MOUNT VERNON — What would it be like to one day be able to walk or ride a bicycle on a path all the way between Cleveland and Cincinnati? This may soon be a reality, thanks in part to completing bike path connections here in Mount Vernon as part of the Ohio To Erie Trail project.
Mount Vernon City Council recently approved a project that will rehabilitate two bridges south of downtown which will help connect people riding or walking on the Kokosing Gap Trail and the Heart of Ohio Trail.
The City of Mount Vernon had received a grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation to rehab two train trestles which will both be used as connection points in moving bikers along the trail through town. Specific plans within the project had changed at times, and use of the grant money had to be somewhat reconfigured. Certain lots of property still need to be acquired by the city in order to complete construction plans for the trail.
“Since we’re right in the middle of the state, people will come here and use this as a base and maybe ride north and south from here,” said Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis. “We think it will bring people in to utilize the trail system. Also, for the people who are riding their bikes through town, I think there will be an effort made to introduce an avenue that’s convenient for bikers to come from the trail into the downtown area.”
Numerous options were considered for getting bikers and pedestrians across Ohio 13 south of the viaduct. The option of constructing an underground tunnel did not seem feasible due to the possibility of flooding. Mavis said that current plans are to incorporate a pedestrian-friendly traffic signal triggered by those using the trail.
Bids for the project must be advertised by mid-2014 as per grant requirements. Mavis expects about a six-month construction period in completing the project.
Foundation Park will also play a role in connecting riders between the Heart of Ohio Trail and the Kokosing Gap Trail. Mavis believes the construction of a new welcome center can be a draw as the park is also part of the community and will be able to offer more opportunity to bring visitors into downtown.
A gift of $35,000 has been granted by the board of the Knox County Parks District toward the project to help provide local match for the ODOT grant which is 80 percent of the construction project.
Knox County Parks District Director Kim Marshall told the News that a study took place on the economic impact of the Allegheny Passage Trail which runs from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Cumberland, MD. Statistics show that $23 million was generated in revenue over a two-year period for the local businesses by those who used the trail.
“In terms of impact, we know that businesses do see increased revenue if located within a certain distance from the bike trails,” said Marshall.
Indirectly involved in the trail project is the Knox County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re a cheerleader, we’re an advocate,” said KCCVB director Pat Crow. “It is a big deal tourism-wise. It means major bucks to our economic development in the future. The bridge (east of the viaduct) is a logical choice, and we’re very supportive of using that. And it should be a big boost to local business. Anything that brings people to town can benefit the community.”
The Heart of Ohio Trail, which stretches from Centerburg to Mount Vernon, is partially complete but still has sections to be cleared and paved before it can be used effectively. Marshall reported that the top layer of asphalt was recently laid on Oct. 5 on the trail from Columbus Road southwest to Thayer Road. Berming was recently completed, with small projects of fencing, safety bollards at crossings and truncated domes for American Disabilities Act requirements yet to be completed. Marshall expects this stretch of trail to be opened around Oct. 22.
The two trails in Knox County are part of the Ohio To Erie Trail project which began as an idea 1991. The idea was for the route to stretch from Cincinnati to Cleveland, following old railroad and canal routes. Work on the project had died off in the early 2000’s before current board of directors president Jerry Rampelt picked up the project again in 2004.
Of the more than 300 total miles of trail, 85 percent of the trail is completed to date, equaling less than 50 miles yet to be finished. Road routes are used in sections that are not yet complete, including in Knox County, where the marked route for the Heart of Ohio Trail currently follows Ohio 661, and Sycamore, Johnstown and White roads west toward Centerburg.
“The trail serves several key purposes,” said Rampelt. “It’s a significant economic driver. Businesses want to locate in places where there are things for their employees to do. A trail is an incentive.”
The second purpose is tourism, as Rampelt pointed to the names from numerous states and countries in the guest book at the Bridge of Dreams near Brinkhaven as evidence of a substantial tourism draw. Rampelt’s third purposes is that, “It is a transportation network. People use the trail for commuting and for recreation.”
“It’s been an important part of developing tourism across Ohio,” said Phil Craig, executive director of the Ohio Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It just captures that segment of the population that are naturalists, and it really brings a nice demographic of people into a community. It’s a real good piece for our local convention and visitor bureaus to develop. In and of themselves, they attract people.”
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