Trail blazin’

With the snip of a ribbon, Marietta’s River Trail officially grew by another mile Friday.

Dozens of city and state officials as well as local groups and biking enthusiasts turned out for the afternoon ribbon cutting ceremony, which opened phase three of the now 4-mile paved trail to the public.

“This is another great entity to offer to the citizens of Marietta and our out-of-town guests,” said Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews.

The $1.1 million dollar project has been ongoing for approximately a year-and-a-half and stretched the trail from its previous terminus at Fourth and Ohio streets to the intersection of East Eight and Jefferson Streets.

“Once we did the first section of the trail, the amount of use on the bike path was just unreal,” said Marietta City Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward.

The total path now stretches from the boat ramp at Indian Acres to its new stopping point. Future plans would include two more phases. Phase four would provide an offshoot bringing the path into Harmar and phase five would extend the trail across Duck Creek to Cogswell Lane at the Walmart complex.

Phase five was scheduled to begin construction next July. However, Marietta City Council learned in August that the project had not been selected for the $871,166 Alternative Transportation Grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation that they were counting on to fund the extension.

Now the city is in the process of applying for funding through the next round of grants, added McCauley.

Now that the new section is officially open, council is hoping that groups will adopt and upkeep portions of the trail as they have with portions of phases one and two.

“These groups and Make A Difference Day helps keep some of the flora and fauna trimmed and the path clean. But the city will be responsible for cutting the grass and maintenance,” said McCauley.

The maintenance of the trail has been somewhat of an issue for the city, who has only two-full time public facilities employees who handle the upkeep for all of the cities parks and buildings, said Marietta City Safety Service Director Jonathan Hupp.

“Try to imagine how long it takes to weed-eat East Muskingum Park, and West Muskingum Park, and the Armory, and Sacra Via, and Buckeye Park, and Indian Acres, and Flanders Field, and all the yards around every building and parking lot owned by the city. Public facilities was responsible for the same amount of acreage before the bike path came into play and they had one extra body back then,” said Hupp.

Hupp said he is hopeful council will be able to work an additional public facilities back into the budget for 2014. He is also hopeful that council will allocate some funding from the Community Development Block Grant for the Marietta Police Department to provide a foot and bike patrol presence along the trail.

The grant, which had funded the bike patrol in the past, has not funded the service for the past two years. Instead the money has come out of MPD’s regular hours, said Hupp.

The bike patrol was cut from CDBG funding due to the shrinking availability of funding, said McCauley.

However, council will be considering the service as it begins to work out a 2014 budget later this month, said Marietta City Councilman Michael Mullen, I-at large.

“A big part of this trail is community outreach and stewardship. That’s why the bike and foot patrols are so important,” said Mullen.

The city will not know how much CDBG funding they will receive for 2014 until next spring. Last year, they received $336,000.