Portage Hike and Bike Trail posts new informational signs

Dwayne Yates

In an effort to keep walkers walking and runners running down the Portage Hike and Bike Trail, informational signs will be installed in various locations in coming weeks.

The signs give readers facts about the plants and wildlife living along the trail, as well as historical places the trail has to offer, using words, photos and letters written in the past.

Many may not know, but Native Americans and early American traders used the trail for transportation. The trail follows the Cuyahoga River, and in the middle of the river, near Theodore Roosevelt High School, there is a tall rock called Standing Rock.

Using photos from the Kent Historical Society, Catherine Ricks, environmental education coordinator for Kent Parks and Recreation, made it possible for people to look at Standing Rock and see what people saw there 100 years ago.

In addition to Standing Rock, other places on the trail can be seen as they were in different time periods. Walkers can stop along the railroad tracks in the Erie Railroad freight yard to read about it and see photos from almost 60 years ago when the yard was a booming hub for steam engine locomotives.

Ricks and her husband, Emliss, were in charge of deciding what would go on the signs, compiling the information and finding photos. Ricks found help from the Kent Historical Society, Portage County Historical Society and various citizens.

“If I took (someone) on a walk, these are the things I would like to show (them),” Ricks said.

Jim Tucker of Tucker Image Design Group was hired to take the old black-and-white photos Ricks found, full-color photos Tucker and Ricks took themselves and the information Ricks and her husband compiled, lay them out and make it all comprehensive and visually stimulating for viewers.

“He had to create it in a way that it fit, align the text, edit pictures — he did a lot of beautiful things,” Ricks said.

John Idone, director of Kent Parks and Recreation, received $25,000 from the Community Development Block Grant to complete the sign instillation project. Idone hopes the signs will enrich the experience of those who use the trail.

“I think they will be used by the schools to get the kids out and take a walk on the trail,” Idone said.

Idone also hopes the signs will help close a generational divide. Grandparents can talk about their memories of the railroads while their grandchildren are learning about them for perhaps the first time. They can even discuss all the creatures they saw on the environmentally focused signs that they might encounter on the trail.

Ricks says that’s the beauty of the signs — they’re not targeted to any specific age range.

There are a total of 12 new signs. The roughly eight-mile trail, which runs through downtown Kent, stretches through the city reaching Ravenna and touching Summit County. There are six signs downtown already, so the trail now connects 18 signs in all. That’s 18 chances to teach people something new.

Idone said the trail is important because it protects the river corridor, provides habitat for small animals, prevents river pollution and gives people a place to get out and be active.

“Maybe educating people on the importance of the river corridor will elicit more respect to take care of things,” Idone said.

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] is a public affairs reporter.