Tuesday, June 17, 2014

UPDATED: Lake Metroparks gets all gushy over Lake Erie Bluffs park/handicapped access

Paul Palagyi just loves Lake Metroparks’ newest baby.

So much so that with the flare of a cooing father that whips out a smartphone and starts to scroll through one digital snapshot of the kids after another, Palagyi is more than just eager to say why his kid is the best.

That kid being the parks system’s 600-acre Lake Erie Bluffs in Perry Township, a still child in diapers if you will with agency staff nursing all sorts of added features with an eye to seeing the youngster stand on its own two feet.

Yet if one were to ask Palagyi if he loves this latest park unit/baby more than its older siblings with the likes of Penitentiary Glen Reservation, Girdled Road Reservation, Hidden Valley Park or Veteran’s Park you’d not only a get the parks system’s executive director to shake his head vigorously back of forth as symbol of “no” you’d see just as many snapshots of these units, too.

Yep, Palagyi is one proud parks system papa. Then again, so are all of the agency’s personnel as well.

“We haven’t pulled anyone off any other project or park in order to work here,” Palagyi said.

The “here” is the work-in-progress on-going at Lake Erie Bluffs. Situated with its back door running closely parallel with a set of railroad tracks, the park’s front door is an almost two-mile-long stretch of lake front, east to west.

Lake Erie Bluffs is accessed via pair of south-to-north paved streets: Lane Road on the west and Clark Road on the east. In between is found clay bluffs pointing 40 feet above  Lake Erie, open meadows, reverting farmland, dense forest wetlands, a lively colony of spindly and fast-growing alders; in short a glorious hodgepodge of habitats that service an equally vibrant array of plant and wildlife species.

Getting to see that biodiversity is what the parks system is now engaged in, Palagyi says, with trails being cut, poured on with gravel their texture butter-knifed to a smoothness that won’t trip up visitors.

And for handicapped visitors such as myself (who also happen to be Lake County taxpayers, a not inconsequential commodity) the getting there is becoming easier. The reason being that Lake Metroparks has bought electric-powered, five-person golf carts that are better advertised as being people movers.

Over the course of the year Lake Metroparks intends to use these vehicles to transport the handicapped and the elderly into and around any number of the agency’s holdings. Driven by a staff member the guests will get an eyeful and an earful of the parks where the people-mover carts are being used.

For now the up-and-coming cart program is built around a reservation system with the vehicles also having a dual purpose when not being employed to chauffer the handicapped and the elderly around the parks system’s family of reservations, Palagyi says.

“We’ll use them at special events like the wine festival,” he said.

Or those handicapped or elderly individuals with their own means of conveyance are certainly welcome, especially since by federal statute they are allowed, Palagyi.

“I doubt, though, someone showing up with a Segway would qualify, though,” Palagyi said. “If they can use a Segway they’re probably not handicapped.”

Perhaps not though by whatever means a person does decide to explore Lake Erie Bluffs they won’t be disappointed, as a recent nickel-tour of the unit revealed.

Having visited the park twice before when amenities included nothing more than a bush behind a tree and a barely discernible old tractor path, Lake Erie Bluffs has just about reached the stage where it no longer needs training wheels.

The parks system is well on its way to developing a spider web of interconnecting trails that are pushing toward the five-mile mark, Palagyi says.

“We may even build up to seven miles of trails,” Palaygi says.

And at the edge of the Lane Road parking lot are scattered several picnic tables and a wooden deck that offers a frequent  view of cruising American bald eagles by day and a to-die-for diorama of a blazing colorful sun dipping beneath the western lip of Lake Erie.

“When everything is accomplished the trails here will offer the best park walk in the system,” 
Palagyi said. “I really do believe Lake Erie Bluffs is going to experience huge visitation and usage, especially in the summer and fall.”

Don’t forget spring, too, since the park has already become a popular, seasonal way station for migrating song birds.

And just to ensure that people will linger longer at Lake Erie Bluffs – including all of those folks riding shotgun in a people-moving five-passenger electric golf cart – the parks system is hardly running out of to-do ideas.

Beyond the planning stage is the securing of a multi-seasonal shelter that will feature a pair of fireplaces, shelter-wide doors that can shut out lake-effect winds and other perks.

“We’re going to landscape it so that the shelter will feature a really nice view of the lake,” Palagyi said.

A series of wood stakes punched into a roughed-out area of the meadow adjacent to the Lane Road parking lot delineates where the shelter-to-be will rise from the earth.

What’s more the parks system is mulling whether a pair of additional shelters located elsewhere will help this kid reach maturity in about four years.

Other items are being developed; among them being a primitive campsite and an observation tower, and who knows what all next.

But, then again, what doting parent doesn’t have the grandest of dreams for any of his or her kids?

Thing is, Lake Metroparks is doing more than just dreaming about the possibilities at Lake Erie Bluffs. It is spending the necessary dollars and quality time there, but without ignoring the rest of the parks system’s older siblings, of course.

"It may be the most significant undertaking and not only for Lake County but for the region and the Great Lakes," said park board member Dennis E. Eckart. "This is one to point to for future generations."

For further information about Lake Metroparks’ Lake Erie Bluffs, visit the agency’s web site at www.lakemetroparks.com.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

 Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who  covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 100 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.

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