DARKE COUNTY – The Darke County Bike Trail is progressing as plans are being developed to enable residents to ride from Bradford all the way to State Route 571.
To date, the cross county trail has marked and built 8.2 miles of trail in Darke County. On average, the trail features a four-foot berm and 10-foot wide pave trail.
The third phase of the project, which is currently undergoing completion, will bring the total to around 11 miles and will work to pickup the extend the trail even further.
The Darke County trail, also known as the Tecumseh Trail, came as a result of a random sample survey in 2002 sent out to more than 2,000 Darke County homes. The survey showed that 74 percent of the people surveyed wanted to have a walking/bike trail.
“The survey has been a huge driving force for 10 years,” said Darke County Parks Director Roger Van Frank.
As a result, the Darke County Park District prioritized the trail to be build over the next several years, and has been making progress ever since.
“The idea was to be able to tie local communities together and provided for a lot of different things like alternative routes for kids walking to school, but also for communities to play together, and to bring people in to the region during the warmer seasons for tourism.”
The project is also working with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy program, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.
According to Van Frank, the Darke County Park District became part of the organization’s program in 2004 to help achieve the Rails-to-Trails goal of extending across the country.
The bike trail is being funded primarily through Clean Ohio Funds, which aims to restore, protect, and connect Ohio’s natural and urban landscapes by preserving green space and farmland, improving outdoor recreation to encourage redevelopment and revitalize communities.
The project is also funded through generous donations of local business and volunteer labor.
“Just to give you an example, we’ve had thousands of hours of volunteer labor to help scrub and clean the trail and get it prepped. We’re going through briars and honeysuckle, mowing and cleaning it up, so that when it comes to contract out the work we don’t have to pay for it,” said Van Frank.
The bidding process for the third project phase is expected to begin no later than March, with construction aimed for completion at the end of August.
The reception for the project has been overwhelmingly positive so far.
“The local townships and villages are taking ownership, and they take pride in the fact that they’ve got trail going through their area,” said Van Frank. “The trail provides local kids a place for safe play. They’re not out on the roads, they’re back on our trail where they belong.”
As an example, the Village of Gettysburg donated a tract of the old Petersime Hatchery land to be used for a parking lot and trail-head area.
“That’s the type of thing that the villages are working with us on,” said Van Frank.
And as an additional benefit for the trail, local law and fire departments can use the trail during emergencies as an alternate route for egress into the area.
“It’s built with that intention, so that they can use it,” said Van Frank.
As part of Phase Four, the Darke County Park District is working to extend the trail from 571 to the end of Ohio Street in Greenville, however the trail lines are not finalized. Once the trail reaches Ohio Street, the goal is to connect the trail to Alice Bish Park.
The project’s progress depends entirely on the availability of funding and land acquisition, but Van Frank hopes to have the trail reach behind the Maid-Rite restaurant within the next five years, which would create an area for bikers and tourists to be able to park and visit the Garst Museum.
The final goal of the plan includes connecting the trail from Bradford all the way to Union City, however that extension is a far way off. But little by little, the Darke County Park District alongside its community partners are progressing throughout the county.
“We have a lot ahead of us. We have a individual hurdles which amount to a jigsaw puzzle,” Van Frank said. “One piece builds to the next, and so on. And you’re able to put the whole picture together over a period of time.”