(Posted March 1, 2022)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
How often do you use the trail? How does your family and community benefit from it? What makes the trail enjoyable or not? Do you want trail users to visit your town to purchase goods and services? What one thing do you want trail users to remember about your town? How prepared is your town to meet the needs of people arriving by trail? Has or how can your business benefit from trail tourism?
These are some of the questions asked in a survey to help develop a guide by which communities can become Trail Towns–towns that support trail users with services, promote their trails, and value their trails enough to take care of them.
London is one of four towns taking part in the Central Ohio Greenways (COG) Trail Town initiative. The other three towns are Centerburg, Mount Vernon and Sunbury. All four sit along the Ohio To Erie Trail, a 326-mile route between the Ohio River in Cincinnati and Lake Erie in Cleveland.
COG is a committee of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. The goal of the Trail Town initiative is to provide communities with tools to encourage trail tourism and active transportation.
One of the first steps is gathering public input about trail usage and how trails can be improved to benefit not only trail users but also local residents and businesses. Anyone can take the aforementioned survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/COGtrailsurvey. The deadline to participate is March 10.
“We want to hear from all perspectives–residents, business owners, trail users and non-users,” said Dr. Gregg Alexander, president of the Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails (FMCPT). “And you don’t have to live in the community to participate.”
FMCPT and other trail supporters are already doing many of the things that make a community a Trail Town. Alexander pointed to the rustic camping area at the Prairie Grass Trailhead behind the Madison County Senior Center in London. Bicyclists and hikers from around the country and the world have expressed their appreciation for the accommodations, which are free and include access to wifi and a bricks-and-mortar rest room.
He also mentioned the iron sculpture that spells out LONDON at the trailhead; it has become an iconic spot for photo opportunities. More trailside artwork is in the works with a mural not far from the Roberts-Pass Trailhead in London.
“When you’ve been out on the trail for 20 miles, it’s nice to see something that’s welcoming,” Alexander said about the mural.
FMCPT works with the Madison County Engineer’s Office to keep the trails clean and maintained. They hold fundraisers, rides, and other community events. They have installed kiosks and information bulletin boards that direct trail users to restaurants and other businesses in town.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed. FMCPT hears frequently from trail users. One example is Andy Niekamp, a seasoned hiker who has completed multiple end-to-end hikes of the Appalachian Trail and the first solo hike of the 1,444-mile Buckeye Trail which he chronicled in his book, “Captain Blue on the Blue Blazes.”
Niekamp had this to say after visiting Madison County in 2017 and donating $1,000 to FMCPT toward closing the trail’s gap between Maple and Walnut streets in London: “In my opinion, the Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails group serves as a model to the rest of Ohio on how to be a Trail Town and how to embrace a trail within your community… I have visited many, many trail towns on my journeys. Madison County and London stands out as one of the most impressive trail towns I have ever visited.”
While London doesn’t officially hold the title of a Trail Town, those who work to maintain and promote the trail appreciate such praise.
“With the Trail Town initiative, it’s not so much that we need a lot of help as that we can help other communities by sharing our experience and expertise. We will gain some, too,” Alexander said.
The initiative comes at an interesting time for London, according to Wayne Roberts, FMCPT executive director.
“What’s sort of unique for London right now is that (London is) going through the initial set-up with the Main Street program through Heritage Ohio,” he said.
Main Street is a national program that focuses on reviving and/or enhancing the vitality of downtown areas.
“Main Street has a lot of the same ideas and objectives as the Trail Town program. It’s fortunate for us, but also unique that we’re going through both at the same time,” Roberts said.
The positive opportunities are great, he continued, if everyone works together.