Wheels are turning to close gap in bike trail

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Breaking ground on an extension of the Ohio To Erie Trail in London are: (from left) Lisa Daris, executive coordinator of the Ohio To Erie Trail Fund; Brian Boldman, executive vice president of Stanley Electric US; Mike Michael, president of the Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails; State Rep. Bill Dean; London Mayor Patrick Closser; State Senator Bob Hackett; and Madison County Engineer Bryan Dhume.

(Posted Sept. 17, 2017)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Speedy Davis of Columbus rides his bike a whopping 18,000 miles a year, and every day, he spends many of those miles on the Ohio To Erie Trail, including the section that runs through Madison County.

“It’s the greenest, cleanest, smoothest, most well kept section of the trail of all the counties in Ohio. Madison County rules!” Davis said.

The prolific pedaler was one of about 10 people who bicycled to a Sept. 7 groundbreaking for an extension of the trail in Madison County. Also on hand were several city, county and state leaders.

The Ohio To Erie Trail is a 320-mile recreational trail that runs between Cincinnati and Cleveland. Most of it is on paved paths, running along abandoned railroad beds. In some places, though, users must use city streets or rural roads.

One of those gaps is a 1.13-mile stretch between Maple and Midway streets in downtown London. Earlier this year, the Madison County commissioners purchased a piece of land that makes it possible to close part of the gap, between Maple and Walnut streets.

The Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails, a non-profit that helps to maintain and improve the trail, is leading the charge to raise money to pay for construction of the extension. To date, they’ve raised $51,000 of the estimated $78,000 needed.

The Friends earmarked $20,000 of their own funds for the project. The Ohio To Erie Trail Fund pledged $7,800. The other major contributor so far is Stanley Electric US, which is donating $10,000.

Brian Boldman, Stanley’s executive vice president, said the trail project meshes well with the policy that guides Stanley’s charitable giving: that beneficiaries promote healthy environments and the well-being of the local community. He encouraged other businesses to contribute to the project, too.

For years, Wayne Roberts, executive director of the Friends group, has talked about not only the health and recreational benefits of the trail, but also the potential economic benefits to local businesses. As more trail users experience Madison County’s agricultural and rural landscape and its downtown hospitality and history, Roberts sees those users sharing those experiences with their social networks and spreading the message that Madison County’s portion of the trail is worth seeing.

Lisa Daris, executive coordinator of the Ohio To Erie Trail Fund, agrees. At the groundbreaking, she talked about the “special sauce of the Ohio To Erie Trail.” The ingredients–the elements that make some portions of the trail more vibrant than others–are political will, someone to champion the cause, and commitment from the community. As an example of the third ingredient in action in Madison County, Daris noted that Angie Harris, owner of Phat Daddy’s Pizza in downtown London, opened her restaurant early on Sept. 10 to accommodate hungry cyclists participating in an annual ride of the entire 320-mile trail.

“I really do believe the town of London is poised to be a trail town, a very strong trail town, and it’s because of that special sauce,” Daris said.

The Madison County Engineers Office is heading up construction of the trail extension. Crews and Friends volunteers have already cleared trees and brush from the area. Next, a bulldozer will strip the soil off the old railroad ballast and pave over it. The work will be done this fall or next spring, said County Engineer Bryan Dhume.

Donations to the “Close the Gap” trail project can be made by sending checks to “FMCPT Trail Gap,” P.O. Box 308, London, OH 43140. Or visit www.fmcpt.com to pay by PayPal or via the Friends’ gofundme account.

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