When completed, the North Coast Inland Trail will extend from Lorain to Toledo, OH, a ~105-mile span. Currently, much of this corridor is well-defined. However, work continues to fill the gaps along the route.
North Coast Inland Trail in Huron County
Early on in the initial planning process for the NCIT project, it was reported that the trail would span the state from east to west, connecting Indiana with Pennsylvania by trail. But in recent years, no further mention has been made of this wider scope, thereby dropping the trail out of the 'cross-state bikeway' category.
A modest 2.8-mile rail-trail, formerly known only as the Oberlin Bike Path, was the starting point for NCIT development in Lorain County. The trail was expanded westward and has been completed to the Huron County line, just west of Kipton, OH. The final 1.3-mile section connecting with Huron County was paved in late 2018.
Heading northeast from Oberlin, finished trail reaches the westside of Elyria. At this point, the rail-trail ends for good, as the next objective is to close a 3-mile gap over to completed trail in the Black River Reservation to the north.
Once on the park trail system, it's a paved ride north to Colorado Avenue, with a final 3-mile gap to Spitzer Marina at Lake Erie in Lorain, the planned eastern terminus for the NCIT.
Depot in Oberlin, OH
The rail-trail portion of the bikeway cuts a straight line as it passes farm fields and wooded areas.
Near Main Street in Oberlin, the trail now passes directly alongside the old train depot building. This is a good spot for a food stop as restaurants are right along Main Street.
Heading west, 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.
Paved trail continues another 2-miles west to County Line Road, which marks the Huron County line.
Large Stones @ Road Crossings or Alongside Trails are Hazards for Trail Users
Where the trail ends at County Line Road, a green 'Bike Route' sign encourages trail users to turn left and ride .3-miles south to where off-road trail picks up again along Rt. 20 in Huron County.
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 the rec center spur marked, but additional signage included maps and safety tips delivered in clever and inexpensive ways.
Dual-Purpose Mile Marker
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.
The Huron County portion of the North Coast Inland Trail continues to grow, with a 10.3-mile completed segment now stretching from the eastside of Bellevue to Norwalk.
Another completed segment spans 5.2-miles, passing through Collins, OH. At this time, both segments have a stone or crushed stone surface.
The first asphalt segment -- 3 miles -- has been completed from Wakeman east to Lorain County. Much of this section runs parallel to Rt. 20 and connects with 15-miles of continuous paved NCIT in Lorain County.
Paved Trail alongside Rt. 20 near Wakeman, OH
A .3-mile ride north along County Line Road (follow the 'Bike Route' signs) is necessary to transition between completed trail sections and into Lorain County.
Back in Wakeman, near the Bruce Chapin Bridge, the trail ends just short of the river crossing. But don't worry, you can ride or walk your bike the short distance (a stone's throw) to the bridge where the trail ends after crossing the Vermillion River.
A December 2018 post in the FRTTI newsletter suggests this short gap will be closed in the coming months.
Vermillion River Bridge in Wakeman, OH Photo by Josh Wyrick
That leaves 3 gaps in the trail, totalling ~9 miles. Not all of these remaining miles will be trail, however. Where the original rail corridor is no longer intact in the cities of Norwalk and Bellevue, road routes or bike lanes have made the final connections.
In Bellevue, the gap is ~5 miles. In Norwalk, the distance is 3.4 miles. No word on how bike-friendly the connecting road routes may be. Ride at your own risk.
The following 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. There's a small gully and/or brush line that separates the two much of the way.
All sections are smooth and well graded. While some appear newer, with only a smattering of vegetation growth through the middle of the aggregate.
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.
Rail line alongside NCIT
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 here.
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 NCIT in Sandusky County offers 21.6 miles of completed, paved trail. 2 gaps remain along the route. One at Fremont and the other at Bellevue.
The 3.4-mile gap through Fremont is a marked bike route along city streets. Beware, the stretch along Rt. 20 (W. State St.) has been an issue for some cyclists, as it's a major business route through the heart of the city.
The trail also has a ~6-mile gap in Bellevue. Update: 9/15/17 Josh Wyrick reports that trail construction is currently underway to extend the Sandusky portion of the trail 2.5 miles into Bellevue, closing a nice chunk of this gap. When construction is completed, a ~3.5 mile gap will remain between completed trail sections.
NCIT in Sandusky County, OH
This review covers the Sandusky County Segment from Fremont to Clyde. This bikeway was constructed in 1997. 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 often separate the two.
Utility poles share the corridor along one side, and 'Adopt-a-Trail' signs can be found all along the route.
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, to more sparsely bordered sections that reveal crop fields and an occasional orchard.
The final section of trail into Fremont from the southeast is elevated and required 2 bridge restorations within a short distance. No expense was spared on construction as the bridge decks feature solid concrete with curbs and fencing. The Sandusky River Bridge also offers a downtown connector on the west bank.
Sandusky River Bridge in Fremont, OH
The former rail bed rises along a ridge where it crosses the river and moves into town. The trail comes to an end at Hayes Street near Park Avenue.
From here a 3.4-mile signed road route guides cyclists through Fremont over to the Walter Avenue trailhead where the trail picks up again. Keep in mind that this road route includes a busy stretch along W. State Street, a Rt. 20 business route. As always on the road, ride at your own risk!
Continuing northwest on the trail from Fremont's westside, the bikeway travels another 11.8 miles through Lindsey, then over to Elmore in Ottawa County.
Worth Noting: The road route through Fremont includes a section on W. State Street, the Rt. 20 business route through the city. Needless to say, this a concern for bicyclists seeking bike-friendly connecting routes. The road connector in Bellevue is ~6-miles long. As always, road riding is at your own risk.
In August 2018, it was reported that a $21.M grant was awarded to extend the trail from Elmore to Genoa, a distance of about 3 miles. Completion of this segment is slated for late 2019 or early 2020.
In 2008, trail construction between Fremont and Elmore extended the NCIT into Ottawa County, with roughly 3-miles of the bikeway now residing there.
You might wonder, where does the trail go from here? Good question. Years ago, when the proposed route of the NCIT was first made public, it was suggested that the route would include the Cannonball Trail in Lucas County and a route to the Indiana state line. Also, Pennsylvania was said to be the objective for the eastern span of the trail.
Fast forward to 2017, and the overall scope of the trail has shortened considerably. It now appears that the eastern terminus will be at Lake Erie, in Lorain, OH. And the western end is supposed to be in Lucas County, most likely near Toledo, OH. Altogether, the current projected route is roughly 105-miles long.
The next objective heading northwest is Genoa in Ottawa County, as the trail continues to inch closer to Toledo.
Trailside Park in Lindsey, OH Photo by Robert Soper