Trail of the Month: March 2002
Harrison County Conotton Creek Trail, Ohio
The Harrison County Conotton Creek Trail is a multi-use rail-trail that is located in northern Harrison County, Ohio. The catalyst for the development of the Trail was a letter from an elementary school student to one of the Harrison County Commissioners, which read as follows:
"Dear Mr. Hugh,...I think you should change the old railroad right away [sic] in Jewett into a biking path. It could be used as many purposes such as walking, riding bikes, roller blading and many other things. All it takes is a little black top or concrete. Jewett would be more exciting. I hope you take my idea into consideration... Sincerely, A. K."
Not only was her idea given consideration, it has resulted in a trail extending 11.4 miles through the Appalachian Ohio countryside!
The Harrison County Conotton Creek Trail is a model for what can be achieved when government agencies at all levels join together to focus on a shared vision. The trail is owned by the Harrison County Commissioners, who purchased the right-of-way in the early 1990s to be used for utility construction. The Harrison County Engineer and his staff provided engineering and construction services. Half of the trail was funded through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources recreational trail program and half was funded by the Ohio Department of Transportation, utilizing federal transportation enhancement funds. Crossroads Resource Conservation and Development Council, an agency funded by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, provided grant writing and fundraising support and serves as the fiduciary agent and website host for the local friends of the trail group. Local governments in the townships and villages traversed by the trail have supported the trail effort as well. Local volunteers and a private foundation have provided significant amounts of time, funds, and materials to assist with the effort. And the Harrison County Sheriff has made available the services of inmates who volunteer to work on community projects while incarcerated.
The trail connects the villages of Bowerston, Conotton, Scio and Jewett; in these towns trail users will find parks, libraries, restaurants, supplies and services needed for a day on the trail. The trail is also intersected at two points by the Tappan-Moravian Trail Scenic Byway and adjoins the Buckeye Trail, a 1,250-mile hiking trail that loops the state.
The trail receives much more than the standard recreational users. Elementary school classes in Jewett use the trail for nature walks and exercise, local residents use the trail as a means to access shopping and the workplace, and athletes at the junior high school in Scio use the trail for training. In October the Ohio Bicentennial Commission will cast a commemorative bell on site at the elementary school in Jewett that is adjacent to the trail.
The eastern trailhead is near the headwaters of Conotton Creek, a stream that flows to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Conotton Creek and the trail meander through small villages, farmlands, pastures, and the rolling hills of eastern Ohio. There are a number of scenic and interesting elements along the route including a bridge, located at the center of the trail, which was redesigned as a covered bridge and built from recycled barn lumber by the Scio Post of the American Legion. Discussions have ensued about the prospect of redesigning other bridges on the trail as covered bridges.
The trail's right-of-way was used as a railroad from the 1860s until the early 1990s, when the line operated by the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad was merged with the Ohio Central Railroad line that ran parallel through the valley for approximately 12 miles. Now the two lines share track through the valley. Trains on the line transported wool, ferried troops during wartime, shipped iron ore from Great Lakes ports to the steel mills of the Ohio Valley and, for over a century, they hauled coal mined from Harrison County to markets in all directions. Today the trains traveling along side the trail carry coal, raw materials, and manufactured goods, and, during the colorful months of autumn, they carry passengers on weekend excursions powered by steam locomotives.
The trail is being incorporated into a route that eventually will afford the opportunity to travel from Cleveland to Washington, D.C., via trails in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Three years ago Jim Deming, then RTC Ohio Field Office Director, had a vision of connecting the Ohio & Erie Canal trail system, extending from Cleveland southward, with the developing Great Allegheny Passage system, which will connect Pittsburgh with Cumberland, MD. (The C & O Canal Trail currently connects Cumberland with Washington, D.C.). Deming brought together a coalition of trail builders, state and local officials, local trail volunteers and the National Park Service to identify a means to connect these two major long distance trail systems. Two viable routes have been identified, one of which incorporates the entire length of the Harrison County Conotton Creek Trail.
The Harrison County Conotton Creek Trail is a day trip for the 8.5 million people who live within a 100-mile radius of Harrison County. Included are the residents of Pittsburgh (70 miles from the trail), Canton (40 miles), Akron (60 miles), Cleveland (90 miles), and Columbus (100 miles). The Harrison County Conotton Creek Trail will hold a grand opening celebration on National Trail Day, June 1, 2002. Watch the trail Web site for more details.