Couple harnesses public-private partnership to rehab CVNP trails for horses, hikers

by Judy Stringer

Ray and Jan Dalton’s first date, 42 years ago, was a horseback ride. For the next 37 years, the couple enjoyed riding here and there but couldn’t commit to horse ownership even after buying a roomy 9-acre farm off Hines Hill Road in 2000.

“We raised five children and didn’t really have time to deal with it,” said Ray, who founded local companies like PartsSource and reLink Medical and operates the Twinsburg-based Dalton Foundation. “Then about five years ago for Jan’s birthday, we decided just to do it. We did the research, purchased two Tennessee Walkers and never turned back.”

Ray describes horse riding as “unbelievably relaxing” under normal conditions. That was not the case, however, when the Daltons saddled up for their first excursions on nearby bridle trails in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

“They were in very, very bad condition. I would even mark them as being dangerous in some places; dangerous for us and for the horses,” he said.

After a few years of preparation and planning with the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park – CVNP’s official nonprofit “friends” group – and the National Park Service, the Daltons helped launch the Cuyahoga Valley Bridle Trail Fund with a $100,000 grant from their foundation in early 2021.

The fund, which focuses on the restoration and rebuilding of CVNP’s 25 miles of equestrian-friendly pathways, paid for improvements to the Wetmore, Valley and Langes Run trails. That work included the installation of two 40-plus-foot long turnpikes to elevate the tread above wet areas, armored crossings, drainage features and a new bridge at the Tabletop and Langes Run trails intersection, according to Sheryl Hoffman, vice president of philanthropy for the conservancy.

Ray and Jan were so pleased with how quickly the trail rehab was going, the couple added a second $100,000 grant to the fund this year, contingent upon the conservancy raising a $100,000 match by Aug. 31.

“CVNP staff and volunteers got more work done faster and at a cost less than what they originally thought it was going to be,” Ray explained. “So, with that track record, we said ‘Let’s see if we can get other people to come along and invest with us in year two.’”

As of Aug. 15, Hoffman said the conservancy had raised slightly more than $85,000 of its $100,000 portion from over 30 individuals and a handful of groups like the Davey Family Foundation, Buckeye Trail Riders, BHA Riding Academy, Northern Ohio Dressage Association, and the Ohio Horseman’s Council and several of its county chapters.

“The nice thing is that Daltons are matching that dollar for dollar, pretty much as it is raised,” she said, meaning that some of the second-year projects are underway or soon will be, including repairs to the Perkins and Riding Run loops and a flood-prone area of the southern portion of Valley Bridle Trail.

Ray estimates that by Nov. 1, nearly 17 of the 25 miles of CVNP bridle trails will be restored to “horse-grade” standards.

“They are not putting in people trails or people trails horses can use. This is a substantially better riding surface,” he said, adding that CVNP dedicated one full- and one part-time maintenance staffer to the bridle projects as part of its “equal if not more investment into the fund.”

“I wish that I could find other government agencies for the foundation to invest in that would deliver in such an amazing way. And, it’s not only the remediation and repair but we also now have a hotline in place that people can call to notify park staff if, for example, a tree’s down, and they are very responsive.”

Trail work will continue into 2023, Hoffman said, with restoration of the northern part of Valley Bridle Trail and Tabletop and Butler’s Run trails. 

Hiker help

Hoffman stressed that all of these trails are designed as hiking routes as well and that the Dalton’s vision for improving bridleways has since inspired the conservancy to establish its Trails Now Fund, which is focused more broadly on maintenance and amenities along CVNP’s 125 miles of multipurpose trails. Unlike its Trails Forever endowment, the Trails Now Fund – unveiled earlier this year – targets “donors who would like to see their funds put to work immediately,” she said.

In addition to the Dalton’s bridle fund, Trails Now projects include a $1.1-million new trailhead just north of the Stanford House and the $32,000 replacement of a footbridge on Salt Run Trail. Hoffman said the conservancy is raising $551,000 of the needed funds for the Stanford Trailhead, as the rest will be covered by a matching grant from the National Park Service.

“So not only did the Daltons initiate some trail work on bridle/hiking trails, but they actually helped us look at a whole new fund and mechanism for raising funds for the park,” she said. “It’s not often that you get to announce a new fund and have two matching gifts to apply to it immediately.”

The Stanford Trailhead will include restrooms and more than three dozen parking spots in addition to dedicated horse trailer parking. Hoffman said the horse trailer spots are included partly as an homage to the Dalton’s groundwork but also out of need as the Valley Bridle Trail goes through the area. The Stanford lot, in general, will serve as much needed overflow parking for the Boston Visitor Center and surrounding trails, she added.

Ray said he and Jan hit the bridle trails at least twice a week, calculating the couple rides between 800-1000 miles per year. The horses are also a favorite, of course, of the Dalton’s grandchildren, who enjoy riding around the Hines Hill property with the grandparents and sharing treats like watermelon with the horses.

“They’re just such a pleasant animal to be around,” he said. “They give you back as much energy as you give them.” ∞

Photo: Thanks to a fund started by Hudson residents Ray and Jan Dalton, CVNP is upgrading 25 miles of its combination bridle/hiking trails with surfaces that are safer for horses and people.