Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Bike path to link Ohio's north, south

Planners envision 462-mile trail

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOVELAND — Ohio's old canal and railroad beds are giving way to the Ohio to Erie Trail, a bicycle path that eventually will link Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.

        “The trail is perfect for hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders, cross-country skiers — even bird watchers,” said Ed Honton, president of the Ohio to Erie Trail Fund in Columbus.

        Paved bicycle paths are growing in popularity in the area, and across the state. Hundreds of thousands of people use them, helping to spark economic development along the way. And officials expect use to grow as more families and fitness buffs discover the trails.

        In Southwest Ohio, these trails include the popular Little Miami Scenic Trail, which runs from around Milford north to Springfield and cuts through woods along the scenic river.

        Six Butler and Warren county communities are working on another plan that would allow cyclists to ride between the Little Miami and Great Miami rivers.

        The Ohio to Erie Trail is more ambitious — a collection of existing trails and proposed ones traversing the Buckeye State. It is expected to be fully open in five years.

        “Abandoned rail lines and canals make for good trails,” said Don Burrell, bicycle-pedestrian coordinator for the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments. “Trail projects are developing around the region and across the country.”

Nearly half complete

        The Ohio to Erie Trail began in 1991 as an outgrowth of the Ohio Bicycle Advisory Council. Representatives of government agencies and private groups established a private, nonprofit group to raise money to set up a statewide trail.

        “They wanted to make things better for bicyclists — and to see some sort of path across the state,” Mr. Honton said. “They wanted to link existing trails with new ones to connect Cincinnati to Cleveland. Recently, we added a leg from Mount Vernon over to Akron.”

        Originally, the group proposed a 325-mile trail, then expanded the vision to 462 miles. So far, 194 miles are completed and open, Mr. Honton said.

        “The project has worked well; it's now built from Milford to Cedarville,” he said. “This spring, we'll expand to South Charleston and, by the end of the year, all the way to London. Pieces are built around and through Columbus.

        “On the northern leg, which we call the Heart of Ohio Leg, we have the Mohican Valley Trail and others that are already open.”

        About 117 miles of the trail are under construction, or have funds committed for purchasing land and other costs. The other 151 miles still lack funding.

Boost to economy

        In this decade, expect to hear more about hiking and biking trails. Aging baby boomers and younger people want to stretch their legs.

        “It's a trend,” Mr. Burrell said. “I've picked up on that at the public meetings I've attended. People are interested and there's a lot of support for trails.”

        Loveland is a popular destination on the Ohio to Erie Trail. Each year, about 150,000 use the section from Loveland to Corwin in Warren County, City Manager Fred Enderle said. “The trail is popular and the Ohio to Erie can only make it better.”

        Along the trail this week, riders and walkers cared more about exercise than a name. “I didn't even know I was on the Ohio to Erie Trail,” said John Simmons of Centerville.

        “A lot of horse riders start there,” Mr. Honton said. “Several additional businesses have started there because of the trail. A study showed that economic activity was $111,000 per mile of trail per year — people buying gas, clothing, accessories.”

        The Little Miami Scenic Trail is 59 miles long. “It makes a good trip,” Mr. Honton said. “Then you connect with trails in Xenia.”

        Recently, West Chester, Liberty and Deerfield townships and the cities of Hamilton, Fairfield and Mason formed the Butler-Warren Bicycle Coalition. It will seek $146,000 to study the proposed path, to be built along an east-west corridor between the rivers in southern Butler and Warren counties.

        So far, the opened sections of the Ohio to Erie Trail have cost $25 million for construction and right of way. Remaining costs are estimated at about $30 million. The money comes from federal agencies, local and state governments and contributions from individuals, companies and foundations.

        The trail is divided into Heart of Ohio leg; the Northern Leg, from Cleveland south to Clinton; the Panhandle Route, from Massillon to Newark; and the Southern Leg, from Centerburg (just north of Columbus) to Cincinnati.

        “The trail is already enhancing the state's recreation opportunities and tourism,” Mr. Honton said. “It's a classroom without walls.”


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