Along for the ride

Along for the ride

Ohio’s Scenic Bike Trails may be best in nation

By Gary Brock

XENIA — Angie and Dan Gerlach carefully unloaded their two long and low recumbent bicycles out of their station wagon in the parking lot of the Xenia Bicycle Station — the “mile zero” starting point for the Little Miami Scenic Trail.

“Today, we’re going to take the bike trail up to London, Madison County,” Dan said as he looked to the cloudy skies on a recent mid-June day.

“I’ve heard three weather forecasts for today, and we’re hoping it will be the best of the three,” he laughed.

The Middletown couple regularly drives to the Xenia Station to take day-long bicycle trips along the various branches of the Scenic Trail. Their record for distance, “which we broke last year,” he said, is 75 miles round trip.

Today, Angie said, they will be doing about 56 miles to London and back.

“These are the best trails anywhere in the country, the world,” Dan said. “All of the trails here are good, and they all have different scenery as we ride them.”

“I am originally from Kansas, and we have nothing like this there,” Angie said. “This is our favorite bicycle trail.”

“They are excellent — the bike trails here have always been maintained well, very smooth surface and always clean,” Dan said, as he and his wife walked their bikes to the start of the Ohio to Erie Trail.

These words of support would be music to the ears of Chuck Frazier, who has been chief ranger/operations manager for the Greene County Parks and Trails for the last 12 years.

He takes pride in the condition of the 62 miles and 3,000 acres of scenic trails under his authority. The trail network is part of a larger southern and central Ohio bicycle system encompassing more than 400 paved miles of multi-use trails in Ohio. He has 11 maintenance employees working the trails throughout the county.

“Our trails system is really growing,” he said in his offices in Xenia. “The big movement now is the fact that people want other sources of transportation, and we are looking at ways to accommodate this,” he said.

The first section of these scenic trails opened in 1991-92 with the Xenia to Yellow Springs paved trail, about 10 miles long. This and many other segments utilized unused train lines and abandoned rail beds.

“Most of this area, with the rails and trails beds, have been built out. There’s not much of these left,” Frazier said. “So, the sections that are being built now are all interconnecting spurs to try to connect with other existing trail spurs. But many of these are on private property, shared lanes on the roadways and other ways other than rail beds.”

He said, in the future, people will not see as many trail-only bikeways being built. There will be more shared-use trails.

Along the Little Miami Scenic Trail, the paved paths are used not just for bicycling. They are also used for hikers, casual walking, skating and skateboards. And of course, all of this is free.

“The economic impact of the trails is enormous. There are so many uses, so many benefits to communities in these trails,” Frazier said. “We get a lot of compliments from people outside of the area who travel our trails telling us how well maintained they are. It is something we pride ourselves on. People will start in Greene County, and often then take trails into other counties, other jurisdictions.”

He said the trail is where people want to come to get away from their work stresses, to relieve stress, and for health and fitness.

“What I really like about this community, the biking community here, is how many people want to get their ‘Century Ride’ in, which is 100 miles. That is really easy to do starting here in Greene County. It is level, shaded … it can be done from here to Cincinnati and back.”

Frazier said he has had people from Michigan come here and say to him, “I haven’t done it (the 100-mile challenge) yet. I am coming here because I know I can do it here.”

He said people like these trails because it is no more than a 3 to 3½ percent grade — essentially as flat as you can get. The trails being tree-lined also makes them very scenic.

Frazier bicycles himself, but not as much as he’d like because he is working on the trails so often. He has worked for the county for about 26 years, the last 12 as head of the Greene County portion of the Scenic Trail.

He said there are areas within his bike trail jurisdiction that he would like to see linked that are not yet connected.

“Two sections we are working on. The Spring Valley-Bellbrook section is one. The other is the Yellow Springs to Enon to Fairborn section,” he said. “With those two, you can make a complete round trip about the county. It would give us a complete circle.”

Frazier said he is ecstatic with how the Little Miami Scenic Trails system has developed over the last several decades.

“Greene County offers a huge opportunity for cyclists to come here. The county has more than 60 paved, dedicated bikeways and the region has 400 connected miles of scenic biking trails. We offer the safest trails around, I believe. At our hub in Xenia, there are different trails you can ride, and spend the whole weekend. We are the largest connected network of trails in the United States.”

In 2014, according to the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, the seven Greene County sections were measured, along with trails throughout the state. The study showed more than 400,000 uses by people on the seven trails in 2014. That includes bicycling, hiking, skateboarding and roller skating.

On the same day as Frazier talked about the area’s bicycle trails, Roger and Marilyn Kruger from Omaha, Neb., drove up to the Xenia Station and unloaded their bicycles.

“We are just passing though the area,” Roger said, “and we saw online the bike trails here and how great they are. We are always looking for trails to ride.”

He said that the day before, he and his wife took the Little Miami Scenic Trail from London to Milford. That’s more than 85 miles.

“I would give these trails here a 9 out of 10 rating. They are very well maintained,” he said.

Marilyn said, “The facilities along the trails are excellent. One of the things I liked was the fact that the trails are so well marked.”

On that day, they were planning to go north from the Xenia hub to Yellow Springs and back.

In 2009, new trail signs were installed on Greene County trails, including Xenia Station. The signs feature a more comprehensive approach for navigating trails. They distinguish themselves by using a numbering system and listing destinations and the required mileage to reach them. The signs also list the next town along each trail.

A short time later, at the Beavercreek Station off North Fairfield Road near U.S. 35, a Centerville family of five parked and unloaded their bicycles. By this time, the dark clouds had vanished and the sun was shining. Even though it was a weekday, and there had been showers earlier in the morning, the scenic bicycle trails were full of residents and vacationers on bike excursions, skating, jogging or just walking their dogs.

There wasn’t an empty trail to be seen.

GARY BROCK

Gary has worked in the media industry for 38 years. He is the editor of Rural Life Today, another Civitas Media publication, and lives in Washington Court House.

Salt Magazine