Aurora will add new parks and rec leaders to guide the department’s growth

Aurora City Hall. Paige Fisher/The Portager

Aurora City Council on Jan. 8 approved the creation of two full-time management positions: an assistant director and a supervisor.

Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said she has been considering restructuring the parks and recreation department for several years and decided to follow the leadership model that works so well for the city’s service department.

“With the added properties and responsibilities for parks and rec in the last 10 years, and in light of the current projects for 2024 — especially the construction of a hike and bike trail and the anticipated work on the Geauga Lake property once the acquisition is finalized — I believe this is the right time to begin restructuring the department,” she said.

Formerly owned by the Norfolk-Southern railroad, the right of way the hike and bike trail will occupy is now owned by FirstEnergy. The land itself bisects Aurora. After years of litigation against the energy corporation, which wanted to build transmission towers in the right of way, city leaders ended up with a permanent recreational easement along the former railroad corridor.

Aurora is now set to construct the first segment of its long-planned trail: a 2.8-mile stretch starting at Chamberlain Road in Mantua and ending at Route 82 in Aurora’s historic Station District.

The multi-use trail will be 10-feet wide and ADA-accessible, Womer Benjamin said. It will run adjacent to other park properties, including Aurora’s Paddock River Preserve and Spring Hill. One section will be adjacent to Aurora Sanctuary, a state sanctuary owned by the Greater Cleveland Audubon Society.

Sweetening the deal, the Portage County Parks District has plans to connect the Headwaters Trail segment to Aurora Trail’s eastern terminus at Chamberlain Road. When the work is complete, the connections to Headwaters Trail will link Aurora to Garrettsville and will include crossings with Ohio’s Buckeye Trail.

City leaders continue to negotiate details related to Aurora’s other big project: spending $4.5 million on a public park that will encompass part of the former SeaWorld amusement park and all of Geauga Lake itself, which is about 54 acres.

Plans are on the table to provide all manner of amenities, including beach and picnic areas, as well as a boardwalk around the lake, newly elected city council president George Horvat told The Portager late last year.

In enlarging the management team, Womer Benjamin is drawing on local talent to assist Park and Recreation Director Laura Holman.

“My intent is to move Bill Fellenstein, who is currently the parks coordinator, into the assistant director position; and Nick Miller, who is currently the fields/grounds coordinator, into the supervisor position. Both are experienced and talented individuals who have served the city exceedingly well,” Womer Benjamin said.

City Council has already approved both job descriptions. The city’s service commission, tasked with reviewing all classified positions, is expected to approve the supervisor’s job description by the end of the month.

According to the 2024 budget the mayor proposed, the assistant director will earn $85,000 annually, and the supervisor will earn $68,000.

Fellenstein and Miller will likely move into their new roles as department needs dictate, she said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.