Girard rows into new venture

GIRARD — More than 70 water enthusiasts pushed their kayaks and canoes from a new $100,000 launch site located off the Girard-McDonald viaduct, near River and Front Streets on Saturday morning.

Ron Eells, a longtime boating enthusiast from Elkton, drove through Mahoning and into Trumbull County just to give the new launch site a try.

“I like what I’ve seen,” Eells said. “Having this is a good idea. People definitely will take advantage of having this here.”

Girard resident Bill Lileas said the kayak launch site should provide another relatively inexpensive opportunity for people to get on the Mahoning River and enjoy its waters.

“Once you spend the initial money to buy a kayak, you have years of opportunities to get in the water and enjoy it,” he said.

Friends of the Mahoning River, an area group that encourages the use of the river, approached Girard city leaders in 2014 about applying for the $67,0000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to build the kayak / boat launch.

So, for longtime Girard Mayor James Melfi, Saturday’s event was the culmination of a dream that was a long time coming. He admitted that at times, it was a dream taking nightmarish directions because of the state and federal regulations they had to follow.

Melfi and other supporters did not realize at the time the project started it would take about another $30,000 just to make sure the project would not unnecessarily disturb some of the animals and natural inhabitants of the area.

“Several studies were done to make sure we did not damage the homes of various mussels, several bat species and salamanders that live in the area,” Melfi said. “The studies are not cheap.”

These tests and other required adjustments not only stretched the launch time of the project, but forced the city to dig into its own coffers to pay the balance of the project’s costs.

Melfi said he hopes the launch site will not only bring enjoyment to residents of his city, but also bring water enthusiasts from all over the Mahoning Valley into the community.

“What I am excited about is most of the people I’ve seen here today are not city residents,” Melfi said. “Hopefully, as people get to know this launch site is here, they will come into the city and eat at our restaurants and shop at area stores.”

David Wolpole, 60, who was born and raised in a home located a few hundred feet from the new launch site, described the area becoming underwater during heavy rain events.

“I was a here a couple weeks ago and the water was over the pier and at my knees,” he said. “That is just what happens out here.”

Wolpole has a faded old photograph that shows his family’s home completely surrounded by water.

Bill and Renee Hall of Warren were among the nearly 70 water enthusiasts wanting to be some of the first to use the new launch sites.

“I’ve been doing this (kayaking) for about a year,” Hall said. “Having something like this is a good idea.”

There also is a launch site in Leavittsburg’s Canoe City.