Environmental group pushed $588K paddling grant
WARREN — Warren’s share in a $588,000 Paddling Enhancement Grant program from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources started with a conversation with local environmental group Friends of the Mahoning River.
“They were talking about doing something around the river with some cleanup with their forces to contribute to our efforts with dam removal,” Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said.
The group identified the grant, which had to be attained by a municipality, and “we jumped right on it,” Franklin said.
FOMR initially approached the city to see if it would seek a grant to install a canoe and kayak launch at the abandoned Gould-Stewart Park, located about a mile from downtown, according to member Tom Smith.
“While the city was supportive of the idea, there was some concern about reopening a park that had been previously closed due to lack of funding for its upkeep,” Smith said.
Several months of meetings led to a decision to seek money for a launch at Packard Park, which sits at the end of a designated Ohio Water Trail. At the same time, the Paddling Enhancement Grants — which award points to grantees who utilize a site on an Ohio Water Trail — became available, Smith said.
In July, Warren was awarded $74,118 of the grant money — just shy of the maximum $75,000 — to improve parking areas closer to the Mahoning River for canoe and kayak launching.
Franklin said the grant is specific to Packard Park, but the city is looking into whether it could do an alternate site.
The proposed launch site is close to the Summit Street dam, where in May an Austintown woman who was kayaking went over and was rendered unconscious.
Some of the grant money is slated for more signs warning paddlers of the proximity of the dam, Smith said.
“Signs will be installed to warn paddlers that this launch is to be utilized for upstream paddling for the next year or so until the dam is removed. Signs will notify them that is the direction of the Ohio Water Trail as well,” Smith said.
Originally scheduled to be removed sooner, the dam is on track to be taken out in 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed efforts, according to Franklin.
Smith said he hopes the grant for the launch site will keep the city motivated to remove the dam as soon as possible. FOMR long has advocated for the removal of dams along the Mahonnig River, which have toxic sediments trapped behind them that can wash away during storms. The dams also affect fish migration and the flow of nutrients in the water, Smith said.
Franklin said the city has to do some engineering and design work before the project fully can take off, but he hopes some physical work can get started by next spring.
A nature lover himself, Franklin looks forward to having an accessible launch site in the city.
“We’re very excited to actually see the river used for recreation,” Franklin said.