Akron to improve Wilbeth Wetlands with $2.5 million project

Akron Beacon Journal (OH), 2014-08-06

Aug. 06 -- Akron is working on improving 120 acres in the southern section of the city that would be added to the still-developing Confluence Park that extends from the Portage Lakes north to Summit Lake.

The city is spending $2.5 million on what's called the Wilbeth Wetlands, a series of interconnected ponds and pools between West Wilbeth and West Waterloo roads.

The city-owned tract lies east of the Ohio & Erie Canal and the popular Towpath Trail . Trail users get glimpses of the wetlands.

City Council has approved seeking bids for initial work.

Dan Rice , president and chief executive officer of the Akron -based Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition , hailed the project as "very exciting and adding another asset to Confluence Park ."

The unopened park includes about 260 acres of protected wetlands at the north end of Long Lake on the Akron - Coventry Township border, plus nearby lands owned by the city of Akron , the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Summit Metro Parks .

"It's an incredible addition that people can see from the Towpath Trail ," Rice said of the Wilbeth Wetlands.

"I really applaud Akron for its role, although nature has already started reclaiming the wetland, with great blue herons and ospreys [a fish-eating hawk] ... It's a huge step forward."

Work on removing invasive plants from the wetlands could begin in the fall, if city can get final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers , said city engineer Michelle DiFiore .

If that happens, planting native plants could begin next spring, she said.

The project calls for the permanent removal of six very large industrial water wells on the property. Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. used the wells for tire making, she said.

Firestone gave the land to the city in the 1980s, she said.

The city also plans to improve stormwater flow into the Wilbeth Wetlands, she said.

It also intends to build two structures in the wetlands to collect plastic bottles and other floatables that are washed into the wetlands via the city's storm sewers, DiFiore said.

The city owns 112 acres and would like to add an additional eight acres, she said.

Negotiations with landowners are continuing, she said.

Nearly 74 acres on the 120-acre tract are what are classified as Category 2 wetlands, she said.

The rating means the wetland integrity and quality is moderate.

Ohio has three categories of wetlands from poor to moderate to high quality. The other 46 acres are not wetlands.

The completion date is in March 2016 .

Trails and boardwalks might be added to the Wilbeth Wetlands later, if the city can find the necessary funds, she said.

The plan is "to preserve and enhance the wetlands" that will become additional green space in the development of Confluence Park , she said.

This could mean connecting some of the pools with man-made channels, she said.

The city is funding the current work with $749,336 from the Clean Ohio Fund and $1,750,000 from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program.

In the EPA -backed program, the city will save money on its Mud Brook sewer project with a low-interest state fund. Some of the money saved will then be funneled by the EPA into the Wilbeth Wetlands project.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com .


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