The North Coast Inland Trail provides a colorful hike or bicycle trip during these fall days.
A new 4 3/4-mile addition to the trail connecting Clyde to Bellevue opened Oct. 11 and extends the NCIT across Sandusky County from Bellevue to Elmore. The new section extends from Maple Street in Clyde to CR 177 on the west side of Bellevue.
"We now have 26 miles of bike trail across Sandusky County," said Steve Gruner, director of the Sandusky County Park District. "That completes our corridor in the county. It's been part of the park district's long-range plan for 25 years. It's also part of a larger trail."
The goal of coordinators is to connect Indiana to Pennsylvania through a roughly 270-mile west to east trail through Ohio.
"Parts have been built and other parts are in plans," Gruner said. "In excess of 60 miles of trail are now available in different areas."
The trail was originally an inactive Penn-Central rail line that was converted to a paved hiking and biking path using Ohio Department of Transportation funding. The path is open year-round for walking, jogging, bicycling, in-line skating and strollers. No motorized vehicles are permitted, except vehicles assisting the disabled.
"When first started 25 years ago, nobody had heard of the term 'rail trail,'" Gruner said. "When we first proposed it, it was largely unknown."
In the beginning, he said neighbors had concerns about people walking and riding bikes along their property. For example, he said one neighbor - now deceased - had major concerns.
"He actually, within 18 months, became one of our best proponents," Gruner said. "He sponsored a section and a bench and maintained a section for us."
Gruner said that's generally what happens when people see the benefits.
"People wanted more, but they are not inexpensive to build," he said.
Through Sandusky County, the first 6 1/2-mile section from Maple Street in Clyde to Smith Road in Fremont opened Sept. 28, 1997. A 5-mile section runs from Smith Road to Park and Hayes avenues, and then uses city streets through Fremont to Walter Avenue.
Another 10 1/2-mile segment from Walter Avenue in Fremont to Lindsey to Elmore was acquired March 31, 1997, and opened Oct. 12, 2008.
The Clyde-to-Bellevue section is the latest addition. From there, the trail winds through Bellevue city streets and joins a trail in Huron County.
The $1.2 million project was funded 80 percent by ODOT and another 13-15 percent by Ohio Department of Natural Resources grant money.
"That left 7 percent for the park district, and that was paid by donation," Gruner said. "It's a tremendous partnership between public and private."
In this case, private individuals and corporate donors joined the city of Clyde and Belleuve, as well York Township.
"None of these projects would be possible with public and private partnerships," he said.
"The economic benefits cannot be downplayed," he said. When they're using the trail, people stop overnight at motels, eat at restaurants and visit stores for supplies.
"It's definitely had a positive economic impact on our local business," he said. "At least three business have opened up because of the trail being there."
A bicycle shop has opened along the trail, as well as two ice cream shop/cafes that cater to people who use the trail, he said.
In addition to economic benefits, Gruner said the trail provides health benefits to people who use it for exercise and recreation, but it also provides an important alternative transportation route.
"It's by far the most popular facility in our park system," Gruner said. "But it's also popular with cross-country travelers. It provides a safe route for bicycling, walking or skating.
"It's a common occurrence to meet people from around the country and around the world on the trail," he said. "One couple is riding cross country to visit family for Thanksgiving."
Visitors often comment on the people here, Gruner said.
"They marvel at the friendliness of the people," he said. "It says a lot about people who live here."
To the east, the trail is being completed in stages.
Before the opening of the trail between Clyde and Bellevue, there was a gap in the trail. But now it continues into Huron County.
The Huron County portion stretches 9 1/2 miles from Bellevue to Norwalk, according to the website www.ohiobikeways.net. But a gap remains and local were planning to close the gap this year.
A rail-trail known as the Oberlin Bike Path has been expanded in both directions to become the Lorain County section of the North Coast Inland Trail from Elyria to Kipton. Other segments have been connected along Lorain Metro Parks' Black River Reservation to extend the trail north to the Lorain area.
According to an early October report in the Lorain Morning Journal, Lorain County Metro Parks is planning to extend the NCIT near Elyria during a three-phase project starting in November and ending in 2016 or 2017. A future project would extend the trail from where it ends in Kipton on to Wakeman within the next few years.
Toward Pennsylvania, the trail is not complete east of Lorain.
To the west of Sandusky County, the trail extends into Ottawa County via Elmore. 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. Some sections are in place.
According to the website, the Maumee-Perrysburg Bridge features a built-in bike path that allows cyclists to cross the Maumee River and enter Lucas County. When one reaches the western bank or Maumee side, roughly a 3-mile gap remains to the Cannonball Trail, that lies west of I-475.
"Once aboard the North Fork of the Cannonball, you are on the NCIT that marches due west through Lucas, Fulton and Williams counties," the site state. "The route is via Oak Openings Park, Wauseon, West Unity, to just shy of Montpelier."
In Fulton and Williams counties, there are two short gaps in the trail on the east and west side of Wauseon totaling about 3 1/2 miles. When they are closed, the bikeway will span 26 miles across Fulton County. It continues into Williams County for roughly 8 miles until it ends short of Montpelier.
A final gap of about 15 miles separates the trail from the Indiana border.
Trail hours are 8 a.m. to dark daily.