Geauga Park District Board of Trustees approved a 50-year use agreement Tuesday with Middlefield Village for an extension of the Maple Highlands Trail that includes a provision that would allow snowmobiles on the trail.

The board voted 2-1 to approve the agreement with board member Richard Gertz opposing the measure, saying he wanted the snowmobile and motorized mobility devices stricken from the agreement.

The provision reads, in part, “permitted uses will include horse and buggy, horseback riding, bicyclists, walkers, runners, motorized or non-motorized mobility devices, and snowmobiles, and-or any other uses mutually agreed to by district and Middlefield throughout the 50-year term of this agreement, so long as both parties amend this agreement in writing.”

The park district required Middlefield’s approval because a portion of the trail extension will be on property owned by the village.

The park district opened a trail in the Observatory Park in Montville this year for snowmobile use on a trial basis, although that trial run was limited due to a winter that saw little snow.

Mr. Gertz said allowing the snowmobiles on the trail would pose a conflict with horse riders and buggies pulled by horses. He said horses would be easily spooked by the snowmobiles. “Have you ever seen a horse and snowmobile?” he asked. “It’s no fun.”

Mr. Gertz had also opposed allowing snowmobiles at Observatory Park, citing the damage they had caused when trespassing on his own property.

He said allowing snowmobiles on Maple Highlands Trail will negate the safety factor that Amish rely on, using Tare Parkway, a bypass route from Old State Road (Route 608).

Park Director John Oros said after the meeting that other users of the trail will likely be excluded from using the trail when snowmobile riding is allowed. The park district had restricted other users from the trail in Observatory Park while snowmobiling was occurring.

Members of the audience called for the board to read the agreement aloud, but board member Jackie Dottore said it was three pages long, refusing the request. Other audience members questioned whether Middlefield Council had approved the agreement, maintaining that no such action had been taken.

Mr. Oros said he had a copy of the council’s meeting minutes, which stated that council had approved the agreement, authorizing the mayor to sign it.

Mr. Oros urged the board to act on the measure, rather than table it. He said the park wanted to move forward with the environmental design of the project.

Middlefield Council President Rick Seyer said the agreement had been approved, although council believed it was only passing a resolution to enter negotiations on the agreement. “I’m afraid it has been (approved),” Mr. Seyer said.

He said he accepted the blame for the mistake and was not sure that any of the council members knew they were approving the use of snowmobiles on the trail.

Personally, Mr. Seyer said, he opposes snowmobile use on the trail. “This is not acceptable to me,” he said. “Absolutely, I want that out of the agreement – the snowmobile portion.”

He said allowing snowmobiles to be doing speeds of 30 to 40 mph would likely spook horses, whether people are riding them or the Amish are riding buggies. “It’s not a good situation,” he said. He said he does not know where other council members stand on the issue.

Mr. Seyer said he hopes that the agreement can be changed, because provisions in it allow for the village to have a say in any use on the trail.

He said Mr. Oros has been invited to council’s Oct. 13 meeting and hopes to address the issue at that time.

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