Five of Ohio’s Best Rail Trails
By Dan Sheridan
Originally Published in
Marion Star July 12, 2009

A top goal identified by the citizens of Marion County through the “Envisioning the 21st Century” process was a recreational trail for hiking, jogging, bicycling, and other outdoor activities. As the Marion Tallgrass Trail approaches reality, it’s a good time to look at five scenic rail-trails located within a few hours of Marion.

Richland B&O Trail: This 18.4 mile paved trail starts in Mansfield, passing through Lexington and Bellville before ending in Butler. Cyclists from Marion often drive 30 miles to Lexington and pedal to Butler and back.

Ken Johnson, of Bellville, explains that many local residents take early morning walks on the trail, enjoying the abundant wildlife that can be seen at sunrise. Ken enjoys leading visitors on a trail ride, and is quick to offer challenging side trips into the nearby hills.

A bicycle shop is next to the trail in Lexington, and many cyclists stop for lunch at a trailside sandwich/antique shop in Bellville. A dairy bar near the trail’s end in Butler is also a popular destination.

Kokosing Gap Trail: Starting in Mt. Vernon, this beautiful paved trail travels east along the Kokosing River to Danville. A locomotive and caboose sit next to the trail in Gambier, and cyclists sometimes climb the hill to explore Kenyon College.

As Charlie Evers and I enjoyed the trail one cool autumn day, we stopped beside a small pond that was full of snapping turtles. Charlie, a frequent visitor to the Kokosing Gap, gives a wonderful guided tour of the trail.

Mary and Rod Damico, formerly of Marion, creatively combine two of their hobbies by parking bicycles at one end of the trail, driving to the other end, kayaking down the Kokosing River to their bicycles, and cycling back to their car.

Holmes County Trail: This 15 mile trail travels through Amish country from Killbuck to Fredericksburg, Ohio. One side of the trail is paved with asphalt, while the other is covered with a “chip and seal” coating for Amish buggies.

One April day, I encountered more than a dozen Amish children happily running down the trail, followed by five horse-drawn buggies. I passed several beaver dams, in the midst of wetlands blossoming with spring wildflowers.

Little Miami Scenic Trail: Starting in Springfield and traveling 78 miles south to the Cincinnati area, this attractive paved trail has been a boon to the local economy. Campgrounds, canoe liveries, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts adjoin the trail.

Each town along the trail has a unique flavor. Yellow Springs evokes thoughts of aging hippies. Xenia Station, a restored train depot, serves as a crossroads for several trails in Xenia, and restaurants and hotels cater to cyclists. Spring Valley reminds me of the old west, and Corwin is a popular ice cream stop. In Morrow, it’s easy to imagine bygone days when the town grew around the railroad. A café in Loveland offers outdoor dining along the trail.

Portions of the northern few miles of the trail are on busy streets in Springfield, so it’s best to start somewhere south of Springfield.

Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail: This crushed limestone trail in Northeastern Ohio follows the Cuyahoga River and the old Ohio and Erie Canal. Much of the trail is in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where historical markers and scenic views abound. Most cyclists on this trail have bicycles with wider tires, but those with skinny tires can cautiously navigate the trail if it is dry.

My six year old son and I greatly enjoyed the “Bike Aboard!” program during a 2008 visit to the trail. After bicycling ten miles down the trail, we loaded our bikes on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for a trip back to our car. Bicyclists pay only $2 for the trip

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Restored train along Kokosing Gap Trail in Gambier, Ohio (Photo by Dan Sheridan)

Restored train along Kokosing Gap Trail in Gambier, Ohio (Photo by Dan Sheridan)