The North Coast Inland Trail aspires to connect Indiana to Pennsylvania. This will require roughly a 270-mile west to east ribbon of trail through Ohio. A 170-mile portion of the route is well-defined. It extends from the Indiana border, just west of the north fork of the Wabash Cannonball Trail, over to Lorain.
Exactly where the NCIT will continue east from Lorain is open to speculation at this point, since information is scarce on this final section. But it's a safe bet that existing trail will be used as much as possible. So a jaunt over to the Emerald Necklace Trail is one possibility. Then from the eastern side of the Necklace, a sizable gap to the Great-Ohio-to-Lake Greenway would remain. Once the GOLTRG connection is made, the rest is easy as GOLTRG will reach over to the PA border.
This project, along with the Ohio-to-Erie Trail, are two ambitious cross-state trails being constructed at this time. Though the Ohio-to-Erie is nearer completion, the NCIT has been steadily expanding and defining its route.
The reviews below are organized by county. Since a number of gaps remain between completed sections, 'Trail Specs' are used for each county.
Let's take a look at the route from east to west:
Eastern Route To Pennsylvania
As mentioned above, this route has yet to be properly defined east of Lorain. It may include the Emerald Necklace Trail and a connection to the Great-Ohio-to-Lake Greenway. Two possible options to accomplish that would be the Portage County Trail, or perhaps the Headwaters Trail through Garrettsville.
Here's one potential route:
Lorain N.Olmstead N.Royalton Ravenna Pricetown Youngstown PA
108mi 95.4mi 78.7mi 45.6mi 28.3mi 9.6mi 0mi
This rail-trail, formerly known only as the Oberlin Bike Path, has been expanded in both directions to become the Lorain County section of the North Coast Inland Trail. Currently this section starts in Elyria and makes its way southwest to Kipton, Ohio.
Trail segments have also been connected in the Metro Parks along the Black River Reservation to extend the trail north to the Lorain area. But an existing gap between the Metro Parks trail and the NCIT in Elyria will have to be closed before cyclists can easily ride to Lorain.
The eastern end of the NCIT begins at Rt. 611 (Colorado Ave.) in Lorain. A series of Metro Park trails have recently been linked to take riders 5.75-miles south through the Black River Reservation. From north to south the trails are: the Steel Mill Trail, Bridgeway Trail and the High Meadows - Bur Oak Connector.
The trail currently ends near Ford Road in Elyria where you have to leave the park system to continue further. From this point there's a 3.4-mile gap to the next established trail segment on Industrial Parkway. The distance is short, however, riding through the urban traffic in this area should be left to the most experienced road cyclists and not attempted during rush hour.
A connector to close this gap will likely be constructed through Cascade Park.
(Bike lanes are in place from Industrial Parkway that take you further into downtown Elyria. But when we tried to follow the bike route signs, they were notoriously spotty and as a result, we failed to make much progress before losing the route. If you'd like to try it, print off a copy of the map from the Lorain County Metro Parks web site.)
From Industrial Parkway in Elyria, a 13-mile paved stretch of the NCIT takes you southeast along a former rail line. With the exception of a .4-mile bike lane, this contiguous path connects you with Oberlin and Kipton by trail.
The bikeway cuts a straight line as it passes farm fields, pastures and wooded areas.
The broad 12' wide trail narrows to about 10' where it connects with the Oberlin Trail. This older surface reveals some horizontal cracks showing its age compared to outlying segments. But the condition is still good as you ride into town.
Further along at Main Street there's a crosswalk signal for trail users. While waiting for a passing shower to subside, we noticed some local cyclists returning from their trail ride to their cars in a nearby grocery store lot. The absence of designated trail parking here will be remedied when a park-n-ride project is completed at the historic Gasholder Building less than a block away and directly alongside the trail.
Where the bikeway reaches Main Street, it now passes directly alongside the old train depot buildings. A previous detour around the complex has been removed and a water fountain and bench added to the grounds. This is a good area for a food stop as restaurants are right along Main Street.
Heading west of town the trail moves alongside a golf course and passes a spur for the Oberlin Recreation Complex.
At Pyle-South Amherst Road there's a break in the trail that's remedied by a short roadside ride along a marked bike lane before dedicated trail resumes.
After crossing Rt. 511 in Kipton you'll come upon Community Park. This convenient green space is sandwiched between the bikeway and a nearby parallel road and provides ample parking, water, a portable toilet and picnic tables. You could say it's a linear park alongside a linear park.
The bikeway extends a bit further before ending at Baird Road about .8 mile to the west. There is no parking at this terminus, so plan on using the Kipton trailhead for parking in this area.
We should also mention that a Lorain County bike route, Back Roads & Beaches, uses a portion of the trail along its route. You'll see the signs west of the Oberlin trail section.
Signage on the trail is excellent. Not only were the crossroads and rec center spur marked, but additional signage included maps and safety tips in clever and inexpensive ways. Crossroads are named by two methods: small signposts and painted road names on the trail surface. One might consider this overkill, but should a vandal or accident remove the placard or post, the traveling cyclist still knows where he is.
Signs painted on the asphalt surface also cover helmet safety and passing etiquette. The large trail map signboards are also a great addition and clue visitors in on the regional reach of the bikeway.
Mile markers are placed every 1/2 mile and show the distance to each endpoint of the trail in both directions! A creative use of the old mile marker method, indeed. We found the reported distances to be a little off at each end. Perhaps one mile at the west end and maybe 1/2 mile at the eastern terminus. These distances may have included the Elyria bike lane or a future endpoint extension. Regardless, it's of no real concern and you'll know why you covered that last mile or so in record time.
We noted that horses and snowmobiles are not allowed on this trail. And that may explain why the surface is aging so well. Maintenance is another matter and one that is difficult to gauge from only one random visit. But if our time spent on the Lorain County portion of the NCIT was any indication, it's top-notch!
Since the Lorain County section is the start of a clearly defined NCIT route, we've reset the mileage to "0" at Lorain in the 'Trail Specs' below.
Length: 2 sections: 12.9 miles & 5.75 miles / asphalt - 10 - 12' wide
Condition: Varies From Good to Excellent
Facilities: Water & restrooms in the Metro Parks along the Black River Reservation. Port-o-potty, water and picnic tables at Kipton Community Park. Water fountain at the Oberlin depot.
Food: In Oberlin try Main Street for the closest places.
Parking: At least 3 trailheads with parking in the Black River Reservation. A lot in Kipton at Community Park alongside the bikeway, just off Rt. 511 along Rosa Street. You can find on-street parking in Oberlin in the Main Street area where the trail crosses, just no official lot yet.
Note: Kipton serves as the west end trailhead since there is no parking at the bikeway terminus at Baird Road, just west of this point.
Baird-Rd Kipton Oberlin Elyria (Lorain)
21.7mi 20.9mi 16.3mi 7.6mi 0mi
The Huron County portion of the North Coast Inland Trail continues to grow, with a 9.5-mile completed segment now stretching from Bellvue to Norwalk.
The only remaining gap along this route is between the new Huron River bridge and Peru Center Road in Monroeville. The bridge is completed, but the route over to Peru Center Road is not.
The closing of this gap is expected to take place in 2012.
More trail can be found in Collins, Ohio. This segment extends east to Derussey Road. In fall 2010, another segment west of Collins was constructed to span 1.2-miles between West Collins Road and Medusa Road. Work on closing this gap will continue into 2012 as well.
The remaining link, through Collins itself, is scheduled to be completed by summer 2011 and will bring the total to 3.5 trail miles within Townsend Township.
Trail building between Bellevue and Clyde is expected to begin in 2012. When the trail reaches Clyde, it will connect with a completed asphalt section that extends northwest to Elmore, Ohio.
Check the Firelands web site for the latest developments.
This review covers the 3.3-mile section between Monroeville and Norwalk.
Heading east from Peru Center Road in Monroeville, the rail-trail parallels an active rail line that moves alongside in varying proximity that ranges anywhere from 20-50 yards away. There's a small gully and/or brush line that separates the two much of the way.
The surface ranges from a wide blanket of crushed stone to skinny double track that's not much wider than your tire. All sections are smooth and well graded. While some appear newer, with only a smattering of vegetation growth through the middle of the aggregate, others appear to be the original rail bed hidden in a green blanket. But that's unlikely, since no typical railroad ballast stone is present.
As with other sections of the NCIT, flat and straight is the general rule between Monroeville and Norwalk, though there is a noticeable dip just before the old rail yard on the outskirts of Norwalk.
But flat and straight doesn't mean mundane. The scenery changes frequently along the way from an open field with an unobstructed view, to partial or full tree and brush cover. Some tall trees lend character to the ride.
And the bikeway makes good use of its abandoned rail corridor by utilizing existing over-street bridges, including a scenic crossing over a small gorge at the east branch of the Huron River. The skinny double track also changes size and color as you travel along.
As Ohio bikeways continue to grow in popularity, so do methods for properly maintaining them. This trail introduced us to the 'Mutt Mitt' for the first time. As you might have guessed, it's purpose is to help you clean up after your pet. Not a bad idea, especially on natural surface trails where animal droppings can be more difficult to see before... uh, it's too late!
Vistit the Huron County web site for the latest developments and news on this section.
Length: 3 sections totaling approx. 10.7 miles / gravel - 12-16' wide
Condition: Very Good
Facilities: None at this time.
Food: In town in Monroeville & Norwalk.
Parking: Large lot at the railroad crossing on Peru Center Road in Monroeville. The lot had no sign when we visited. Also in Norwalk at West Street adjacent to the railroad crossing. Note this is a small lot with only a few spaces.
Bellvue Monroeville Norwalk Collins Wakeman (Kipton)
53mi 44.7mi 39.8mi 32.4mi 26.4mi (20.9mi)
In 2008, a paved section of the NCIT opened in Sandusky County. It extends from Fremont through Lindsey to Elmore, Ohio in Ottawa County, a distance of 10.8 miles. It is separate from the older, existing section that runs from the eastside of Fremont to Clyde, Ohio.
Robert Soper reports that this newer segment continues westward from Walter Avenue in Fremont. This trailhead lies west of the Hayes Street end of the older Clyde to Fremont trail, thereby creating a 3.4-mile gap in the bikeway in Fremont. A road route via 'Bike Route' signs reportedly bridges the gap using side streets.
Construction of the Clyde to Bellevue section could begin as early as 2012. Check the Sandusky County web site for the latest news.
This review covers the older Sandusky County Segment from Fremont to Clyde. This bikeway was first constructed in September '97. The path utilizes an abandoned rail corridor that parallels active rail lines that lay 30-40 yards to the north. A natural barrier of vegetation and a drainage gully often separate the two.
Utility poles share the trail on one side and 'Adopt-a-Trail' signs can be found all along the route. This concept is growing in popularity and is put into good practice here in Sandusky County.
Like its eastern counterpart, the Lorain County section, this bikeway travels in a straight line. There are some curves to break the monotony as you approach the city of Clyde. The scenery along the trail also changes a bit from thick vegetation and trees that obscure the view of nearby country, to more sparsely bordered sections that reveal crop fields and an occasional orchard.
Previously the trail ended at the spur to Biggs-Kettner Park in Fremont. It has since been extended about a mile further into the city and now offers a downtown connector along the Sandusky River. This extension was no small feat as it includes a number of over-street bridges as well as a major river crossing on the old rail trestles. No expense was spared on construction as the bridge decks feature solid concrete with curbs and fencing.
Finding a place for the trail was likely easier than financing the build. The former rail bed rises to form its own ridge as it crosses the river and moves into town. The ridge and trail come to an end at the current western endpoint of the trail along Hayes Street near Park Avenue.
As previously mentioned, a 3.4-mile signed road route guides cyclists through Fremont over to the Walter Avenue trailhead. Here the trail picks up and continues northwest to Lindsey and Elmore, Ohio.
Trail maintenance may be a bit lax in some spots. We encountered a short section in Clyde where vegetation had grown through chain link fencing effectively taking over half the trail's width at one location. It may just have been a curious anomaly since the bikeway elsewhere in Clyde was very nice, particularly in the gazebo area.
The Fremont portion of the bikeway is in excellent condition. However, some outlying segments toward Clyde are showing their age in areas where numerous cracks and faded seal coating can be found.
The aging surface was addressed in 2009 when half of the Fremont to Clyde section was repaved. The remaining half is slated for resurfacing sometime in 2011, utilizing a $50k grant from ODNR.
Some repairs have been made to the deteriorating surface over the years, keeping the trail in good condition. However, the ride from Fremont to Clyde should be a very smooth one when the resurfacing is completed.
Length: 2 segments approx. 19.8 miles / asphalt total - approx. 10' wide (does not include connecting road route)
Condition: Varies From Good to Excellent
Facilities: Fremont - Water fountain & restrooms at Biggs-Kettner Park. We assume similar facilities exist at Robert Walsh Memorial Park, but didn't seek them out. Restrooms in Elmore.
Bob Soper adds that there are restrooms and water available at the park (in season) on Main Street in Lindsey.
Food: In town in Clyde & Fremont. Ice cream store near trail's end Elmore, with a couple of restaurants in the nearby downtown area.
Bob Soper writes, "When you get to State Route 590 (in Lindsey) and go a block to the right off the trail there is a place to buy sandwiches, etc. It looks like a convenience store."
Parking: Eastern Section: Along Railroad Street in Clyde, the eastern endpoint. Fremont - At Biggs-Kettner Park. Park entrance at St. Joseph Street and Oaklawn Avenue. Or at Robert Walsh Memorial Park along Morrison Street.
Western Section: Parking at Walter Ave. Trailhead in Fremont off Rt. 20 and the 2 trailside parks in Lindsey & Elmore.
Bike Shop: Near trail's end in Elmore.
(Elmore) Lindsey Fremont Clyde (Bellevue)
(82.9mi) 76.7mi 69.3mi 60.5mi (53mi)
2008 construction of trail between Fremont and Elmore extended the NCIT into Ottawa County, with roughly 3-miles of the bikeway residing there. Future plans are to continue the trail northwest to Millbury where it will connect with the Wabash Connector, then head west to the Wabash Cannonball Trail in Lucas County.
A highlight along this segment is the Portage River Bridge crossing in Elmore.
Plans began in 2005 when the ODNR web site reported that the Sandusky County Park District was awarded $375,000 toward engineering and construction of the Fremont to Elmore trail. The section was completed in 2008 with a grand opening held in October.
The North Coast Inland Trail will eventually span Ohio and connect to 3 additional states. It will stretch east to west to connect with Pennsylvania and Indiana, while a future connector to Michigan may also be in the works.
Length: Approx. 12 miles / asphalt (3 miles in Ottawa County)
Facilities: Elmore park near trail's end in Elmore should have facilities. Bob Soper tells us the Lindsey park near Rt. 590 (Main St.) has a restroom and water (in-season).
Food: Bob Soper writes, "When you get to State Route 590 (in Lindsey) and go a block to the right off the trail there is a place to buy sandwiches, etc. It looks like a convenience store."
Parking: Parking at Walter Ave. Trailhead in Fremont off Rt. 20 and the 2 trailside parks in Lindsey & Elmore.
Bike Shop: Near trail's end in Elmore.
(Millbury) Genoa Elmore (Lindsey)
(92.2mi) 87.4mi 82.9mi (76.7mi)
The North Coast Inland Trail Wabash Connector is not a dedicated bike path or trail, but nonetheless performs an important function. When completed, it will be a 14-mile connecting road route to guide cyclists between NCIT sections through Wood County.
The route will bridge the gap between Millbury in the east, to the Wabash Cannonball Trail to the west in Lucas County.
Phase I is already in place and closes 5 miles of the gap by leading cyclists via roads from Millbury to Walbridge.
Bike lanes lead due south out of Walbridge along Drouillard Road to nearby Lake Township Park, an offshoot of the connecting route with Millbury.
Lake Township Park features a paved loop trail around a small lake. The park has water and some facilities and serves as a nice rest stop.
The Wabash Connector has two basic components:
Over-the-road connecting routes play an important role in linking trail segments and networks. Making such routes 'official' by widening shoulders, marking bike lanes and adding bike route signs makes life sweet for traveling cyclists.
A route from Walbridge west to the Maumee-Perrysburg Bridge will have to be developed to bridge the remaining gap.
Class: Road Route
Length: 5.1 miles / asphalt (A side trip with marked bike lanes extends from Walbridge south to Lake Township Park is 1.9 mi)
Facilities: Water & restrooms (or portable toilets) should be available in parks near the route.
Food: In town in Millbury or Walbridge would be the only options.
Parking: Lake Township Park or other parks in the two towns.
(Maumee) Perrysburg Walbridge Millbury (Genoa)
(107.9mi) 106.1mi 97.3mi 92.2mi (87.4mi)
When one reaches the western river bank in Maumee, roughly a 3-mile gap remains to the Cannonball Trail, that lies west of I-475.
The Wabash Cannonball Trail rides atop a former rail line. Once aboard the North Fork of the Cannonball, you are on the NCIT that marches due west through Lucas, Fulton and Williams Counties. The route is via Oak Openings Park, Wauseon, West Unity, to just shy of Montpelier.
The Cannonball sports an asphalt surface in Lucas County that stretches 9.5 miles to the Fulton County line. See the 'Trail Specs' below for Lucas County facilities.
Length: 9.5 miles / asphalt
Facilities: Water & restrooms in Oak Openings Park, but may not be trailside.
Food: Locations unknown
Parking: Eastern endpoint at Jerome Road, Waterville & Keener Roads in/near Monclava, Rt. 64 in Oak Openings Park.
(Brailey) Oak-Openings Monclova Maumee (Perrysburg)
(121.9mi) 118.4mi 112.1mi 107.9mi (106.1mi)
Fulton & Williams Counties
Where the bikeway crosses the Fulton-Lucas County line it transitions from asphalt to a cinders and gravel surface. This natural surface is used throughout Fulton County, with the exception of a short paved segment in Wauseon.
There are two short gaps in the trail on the east and west side of Wauseon totaling about 3.5 miles. Road detours are available, but the routes may not be marked. Consult a map to see the transitions.
When these short gaps are closed, the bikeway will span 26 miles across Fulton County.
This cinder/gravel surface continues into Williams County for roughly 8 miles until it ends short of Montpelier.
Then a final gap of about 15-miles due west will have to be closed to reach the Indiana border and complete the NCIT across Ohio.
Length: Approx. 22.5 miles total / 3 sections: cinders & stone (2), asphalt (1 short section)
Facilities: At Rotary Park in Wauseon. Water may be available.
Food: Locations unknown
Parking: At/near Rt. 109, in Wauseon, Co. Rd 23, West Unity and along Co. Rd 15 - east of Montpelier.
Bike Shop: Near trail's end in Elmore.
Indiana Montpelier West-Unity Wauseon Brailey (Oak-Openings)
169.2 157.9mi 148.8mi 132.9mi 121.9mi (118.4mi)
Trail Specs (Below Each Review Section)