The Panhandle Trail has a close neighbor in Licking County that follows the Licking River. For the sake of identification, we'll call it the Panhandle River Trail. You will find the review below.
But let's start with the main attraction, the 10-mile Panhandle that opened in 1997 and leaves Newark's eastside and passes through Hanover.
Thanks to the Thomas J. Evans Foundation, the Newark area boasts a developing trail network that will eventually link the east and west sides. By doing so, it will also connect various points within the city, as well as the Newark OSU Campus, Hanover, Granville and Johnstown -- all by trail!
The nearby Blackhand Gorge Trail tops off the list totaling approximately 36 miles of area trails. And should Ohio-to-Erie Trail plans for an alternate Panhandle Route come to fruition, the cross-state bikeway will also come through Newark.
The Panhandle closely parallels an existing, working rail line. In fact, there is only a 4-5' high chain link fence separating the two. This side-by-side configuration is commonly known as a rail-with-trail and is becoming increasingly popular. It takes advantage of rail corridors that may have infrequent or slow-moving rail service, or perhaps multiple lines -- some of which are no longer in use -- allowing a trail to share the right-of-way.
Starting on the city's eastside at N. Morris, just off E. Main, the bikeway extends eastward to Felumlee Road (Twp. Rd. 193), east of Hanover, Ohio. The trail passes the Licking Valley Road and Marne Road intersection, which is within one mile of the Blackhand Gorge Trail. Here you'll find the closest connecting route between the two trails.
A bit further east you pass Nashport Road (Route 146), which you can also use to connect with the Blackhand via Toboso Road. As mentioned in the Blackhand Trail review, these road routes are not bike friendly. Depending on the time of day, you may encounter little traffic and relative calm, but don't let that fool you. Trucks are common here and most everyone seems in a hurry. Cyclists are urged to use caution, especially crossing Rt. 16.
Much of the Panhandle is tree and brush-lined with a chain link fence and railroad track running along the south side of the trail. The west end near Main Street had suffered some vandalism that we noted in the past. At a graffiti spot under an overpass the chain link fencing had been broken loose from the poles. Some broken glass also lay on the trail not far from this point.
If you've ridden many urban trails in Ohio, you know that graffiti and broken glass are not uncommon. That is not to say that these activities dominate trails here. Our experience has been that they do not. However, Ohio Trails, like other public parks and places, are not immune to this type of activity.
The N. Morris Street parking lot has been cleaned up. But since we've rarely seen anyone park there, it's safe to say that the lot is not popular with locals that use the trail.
The trail passes fairly close to the Longaberger Basket Company headquarters. The sight of this building will definitely get your attention. It's constructed to look like a giant picnic basket, complete with large handles towering over this 7 story structure. It's quite a sight!
Heading toward Hanover the sound of crickets filled the air. It was only mid-afternoon, but late in the season these guys really belt out their song. A few rock walls, as well as a cut-through with an overhead bridge get your attention as you ride toward the trail's current endpoint at Felumlee Road.
We stopped to inspect a break in the trail that had been filled with gravel when we heard what sounded like the pop of a flying bottle striking something. We looked over the brush to see golfers surprisingly close by. The sound was actually a tee shot. Beware of this trail breach just before Felumlee Road, in case it has yet to be repaired. The pavement has been removed and large stones and a steel plate used to fill the hole.
The problem of runoff rain water washing over the trail still exists in a number of places. A fairly thick layer of dried mud covered the trail at Dayton Road. Closer to Hanover an embankment that abuts the trail also makes this an ongoing problem during wet weather. In another spot, algae covered water lay still in a drainage ditch alongside the bikeway.
Regular maintenance of the trail is still a question mark. Some weed trimming appeared recent, but by the size of the growth in uncut sections, looked to be infrequent. Dried mud sections remained on the trail and gathering fall leaves and nuts had begun to collect on the low side of the bikeway.
The Panhandle has a split personality, of sorts. The western section that runs through town has the feel of riding through city outskirts where local kids play and use the path. The eastern section of the trail has a much more remote and secluded feel where it passes through woods as it skirts by the small community of Hanover. This change in environment may be all too familiar to locals who frequent the trail, but it certainly won't go unnoticed by new visitors.
Panhandle River Trail
This bikeway extends 1.6 miles north along the north fork of the Licking River from Miller and Ohio Streets, past Everett Park and over to Manning Street in Newark.
The section along Everett Park is lined with lamp posts, though I'm not sure you'll be able to enjoy them at night. Signs warn that the trail has an 8 pm curfew. Whether that applies only to minors is an open question.
Some people were fishing in the river the day we rode past. An acrid scent wafted over from the west side banks where industrial sites stood nearby. The dubious mix of nature and industry had us wondering if the fish were worth catching. If the wind had been blowing in the opposite direction we wouldn't have given much thought to the factories as the river basin was fairly picturesque.
The west end of the Panhandle Trail lies only a couple of blocks to the east on Main Street at Morris. Turn north on Morris, then make a quick right onto the Panhandle.
Bridging the Gap Along the Newark Trail Network
Currently there's a small 1.4 mile gap between the western and eastern portions of the Newark Trail System. The western network ends at the YMCA on Church Street. To ride over to the Panhandle, simply head east on Church straight through town. Turn right on Easy Street, then left on Main. As soon as you cross the river bridge, pull off the road to find the river trail along the eastern banks.
To reach the Panhandle, simply continue eastward on Main for a couple of blocks, turn left on N. Morris, then a quick right directly onto the bikeway. Please note that the ride along Church Street may have heavy traffic, depending on the time of day you ride through.
Thanks to the Thomas J. Evans foundation trail building in Newark is alive and well.
Also, check out the Newark Bikeways summary.
Though the Panhandle and Panhandle River Trails are in close proximity, there are no bike lanes or signs to direct you, therefore the A3 class designation is given below.
Length: Panhandle 9.9 miles / asphalt
Condition: Good to Very Good
Food: Kathleen Wheeler reports that a service station & fast food restaurant are at the corner of Route 16 & Dayton Rd, a short distance from the trail. Turn south onto Dayton. (Dayton Rd crosses the trail.)
Parking: Available at Main St. & Morris. Also at Licking Valley Rd. & Marne Rd. River Trail parking at Everett Park on Everett Avenue.
Panhandle Trail route:
River-Trail N.Morris-St Licking-Valley-Rd Hanover Felumlee-Rd
10mi 9.8mi 4.6mi 2.7mi 0mi