May 2010 issue
Rails to Trails
The Little Miami Scenic Trail, which once held stops along the Underground Railroad, is now a picturesque recreational path.
It's a late summer afternoon and the sun is beating down on a group of randomly gathered cyclists at Xenia Station, the hub of nearly 170 miles of paved bikeways. Most riders have logged dozens of miles today on the Little Miami Scenic Trail, a 70-plus-mile path that stretches through four counties, south of Xenia almost to Cincinnati, and north to Springfield. The station is a restroom stop, a watering hole and a chance to grab a seat that’s not attached to a bike.
The talk is typical among cyclists: bikes, gear, today’s ride, past rides.
“Anything can happen when you’re on a bike,” says Danny Chew, a hard-core cyclist who twice won a cross-country bicycling race. He’s trying to ride a lifetime million miles and he’s well on his way, with more than 600,000 under his belt — 100 of them accumulated today.
“I should be able to do it by the time I’m your age,” he says, pointing to a 77-year-old man named Harvey. “I’m afraid the only thing that will prevent me from reaching my goal of one million miles is getting picked off by some driver.”
One of the beauties of the Little Miami Scenic Trail is that you don’t have to worry about drivers or any of the other discomforts of trying to be a cyclist (or a rollerblader, or a hiker) on the road. This allows you to draw your attention to the scenery. Today we’ve seen trees shading both sides of the path, cute little towns, great blue herons and a Miami mist — a fringed little violet flower that demanded our attention.
“It’s very picturesque,” says Jennifer Burns, marketing and public relations manager for the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Burns is a typical Little Miami trail user — she goes on short jaunts with her family every so often. “I like any sections that run along the river; I like hearing the water moving along with you, down deep in those valleys along the river.”
The Little Miami River is a national- and state-designated wild and scenic river, a title that only goes to rivers with “outstandingly remarkable” wildlife, plus scenic, recreational, geological, historical and cultural value. Spend a little time on the Little Miami trail and you’ll see these qualities for yourself.
Park your bike trailside at mile marker 26 and walk up the hill to Fort Ancient, the site of Native American earthworks that date back 2,000 years. Just across the river is YMCA Camp Kern, where a decidedly modern structure went up in 2009: a zipline tour that takes riders along steel cables strung high in the forest canopy.
There is also a marker commemorating the birthplace of Tecumseh, the famous Shawnee leader who lived in the Miami Valley during the 19th century. All along the trail are marked and unmarked locations that served as way stations along the Underground Railroad. Nearby towns, including Waynesville, had large Quaker communities whose members hosted stops along the route.
In honor of the Underground Railroad history, the bicycling advocacy group Adventure Cycling created a 2,000-mile bicycling route that follows, in part, the entire length of the Little Miami Scenic Trail.
As far back as 1841, the Little Miami Railroad served this area, which was later bought by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The last service ran in the 1970s. By the mid-80s, Xenia and Yellow Springs had acquired the rights of way for the old rail line and, in the 90s, the Little Miami Scenic Trail opened to the public.
“It’s awesome, it’s really, really awesome,” says Bryan Bell, who works at K&G Bike Center in Xenia, which looks right onto the trail. “A lot of people wouldn’t ride a bike if there wasn’t a bike path,” he says.
Fortunately, that’s not a problem here. “On a nice summer Saturday, you will see people on bikes everywhere in Xenia.”
Bell notes the excellent trailside amenities in a number of the small towns that provide services along the way. “Yellow Springs is amazing,” he says. “You can get off the path and go see art, you can go get awesome food, awesome coffee …”
Bell’s prediction for anyone — athlete or not — considering a visit to the Little Miami Scenic Trail? “You’re just gonna love it.”
For more information, visit miamivalleytrails.org/miami.htm
or call 513/897-3055.