New Portage County Trail Ideal for Railfanning

Want to walk through the former Erie Railroad yard in Kent? Looking for new vistas to photograph CSX trains on the former Baltimore & Ohio? If so, then you need to check out the newest addition to the Portage County Hike & Bike Trail system.

A new trail has opened between Lake Rockwell Road and Crain Street in Kent. Combined with an existing trail that for several years has linked Towner’s Woods Park with Lake Rockwell Road, this means that railfans can view three railroads while hiking or biking the 1.5 miles from Towner’s Woods Park to Kent.

Much of the trail is parallel with the former Erie mainline, which is now operated by the Akron Barberton Cluster Railway and owned by the Portage County Port Authority. The new trail addition continues to parallel the ex-Erie for much of its length and passes through the outer edge of the Erie yard site.

There isn’t much left of the yard today. The ABC switches an industry there that receives quite a few tank cars. But otherwise, all the tracks and buildings are gone. That is not to say that there aren’t some relics remaining. Two light towers that illuminated the yard still stand and the new trail passes both.

Look around and you will see concrete foundations where service buildings stood. Also left behind were the concrete support pillars for what appeared to have been a water tank. Now it is surrounded by trees. A concrete booth that may have held a telephone for contacting the dispatcher lies on its side. And there are plenty of pieces of coal and cinders scattered about.

The trail crosses Breakneck Creek and the CSX tracks on bridges that once carried Erie tracks. Photography of eastbound CSX trains from the bridge would work best in the morning when the lighting is more favorable. The CSX tracks come out of a curve here to head in a southeasterly direction. In the distance you can see the Lake Street/Brady Lake Road bridge over CSX, which has been a longtime favorite place for railfans to photograph trains.

Closer to Kent the trail runs next to the CSX tracks and as the tracks come out of a curve and head southward through town along the banks of the Cuyahoga River. Shortly before the trail reaches Crain Avenue, the ex-Erie is on the immediate left and the ex-B&O on the immediate right and below the trail next to the river.

For part of the route along CSX, the vegetation has been stripped away and the utility poles removed, providing a largely unobstructed view of the CSX tracks. This is ideal for photographing westbound trains. Trees and other plants obscure the view closer toward town, although CSX trains can still be seen.

As part of the trail construction, a new parking lot was built just off Lake Rockwell Road by the grade crossing with the ex-Erie. Parking also continues to be available at Towner’s Woods Park, which is adjacent to Norfolk Southern’s Cleveland Line.

This is not a true rails to trails project because no railroad lines have been abandoned. If anything the downsizing of the former Erie made this trail possible by freeing land once devoted to railroad operations.

Although the trail runs side-by-side with the old Erie, don’t expect to see many trains on those tracks. The ABC runs to Ravenna when needed and that isn’t very often. So you will have to use your imagination to “see” the ghosts of Erie and Erie Lackawanna trains on those rails.

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