservancy, but additional connecting land is needed for the project to go forward, conservancy member John Knouse has said.
“We can’t really do any rational planning on this until we get additional property,” Knouse said.