Discover the Magic of Old Railways Turned Into Bikeways

Ever ride a bikeway? They are frequently found in urban areas—lanes cut into the side of a road with white lines. They are helpful spaces for cycling safety, though they do not make one immune to an oblivious driver.

This is where the Rails to Trails Conservancy comes in.

Old railways that were abandoned for newer systems frequently find themselves buried in weeds and other overgrowth. But these routes offer some of the best opportunities to cycle free of traffic, offer many of the best views one’s state has to offer, and to connect communities long abandoned by the highway system. And because they were built for trains, they frequently feature lower grades than roads, meaning, fewer hills.

Holmes County Trail. Photo: Brandon Withrow.

Rails to Trails is one organization that sets out to turn these old railways into multi-purpose paths suitable for cyclists, runners, or walkers. I began cycling these trails several years ago. I was on a mission to lose 100 pounds (I lost 115). Cycling became part of my path to better health and these converted trails provided what I needed.

I began my cycling efforts through local streets, which also regularly meant sharing roads with cars and trucks. But then I was introduced to the Wabash Cannonball Trail, a 63 mile multi-use trail that connects two of my favorite parks in the Metroparks of Toledo system—Side Cut and Oak Openings Preserve. The Wabash Cannonball is paved and has a North and South fork, which I frequently combine with the local parks in ways that give me upwards of 20 to 35 miles of cycling a day in the summer. On occasion, and when I have more time, I’ll get in 50 miles with very little road use.

I didn’t start off cycling with longer daily miles. What began as rigorous exercise turned into an opportunity to disengage. I found myself cycling to the soundtrack of nature, identifying the seasons by what was blooming, hearing the chickadees tell other birds I’m coming, and watching goldfinches undulate in the air in front of me. This meant I wanted to keep going, adding miles regularly.

The Kokosing Gap Trail. Photo: Brandon Withrow.

Additionally, while road trips are great for seeing your state and country, cycling paths like these allow you to see everything from an entirely different perspective—through parks, forests, sand dunes, and along rivers. It even provides a chance to find rare species, like Ohio’s largest amphibian, the Eastern Hellbender, which has a preserve along the Kokosing Gap Trail.

In fact, Mindy and I have been finding time each year to explore converted bike trails throughout Ohio and Michigan. These trails are opportunities to visit small towns no longer part of the main thoroughfares now dominated by highways, and even eat at restaurants we’ve never tried before.

If you are thinking of beginning cycling, then I highly recommend finding a rail trail near you. Return to The Curious Ape tomorrow for “10 Tips for New Cyclists.”

Know of any trails you love? Share them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Photo: Wabash Cannonball Trail. Brandon Withrow, 2017. CC2. Use with credit.