Some Wyoming residents are unhappy hiking trail expansion is displacing community gardens

WYOMING, Ohio -- The city of Wyoming is extending its hike/bike trail, but the new pathway has left a long-time community garden in its wake, and several advocates say not enough is being done to find a replacement.
 
Bulldozers came through in recent weeks to clear the way for the extension, which will more than double Wyoming's current trail. It will connect to the city center in a later phase. It's been part of the master plan here for over a decade.
 
Other options were considered, City Manager Lynn Tetley said, but there was just no other way. The gardens had to go.
 
Jeff McDonald understands that. As he talks, sweat drips from his brow; he's just finished a 4.5-mile run up to Glenwood Gardens from his home on North Avenue, ironically, on the very path to which the new trail will connect.
 
But, he said, there's been little effort to find the gardeners a new, comparable home.
 

Bulldozers have cleared a long-time community garden in Wyoming to make way for an extended hike/bike trail. (Liz Engel/WCPO Contributor)

 
"I'm trying to be optimistic. But it's totally unacceptable. To have all this is nice," he said, pointing to the trail work in progress, "but apparently, there were no plans as part of this extension for the city to relocate gardeners. There was no money allocated. It's just very disappointing right now."
 
The gardens had been part of Wyoming's history for the better part of 74 years. For the last eight, McDonald and his wife, Donna Neumann, planted onions, garlic, tomatoes and corn. Hundreds of plants on two plots. Dozens of others worked the rest -- about 45 plots in all, roughly 500 square feet each.
 
Fellow gardeners were friends, he said. They shared community tools. Their $45 yearly fee covered water, while mulch and wood chips were donated. They all looked out for each other.
 
"Our first couple years out there were basically a disaster, because we didn't know much. But they taught us," he said.
 
Tetley said once the city was sure of the gardens' fate, they started exploring new sites. It wasn't just the path the trail would take, but its slope. At one point, there's a 5 percent grade, the max allowable under Americans with Disabilities Act rules. The gardens, essentially, would have been buried.
 
"There was just no way to keep them," Tetley said. "It was not a fun decision to make, but this (trail) has a more regional impact. We have so many active bikers, and this has been a high-ranking priority for our residents for many years."
 
Per a press release, the trail system was first discussed 20 years ago during the creation of Wyoming's 1997 master plan. The city formally adopted the trail plan in 2002 and sought grants for construction. The existing leg -- 0.4 miles -- was completed in 2009. That leg, which runs behind a recreation center, also connects to a trail in Woodlawn, which weaves up to nearby Glenwood Gardens, and in the future, Winton Woods.
 
Wyoming's new trail, or phase two, will run south from the corner of North Park and North Avenue to Oak Park, a total of 0.6 miles. A $303,750 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Clean Ohio Trails Fund will cover a bulk of the cost; local match is anticipated at $257,00. Construction is actively underway; the city also bulldozed one home in the trail's path that it had purchased in 2008.
 
Work should be complete by September. Phase three has no timeline, but will take the path from Oak Park to the city center.
 
The Wyoming trails are part of the West Fork Mill Creek Greenway, which will ultimately total 175 miles.
 
Tetley had hoped to salvage this planting season, but a recently convened 11-member task force, of which she and McDonald are both a part, is still evaluating garden sites. They are closing in on one location near the city's pump house, but it appears the size will be significantly smaller. The most recent proposal is for 20 raised planters, each 32 square feet, only enough room for about six to eight tomato plants. Their old plots were 15-20 times that size.
 
"They want it to look pretty," Neumann said.
 
The task force also only has two community garden representatives, McDonald added -- the others are from the recreation commission, or greenways and beautification committees or city staff. He's afraid their voice is being lost in the shuffle.
 
"The gardeners don't have an equal balance. I feel like we're being put off in the hopes that we'll just go away," he said. "The ground allocation is miniscule. I've given them the opportunity to look at this from another angle, or at least another option that might be more positive for gardeners. I don't know why, but there's been no response. And if this is the direction the committee is going, I don’t think I'm going to participate anymore."
 
Some gardeners, McDonald said, have taken up plots at the Franciscan Community Garden on Compton Road, on the outskirts of the city limits, a partnership Tetley says they helped arrange. But McDonald, for now, will wait and see.
 
Soon, crews will start laying asphalt for the new trail, and he and Neumann will have front row seats from their home. The gardens, still, are an aspect of Wyoming -- a community known for its small-town feel and top-notch schools -- they don't want to lose. The time to speak up is now.
 
"A lot of people have moved out (of Wyoming) once their kids graduated," Neumann said. "But I like it here, I've been here 30 years, and the community garden, I think, is one way to attract empty nesters willing to pay the kind of taxes that Wyoming has, just to live in this kind of wonderful community. Because it is a wonderful community."
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