Old railroad depot, new promise.
Few trains travel along the tracks that cut across Ohio 99 in southern Monroeville -- maybe four to six a day, village officials said. Rail activity in the area declined sharply in the first half of the 1900s.
The last passenger car stopped at the rail depot located along the state route in the late 1950s, said Rick Schaffer, trustee for Firelands Rails to Trails. The last freight train stopped there a couple decades after that.
But the depot is about to become busy again -- not with trains, but with bicyclists, horseback riders, runners and hikers. The depot and some of the surrounding land has been turned over to the nonprofit Firelands Rails to Trails.
The group has big plans for the property. It hopes to convert the building into a permanent home, small railroad museum and work room.
"The depot itself will be a historical interpretative center," said Firelands Rails to Trails president Joe Mantey. "The center room is going to have a collection of old photographs from the Monroeville area, so (trail users) can stop in and have some water, take a break and learn about the area. The depot will also be the meeting room for the trail board."
Outside, they hope to turn the adjacent land into a park with benches, picnic tables and -- fingers crossed -- a rail spur with freight car or caboose.
It will be called Donald E. Morrow Park -- named after the previous property owner, who died last year.
Morrow's wife sold the property to Lorain County Metro Parks, who donated the depot and land to Rails to Trails.
The North Coast Inland Trail will one day stretch from Toledo to Cleveland and beyond. Firelands Rails to Trails is doing its part to transform the old and vacated rail tracks in the northern part of the county into the ambitious trail.
Old rail lines are fairly ideal for turning into trails.
"You've already got a natural grade that never exceeds 2 percent, typically, so you've got a good foundation for a trail," Mantey said.
Transforming the depot into a museum and trail hub will get into full swing by fall 2010. An engineering firm is leasing the building and has one year left on its contract.
Right about the same time, Rails to Trails will also be finishing filling in the major gaps of the North Coast Inland Trail between Bellevue and Norwalk.
The biggest gap -- the bridge over the Huron River -- will have a new deck installed by late 2010.
Soon enough, bicyclists and horseback riders will be able to get from the outskirts of Bellevue to Norwalk in one straight shot. It will be about 15 miles of open and continuous path.
"We've already had people in Bellevue ask us, 'How soon can I ride my bike to work in Norwalk from Bellevue?'" Mantey said. "We're working on it."