On Oct. 25, 2017, more than 134 legislators and staffers converged along the Scioto Mile for a multiuse trail event—complete with bikes, kayaks and paddleboards—designed to highlight the many benefits that trails bring to communities. Hosted by the newly formed Ohio Legislative Trails Caucus, as well as the Ohio Trails Partnership and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), the event also included dozens of long-time trail leaders, advocates and managers, who shared their visions for taking Ohio’s trail systems to the next level. Ohioans biked or hiked to downtown Columbus to meet with their state elected officials, sharing personal experiences emphasizing the importance of trails.
The Caucus—and its potential to positively impact trail development moving forward—underscores a huge turning point for trails in the state. With a variety of projects in the works—from urban initiatives that will create equitable connections for underserved communities to multistate projects that will serve as regional boons for tourism and recreation—it’s clear that 2017 is just the beginning for trails in Ohio.
This fall kicked off Ohio’s Year of the Trails, and with so many trail networks under development, there is definitely cause for both celebration and promotion of these vital assets.
Here’s a brief overview of just six projects that are moving the dial in the Buckeye State.
1Mapping Ohio’s Trail Systems
The Ohio Legislative Trails Caucus is partnering with the Department of Natural Resources to develop a comprehensive online trail map that continually collects and consolidates Ohio’s trail data. This is a big deal, because it will support initiatives to update the state trail plan and conduct a statewide economic impact study that will direct strategies to promote healthy communities.
As Sen. O’Brien points out, “Whether hiking, cycling, running, horseback riding, rolling or paddling, almost every Ohioan has enjoyed our state’s wonderful trails system at some point in their life. Add that to the many economic benefits of Ohio’s trails. Making sure those trails are developed and preserved for years to come is an issue that people on both sides of the political aisle can agree upon.”
2180-Mile Central Ohio Greenways Network
As the 180-mile Central Ohio Greenways network continues to build momentum, Columbus is setting itself up as a model for trail development. Led by a group of local agencies, including Columbus Recreation and Parks and Franklin County Metro Parks—both long-time trail development leaders in the region—Central Ohio Greenways is creating safe, equitable walking and biking routes throughout the city and beyond. Notably, the trail system is focusing on developing east-west connections that will ensure more neighborhoods—many of which are low-income or underserved—have access to trails. The Camp Chase Trail, for example, is helping to promote physical activity and active transportation among African Americans in Columbus through organizations such as the National African American Male Wellness Walk Initiative.
Multiple trails in the network also help make up the developing 326-mile Ohio to Erie Trail, which is creating an almost entirely off-road, cross-state trail connection.
3Cross-State Ohio to Erie Trail
Mentioned in the previous section, this developing 326-mile trail network—of which 280 miles are currently complete—will eventually connect the Ohio River in Cincinnati to Lake Erie in Cleveland (with some on-road connectors). Linking four of Ohio’s metropolitan cities, a dozen large towns and numerous small villages, the Ohio to Erie Trail has the potential to boost recreational tourism across the state and create endless new opportunities for physical activity.
Its route includes some of the country’s most loved trails, such as: the 81.1-mile Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail, which links to Cuyahoga Valley National Park; the Holmes County Trail crossing through one of the largest Amish communities in North America; and the Little Miami Scenic Trail, a crown jewel of Ohio’s rail-trails, which further connects to a 360-mile off-road system throughout the Miami Valley, a.k.a. “the nation’s largest paved trail network.”
In 2016, Cleveland Metroparks was awarded a $7.95 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to help complete a $16.45 million regional trail network.
Reconnecting Cleveland aims to create trails and safe walking and biking routes that will connect segments of Cleveland’s currently underserved populations to jobs, schools, public transit, business districts, parks and major civic spaces. According to Cleveland Metroparks, the trail network is intended to spur economic reinvestment in the region and will serve an estimated 66,000 area residents by the time of its completion in just five years.
5CROWN the Queen
CROWN—Cincinnati Riding Or Walking Network—will transform the way people move in Cincinnati. This is a bigger, bolder vision expanding the 2015 Cincinnati Connects Plan that links multiuse trails and on-road bike lanes to create an interconnected, 104-mile active transportation network. The unified vision, led by Tri-State Trails, links the existing Little Miami Scenic Trail, Ohio River Trail East, Mill Creek Greenway Trail, Lunken Airport Trail and Otto Armleder Trail to the proposed Wasson Way, Oasis Trail, Ohio River Trail West and Little Duck Creek Trail.
When complete, CROWN will connect at least 242,000 people from 49 neighborhoods to employment centers, schools, parks, retail, recreation and entertainment. As Megan Folkerth of Interact for Health noted, "We really value that it will go through some of our most vulnerable population groups. In many cases, those groups don't have access to cars, and this network will help them get where they need to go every day."
6Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition
Last but not least is the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition, which is creating a 1,400-mile-plus trail network connecting 48 counties in four states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York. When complete, this will be the largest destination trail network in the country, with endless implications for tourism and economic development in some former industrial corridors.
The IHTC, which is led by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program and RTC, builds upon efforts to harness and amplify the benefits of the region’s trails systems. This includes stimulating the regional economy and creating social equity and new health connections for underserved communities across the project footprint.
Much of the framework is already in place and includes some of the country’s favorite trails, such as the Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath, the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and Montour Trail in Pennsylvania, and the North Bend Rail Trail and Mon River Rail-Trail network (including the North and South sections) in West Virginia.