July 25, 2014

Elyria
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Volunteers help enforce rules at Cuyahoga Valley park

AKRON — John Newby wasn’t being a busybody when he politely told the man and woman to put leashes on their unrestrained dogs.

That’s his job. Newby is trained to be on the lookout for such hazards in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The 63-year-old doesn’t get a dime for his vigilance.

He’s one of 120 members of the all-volunteer Trailblazer patrol that keeps an eye out along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail and elsewhere in the 33,000-acre federal park between Akron and Cleveland.

Unleashed dogs. Bicyclists suffering cuts and scrapes. That’s about as exciting as the four-hour patrol shifts get, Trailblazers say.

“We hope there isn’t anything terribly exciting,” said Newby, of Newburgh Heights, shortly after the dog incident on a recent Sunday afternoon. “Exciting can be a negative” for park visitors.

Newby was on bicycle patrol Sunday on the Towpath Trail, which attracts bicyclists and hikers.

Trailblazers also patrol on foot and on horseback. The volunteers must provide their own bicycles and horses.

Newby, a Trailblazer for five years, is a vice president of a company that makes combustion equipment. He was training new volunteer Bob Blum, 64, a retired machinist who lives in Sagamore Hills Township.

Blum, wearing a beige Trailblazer T-shirt and yellow bicycle helmet cover, said as a Trailblazer he can “do something good while I’m out here in the park.”

Doing good on Sunday included answering visitors’ questions and oiling a wheel axle on a bicycle trailer attached to a homemade tandem bicycle.

“There’s always something interesting out here, whether it’s the wildlife or the people,” Blum said as one bicyclist after another whizzed by a towpath trail head in Cuyahoga Falls.

Fifty of the 120 Trailblazers are new to the program. The new volunteers completed the rigorous training this year.
Training sessions — totaling nearly 50 hours — cover park history, bicycle maintenance, use of a two-way radio, CPR and other topics.

“The volunteers are super dedicated,” said park ranger Jared Brewer, who oversees the 14-year-old Trailblazer program similar to those in other national parks. “You have to be dedicated doing all that training.”

Volunteers patrol in pairs, equipped with a two-way radio and first-aid and bicycle repair kits.

Kyle Simich, 49, who works in patient financial services for Summa Health System, is one of the new volunteers.

The patrols “are a way to help — and get exercise,” Simich said.

She figures she’s bicycled 60 to 80 miles and hiked a dozen or so more during her eight Trailblazer shifts this spring.

The Akron resident was patrolling on a recent Sunday with a fellow new volunteer when she heard a yelp.
She and fellow Trailblazer, Chuck Heiner, 57, a social worker at Northfield Village

Retirement Community, saw that a young girl had wiped out on her bicycle while turning a corner.

Seconds later, they were at the girl’s side, bandages at the ready.