VERNON TOWNSHIP — The 1-mile stretch of Conneaut Lake Road between the “Big I” roundabout and the Salvation Army store is among the most heavily trafficked commercial corridors in Crawford County,
But running parallel just a few hundred yards to the north is another stretch of pavement, this one 5,001 feet long, that not nearly enough people are familiar with, according to those who know it best.
“We’re kind of tucked away,” Jack Molke said of Port Meadville Airport earlier this week.
Molke was standing inside the two-story terminal that sits slightly east of the airport runway’s midpoint not long after a Dassault Falcon 50 three-engine jet had stopped at the facility .
“Maybe 80 percent of the public doesn’t know that there’s an airport back here,” he said.
Molke, in contrast, has been involved with the airport for two decades since operations came under the management of the seven-member Crawford County Regional Airport Authority where he is now president.
The airport itself dates back almost a century, according to manager Rob Golenberke, and sees more traffic than most residents in the area probably realize. The Falcon 50, for instance, was one of about 11 jets that fly in and out each month, he said. They each pay a $150 jet landing fee, so it’s easy to keep track of monthly landing figures.
“People don’t realize the traffic that does come in,” Golenberke said. The airport, he added, is among the busiest general aviation airports in western Pennsylvania. Unlike commercial airports, general aviation airports do not offer scheduled passenger service.
If Molke is correct and most residents are generally oblivious to airport activities, they probably didn’t notice as several weeks of paving wrapped up at the facility this week. The work was the latest in ongoing upgrades, the most recent of which have involved significant improvements to the paved surfaces used by the aircraft.
Last summer, Golenberke said, the runway was repaved with funding provided primarily through federal pandemic-related grants.
Over the past few weeks, additional federal funding enabled the airport’s east apron and taxiway delta, which essentially serve as oversized driveways for various hangars and the helipad located south of the runway. The facility remained open during the work.
This time, Golenberke said, federal grants paid 100 percent of the approximately $596,000 in roadwork performed by Lindy Paving of New Galilee. Another $20,300 in federal funds paid for new radio controllers for the runway’s precision approach path indicators — lights that can be remotely operated by pilots coming in at night when the facility is unstaffed to gauge an incoming craft’s angle of approach.
“That’s pretty significant for our little airport,” Golenberke said.
The repaving was needed not due to the potholes that so commonly afflict roadway surfaces used by automobiles in the area, according to Golenberke, but due to extensive cracking that grew to several inches wide in some spots.
In fact, a check of the satellite view offered by popular online map services shows the areas repaved over the past three weeks looking like the scaly surface of a Renaissance-era oil painting. Now, however, the surface has been restored. The old material was milled and removed, replaced by a leveling course that was covered with a waterproof membrane to prevent future cracks and then topped with a wearing course of asphalt, according to paving Superintendent Shane Polach of Lindy paving.
The work, Polach said, was similar to paving work done on roads. The main difference, he added, had to do with traffic safety awareness for the road workers.
“You’ve got to look up instead of around you,” Polach joked as he stood alongside the runway apron being paved, a STAT MeEvac helicopter visible beyond the heavy machinery applying fresh asphalt on top of the plastic membrane that had previously been installed.
Meadville’s airport may be little, but as Golenberke showed visitors around he was quick to note that it’s surprising as well — surprising in ways that include more than just the comings of goings of corporate jets and the privately owned planes that fill the available hangars.
Just upstairs from where he and Molke welcomed visitors in the terminal is the observation room dedicated in Molke’s honor. Three walls full of windows offer the perfect viewing opportunity for those in the area who are aware of the airport’s presence. Golenberke said some stop by with lunch for the chance to see some takeoffs and landings.
Some lucky visitors even get the opportunity to hop in the manager’s pickup truck for a quick spin down the taxiway. As he turned around to head back to the terminal, two single-engine planes began taxiing toward the same end of the runway and Golenberke pulled off into the grass.
“Airplanes always have the right of way,” he said.
Pausing there, he spent a moment taking in nearly 360 degrees of fall colors covering the nearby hills.
“It’s so peaceful out here,” he said. While he’s paid to oversee airport activities, whenever possible he likes to serve as an informal promoter for the towns near the airport as well. “I like to brag about our area.”
Looking around with him as the two planes rose into the sky against the fall backdrop, it was easy to see why.