Riding Rail Trails in Ohio and Michigan
We left home on September 7th with an overcast sky and a light sprinkle of rain, but not before cutting okra to take to the church secretary. After stopping by the church, we were on our way out of town on I-77 heading to our first destination of Athens, Ohio. This was our first camping/biking trip since we bought the Toyota Sienna van. We traded our sedan for the van for better camping transportation with the added benefit being able to retreat to it in the event of a fierce thunder storm. A nylon tent just don't get it under big trees with wind and lightning.
After our picnic lunch stop from the van outside of Ripley, West Virginia, we arrived in Athens at the trail head of the Hocking Athena trail around 2:15. It was a beautiful sunny day with the temperature at 73 degrees. As I headed down the trail, there was a stiff breeze. In the open spots the wind added to my pedaling resistance. Rhonda went on ahead to Nelsonville where the trail terminated.
The trail was paved asphalt which made the riding easier than dirt or other trail surfaces. The beginning of the trail skirted the campus of Ohio University. After leaving town, there was a canopy of trees nearly all the way; making for excellent riding conditions. Rhonda was waiting in a parking lot behind a Rocky Boot factory in town when I arrived around 4 o'clock after riding 19.6 miles. We headed out of town to a campground that a guy on the trail had told me about. It was called Happy Hills and turned out to be a great place; neat, clean, quiet and not crowded at all. We had a good supper and Rhonda wanted to go to bed (cot) early. She was suffering from a terrible head cold or allergy and wanted to get as much rest as possible.
We arose before sunrise the next morning with the temperature reading around forty-eight degrees. I ate a bowl of cereal and Rhonda made breakfast sandwiches with the leftover pork loin. She also had usual bowl of oatmeal. After breaking camp, we headed north toward our destination of the Holmes County trail. We drove around Lancaster and went through Newark. I stopped along the way to take a picture of the giant Longaberger basket which was the headquarters building of the company.
Beyond Newark, we stopped at an old canal boat site where the gave canal boat rides on the weekend. I went in the gift shop to see if they had a map of the canal system that once existed through Ohio. When I went to pay for it, I realized I did not have my wallet. I returned to the van to get it and discovered it was not in the van. I looked around the area where I walked and finally guessed it must have slipped out when I stopped to take the picture in Newark. The problem was that I put on my bike shorts that morning so I would be ready to ride the next trail and the wallet had just been tucked in my waist band.
We returned to the spot where I had stopped to take the picture earlier, but the wallet could not be found. The last place I had used it was at a Tractor Supply in the town of Heath, Ohio. Back at the Tractor Supply, we looked around where we had parked and asked inside if it had been turned in. We then call the local law enforcement and reported it lost. We called the credit card company to cancel my credit and debit card. Fortunately, Rhonda's debit card was a separate account and we could get cash. We eventually went to Walmart and bought a $500 dollar card that we could use at the gas pumps and other places.
After this ordeal, we headed back to our destination of Killbuck, Ohio where fifteen and a half mile trail began. We we arrived at the beginning of the trail it was lunch time, so we at sandwiches we made from our supplies in the van. I headed out on the paved trail after eating and Rhonda headed to Fredricksburg at the other end.
Holmes County was heavily populated with Amish and starting in Millersburg, the trail was shared with the Amish buggies. The right side of the trail was designated for the horse and buggies and the left, for bikes and other users. As I came into Millersburg, a buggy came out onto the trail from the adjoining business which was Walmart. A little ways up the trail, an Amish lady passed me on a bicycle, while I was stopped taking a photo of one of the signs. She was towing a trailer with a small child and groceries in it and on the back of the bike. I asked her how far she had to travel and said it was about a twenty mile round trip. On the way to meet Rhonda, I passed through Holmesville and I met or was passed by several other buggies along the way.
We left Fredericksburg and headed over to a camping resort outside of New Philadelphia. There was a trail listed nearby (the Zoar Valley Trail) that I wanted to check out. It was not a rail trail, but one of remaining tow paths that was part of the old canal system (so my trail information said). The resort basically catered to RV's and the tenting area was a grassed area off in one corner which had not been mowed recently. The restrooms and showers were not very convenient. They were actually more convenient to those Rvers who were self contained and had a bathroom in their units. There was a large pool and recreation amenities in the center of the facility.
During the early hours of the morning (3:30 am), the dumpster truck came into the park and began their task of servicing the dumpsters. For about twenty minutes, our sleep and peace and quiet was disturbed by banging dumpsters and beeping backup warning devices. Even someone with half a brain could figure out that this did not make sense. Later that morning, we got up, ate and packed up. I left the office an note about the place not being very conducive to tenters and the absurdity of have the annoying situation of having the dumpsters serviced at 3:30 in the morning.
We found the general location of the old canal towpath, but there was no trail – it was in the planning stage, but not according to the information I had researched. We drove on to Bolivar to where the other ended at Fort Laurens State Memorial site, but from reports of riders and walkers, it was in good shape for only two or three miles and then turned rough. I quickly Xed it off my list.
From Bolivar, we headed up to ride the towpath that went through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park from north Akron to Cleveland for a little over 27 miles along with the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. We arrive in the parking lot of the excursion train and I made my preparations for the ride. Rhonda was still suffering from her allergies and we decided that she could buy a ticket for the train ride and I would ride fast to the other end and meet the train. The train was due to arrive in the station in roughly thirty minutes from the north and then return. I left with the goal of ridding the 27 miles and catching the train back with Rhonda. As a tourist rider, the fee was sixteen dollars, but as a bike rider it was only two dollars.
After a few miles of riding, I met the train going south, headed to the Akron station where Rhonda was waiting. I arrived at the northern end of the trail, but had a little difficulty finding the parking lot and loading area for the train. When I did find it, I had just enough time to buy my ticket and load my bike onto the last car designated for the bikes. The next car forward was for the bikers. When I entered the car, Rhonda was there waiting. It was a fun trip, both the train ride and the challenge to make the bike ride and the connection.
We used our Woodall's camping guide to find a campground not too far away. It was east of Akron off I-76 with a Mogadore address. The Cherokee Family Campground was a neat place with a lot of permanent residents. We paid for two nights, since we wanted go back to the Cuyahoga Valley and visit the town of Cuyahoga Falls.
On Saturday, we drove to Cuyahoga Falls and discovered the were having an Octoberfest, but we were too early for some of the events and vendors. There was one listing Kraut balls on their menu which sounded interesting but they were not ready for sales. I rode about 12 miles of Bike and Hike Trail that ran along the eastern border of the park and north of Cuyahoga Falls. There are about 33 miles of trails, one of which is a large loop. We investigated some other area nice areas in the valley. It was great that a natural area was set aside in such a metropolitan area between Cleveland and Akron.
We drove north to Lake Erie and rode along the south shore, stopping at a large park briefly. It was heavily overcast and threatening to rain. The next trail on my schedule was the Western Reserve Greenway which began in Ashtabula on Lake Erie, so we decided to get a motel in town rather than camp in the rain which had started late in the afternoon.
The next day the rain had passed, so we used the directions in the Rails-to-Trails guidebook to find the beginning of the trail. Rhonda dropped me off and headed south toward Warren. The trail was 39 miles long with a detour about mid way. Ohio highway 45 pretty much paralleled the trail the whole way, thus making it easier for the GAG wagon. It was a nice, paved trail so I could make good time. The guidebook mentioned a significant detour where there was road construction. When I arrived there, the trail was barricaded and signed as closed, but since it was Sunday, I decided to ignore the signs and not go use the detour which was several miles out of the way. The trail was very muddy where the pavement was missing, but I got through without getting my shoes or the bike too muddy. Rhonda met me for lunch in the small town of Rock Creek.
Later, in the afternoon, I met two teenage Amish girls roller blading up the trail in their traditional attire. I just had to get a picture after they passed. It was a great rural trail passing farmland and natural areas. Here is a trail description provided the Rails-to-Trails website:
The Western Reserve Greenway is a 43-mile (four miles was rough and undeveloped), mostly rural rail-trail that cuts a north–south course from Ashtabula to Warren, Ohio. The greenway's start is only a few miles from Lake Erie, and a planned extension will bring it right to the shoreline. For now you can start at Herzog Rotary Park, where signs detail the importance of northeast Ohio in the Underground Railroad. Heading south, you cross the historic King Bridge, a steel railroad trestle built in 1897 that now spans Clay Street. Ahead is Austinburg, with a trailhead and plenty of options for refreshments and nourishment. South of town you re-enter the trail's rural surroundings and enjoy the company of deer, beavers and a multitude of birds, including wild turkeys and waterfowl. In the small town of Rock Creek the Rock Creek Trestle spans the river. The bridge features bump-outs that give a bird's-eye view of the river and scenery below. When the trail picks up again, you sail beneath sheltering trees and past the tiny village of Orwell, with a trail head located below a water tower. In North Bloomfield, at about mile 30, the Mosquito Lake wetlands area has a must-see observation deck. Take a break and marvel at the breadth of wildlife—particularly bird life—found here. Red-tailed hawks, marsh and sparrow hawks, and bald eagles have been spotted here. The Stone Arch Bridge in Trumbull County is a true highlight of the Western Reserve Trail. To further explore this superb tribute to time and engineering, hit the road on the north side of the bridge for 0.25 mile and take in the magnificent side view of the bridge. Back on the trail you will come to the Sunside trail head at State Route 305. The rail-trail continues a short distance beyond here to Champion Street north of Warren, but the best access is from this trail head.
After Rhonda picked me up, we found Mosquito Lake State Park on the map and headed that way. It had a huge amount of campsites, spaced well apart and many with landscaped vegetation between them, adding to the privacy, but there were not many campers. We were coming in late enough that the weekenders had already left for the day; plus it was near the middle of September and there were less vacationers. That is when we love to travel and camp. Most of the folks we come in contact with are retiree like ourselves. The bathhouse was very nice, but centrally located on the road out from the campsites. We chose to drive to it for the convenience of have our things readily at hand.
Monday we decide to visit Orville, Ohio where the Smuckers products are made. They did not have plant tours, but the store was fun. We did not realize how many other brands came under the same corporate umbrella. We went by the Lehman's store in Kidron. They specialize in non-electric merchandise. Many of their customers are the Amish, homesteaders, and missionaries in third world countries. The business was started in 1955 and the buildings have been added on to a number of times. It was like a museum. I had ordered through their catalog several times when we were using the cabin on our property, before the house was built. We had a good hot dog in a little specialty restaurant across the street from the store.
Wayne county, another heavily populated county of Amish was having their county fair that week, so we thought it would be fun to spend the afternoon at a county fair that was still highly agricultural. I was a nice break and enjoyable to see the exhibits and some events. We spent the camped at Mohican State Park near Loudonville.
Our next rail trail was the Kokosing Gap trail down toward Mt. Vernon. I was feeling a little under the weather, much like Rhonda did at the beginning of the trip so we decided to lay off a day. We spent time on Tuesday at the library and stopped by bookstore. We checked out the location of the trail, but felt we needed to recuperate, rest and medicate. We got a campsite at a RV park called the Rustic Knolls. They had plenty of vacant spots, but they put us in a tent site way in the back not close to amenities.
Wednesday morning I was ready to take on another trail and headed to over to the Kokosing Gap trail. It was an easy ride of fourteen miles to Danville where Rhonda picked me up and we headed to the little town of Butler to ride the Richland B&O Trail which was 18.4 miles long and ended in Mansfield. We stopped at Walmart and picked up chicken wings and and couple of sides from their deli and something for supper and we then headed up toward Toledo. We found a campground just outside of Sandusky at the Milan Travel Park near the intersection of US 250 and I-80 and set up with the pick of just about any tent site.
We woke up just after daylight the next morning. While Rhonda was down at the bathhouse, I heard some rumbling of thunder not far away, so I jump up from the cot, dressed, and began packing away the sleeping bags, cots, and clothes. It started sprinkling as Rhonda came running back to the site. By the time we had the tent emptied, it was up to a good downpour by the time we got the tent down and in the van. Now it was obvious that breakfast would be made by someone else.
Up the road a short distance we found just the place for a good breakfast – Cracker Barrel. The thunder storm was over by the time we finished breakfast. We drove up to a park on Lake Erie to get a look at the lake, then we drove around Toledo headed for the Wabash Cannonball trail near Maumee. The trail was not easy to find, because the guidebook's descriptions are often poor or incorrect. The trail had a leg that ran south for 23 miles ( 17.5 miles rideable currently). After we spread out the tent and fly to dry, I headed down the south fork but at Whitehouse, I turned around because the skies look threatening. When I returned, the tent was almost dry. Rain was imminent for the evening so we opted for a motel.
I was back on the trail the next morning heading west. Rhonda met me mid-morning in a little community called Delta. I was ready to quit. The trail started out good but the further I went the rougher it got. It was mostly grass.
The next destination was Kalamazoo, Michigan and the Kal-haven State Trail. The Kal-Haven Trail traverses wooded areas, farmland and small towns and is primarily used by bicyclists in the summer, and by snowmobilers in the winter. It passes through nine small towns: Alamo, Mentha, Kendall, Pine Grove Mills, Gobles, Bloomingdale, Grand Junction, Lacota, Kibbe and South Haven. The nine towns that once stood between Kalamazoo and South Haven were connected by train traffic from 1870 to 1970. Some of those towns have faded into the past, but the old railroad corridor linking Kalamazoo and South Haven still hums with activity as the 34.5-mile Kal-Haven rail-trail, itself a state park.
It begins at the eastern trail head on 10th Street in Kalamazoo. A refurbished caboose serves as the trail office and information center. The beginning of the trail is paved-though the majority of the route is crushed slag and limestone-and slopes gently downward. Trees flanking the trail offer many miles of shade before you enter the open fields of Mentha. Almost nothing remains of the old Mentha Plantation that built this area's reputation for producing some of the world's finest peppermint oil. Continuing west you pass on the south edge of Kendall and Gobles. The restored Bloomingdale Depot stands as the halfway point of the trail and houses a museum filled with railroad and local history. In Grand Junction a pedestrian walkway will carry you over active train tracks. Before reaching Grand Junction one mile east is where the bridle trail starts and follows the trail until one mile beyond the town of Kibbie. Just two miles past Grand Junction you will cross the Camelback Bridge, name by its unique curved camelback style, over Barber Creek. From there you begin winding uphill to the South Haven staging area. The trail is fine gravel surfaced, and some parts are blacktopped. There was a three dollar trail permit fee required for using the trail.
I rode to the mid point which was Grand Junction where Rhonda picked me up and we set the GPS to a campground out side of South Haven, but it had a hard time finding it. After some running around and calling the campground, we arrived and set up the tent. The facility appeared to be fairly new. There were not any sizable trees and the restrooms and showers were in excellent condition. We were in an open area on a grassy site. The next morning, it was overcast and threatening to rain as we packed up a rather damp tent and checked out the town before locating the trail head. An hour and a half later I was at the van in Bloomfield and we were heading south toward Indiana, passing huge fields of blueberry bushes. Our destination the next day was the Cardinal Greenway down in Muncey. By the time we got to Elkhart is was still raining lightly off and on. Before we found a motel, I wanted to find the place where they built the Wazat teardrop campers by Microlite. We found the location but no one was around (it was late on Saturday) and there were no completed units outside. I had seen it on the internet and talked ao the phone with the guy who owns the business and does the building.
Sunday morning, we set out for Gaston, Indiana. about 120 miles to the south. We got there right at lunch, so we decided to patronize the local restaurant called The Mill Street Inn. After the good blue plate type of meal, we went over to locate the trail head. The trail ran through the city of Muncie and was proposed to extend to the town of Richmond to the south and up beyond Marion to the north. On this trip I rode to Losantville for a total of 27.5 miles. After loading the bike and heading south we could see the old railbed where the future trail was going.
Our next trail to conquer was the Little Miami Scenic Trail starting in Springfield, Ohio east of Dayton It runs for seventy-two miles from Springfield to Cincinnati. We headed over to Buck Creek State Park for the night. The next morning, we went back down I-70 to the exit closest to the trail. It was about a five miles to Yellow Springs, a quaint little yuppie looking town. I stopped for a water and restroom break and headed on to Xenia, 10.2 miles away, where Rhonda was waiting at the old revitalized depot. There were three other trails beginning in town, one going to Dayton (Creekside), Jamestown-Xenia, and the other ending in London (Prairie Grass).
I decided to take a break from riding briefly by heading back with Rhonda to Yellow Springs to checkout the interesting shops in the business district. We stopped in front of the library to see if we could get an internet connection but couldn't, maybe because they were not open yet. Down the street we found a coffee shop to use the laptop to check our email. After some more sightseeing, we headed back to Xenia and had lunch. Corbin was the next destination fifteen miles down the trail. After meeting there and loading the bike, the riding day ended with twenty-eight miles. It was certainly a trail I would want come back to finish another time. We decided to take another side trip to just north of Milford to see the 2,500-foot-long bridge that carries you across the Little Miami River toward Loveland. "Old Loveland," the quaint older section, is jam-packed with stores, cafes and even a bike shop.
We found Caesar Lake state park in the area and headed that way, but had some trouble with the GPS trying to find it. It was a large park and had plenty of camping spaces. We were able to select one with no one real near us. We got there early enough that I was able to ride my bike around the park roads. The bathhouse was very nice; clean and somewhat modern with plenty of hot water.
The next day we were back in Xenia and I headed out on the Prairie Grass Trail beginning in Cedarville for a quick, ride to London for just 20 miles. We traveled across the state heading home and found a campground in the Wayne National Forest, but after driving a good distance, we found the the road was closed heading up to the camping area. It made us both rather mad, because it had been out for some time. There was a sign down on US 52 outside of Portsmouth indicating the direction to the camping. They could have easily put up a temporary sign indicating the road to the campground was closed us eliminating an unnecessary trip, particularly since it had been a washout due to a storm over a month before.
In Portsmouth, I called Will Burke, a member of our trail club, who live there where they family operated a foundry. He drives down several times a year to help with maintenance and hang out with the volunteers. We drove across the Ohio river to the town of Ashland, Kentucky to find a motel, but most of them were adjacent to busy rail lines, so we drove on to Huntington, West Virginia and found a new Super 8 motel just off the interstate. This was our last night out on the trip. We traveled fourteen and half days, spent 14 nights out of which four were in motels (3 due to rain).
Tue Sept 7 Happy Hills Campground Nelsonville, Oh.
Wed 8 Wood's Tall Timber Resort New Philadelphia, Oh.
Thu 9 Cherokee Pk Family Campground Mogadore, Oh.
Fri 10 “ “
Sat 11 Edge of Town, Motel Ashtabula, Oh.
Sun 12 Mosquito Lake St. Pk. Cortland, Oh.
Mon 13 Mohican St. Pk. Loudonville, Oh.
Tue 14 Rustic Knolls Mt. Vernon, Oh.
Wed 15 Milan Travel Park Sandusky, Oh.
Thu 16 Super 8 Motel Maumee, Oh.
Fri 17 South Haven Campground South Haven, Mi.
Sat 18 Motel Elkhart, Indiana
Sun 19 Buck Creek St. Pk Springfield, Oh.
Mon 20 Ceasar Creek St. Pk. Waynesville, Oh.
Tue 21 Super 8 Motel Huntington, Wva.
Bike Trail Summary
Adena-Hockhocking Trl 19.6
The Erie-Ohio Tow Path 27
Hike and Bike Trail 12
Western Reserve Grnwy 43
The Holmes County Trl 15.5
The Kokosing Trl 14.4
Richland B&O 18
Wabash Cannonball 22
Kal-Haven Trl 34.5
Cardinal Greenway 27.5
Little Miami Scenic 28
Prairie Grass 20