Tell Us ...
In September, we asked you to tell us what you would re-name your local rail-trail, and why? Our question evidently missed the mark with most of you, but we did receive one impassioned response about an Ohio rail-trail.
Marshall Pearson — Washington, D.C.
Anyone tempted to scorn the great state of Ohio needs to ride the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway near Athens, Ohio. In a little more than 18 miles, one can simultaneously observe every glory of rural life and every vestige of a rust-belt economy now long gone. All the strength and imperfection of the state is laid bare, reflected at every bend of the trail and inherently beautiful. I would rename this rail-trail the "Heartland Passage," as it encapsulates the essence of a state often overlooked but uniquely majestic.
For a time, the trail follows the crinkled bends of the Hocking River, a tributary that once connected the southeastern portion of Ohio with the capitol city of Columbus by way of canal barges. The bustling campus of Ohio University, one of the nation's oldest colleges, dominates the landscape at one end of the trail before giving way to subdued greenery and silence. I graduated from the university this past spring and spent a great deal of time on the trail. Having moved to Washington, D.C., I already find myself fondly reminiscing.
On the portion of the trail past campus, the small-town charm of rural Ohio is manifest. In the spring, children play baseball, canines of all sizes revel in the frenzied activity of the dog park, and local gardeners tend to the sizable community gardens flanking the path. Before long, however, such activity is silenced. After passing a string of rusting boxcars, the trail becomes secluded; sights are relegated to the gentle flow of the Hocking, the flash of a quickly moving cardinal or the slithering of a snake in the reeds. Trailer homes run parallel to the corridor, reminding bikers and runners of life in a region abandoned by the industry that once gave it power.
The thread uniting everyone who lives near the path and in the region, no matter their fortune, is a sense of community and the providence of such support. Local residents that are employed by one of the academic institutions at either end of the path can safely and cheaply commute, and students can travel to the gardens or local businesses for groceries without owning a car.
The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway truly represents a slice of life in Ohio. The symbols of pain and poverty are there and plainly visible. The branches of weeping willows droop into the water, children throw rocks off of bridges, and life is teeming everywhere. The "Heartland Passage" connects it all, telling a story that will convert anyone skeptical of the state's splendor.