Thinking outside the box to create Ohio bike trail

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Those of you trapped inside your homes by the winter storm back East might enjoy watching this video about the picturesque Moonville Rail Trail that meanders for 10 miles through the scenic hills of southeastern Ohio.

Aside from the pleasant scenery and the sounds of twittering birds and mountain bike wheels crunching over gravel, there's a good lesson here.

Those earnest volunteers who are trying to create trails out of abandoned railway rights-of-way might be interested to know that the Moonville Rail Trail Association avoided the use of any county money to build the trail that connects the small towns of Zaleski and Mineral.

No county money

Founder Neil Shaw says the whole effort was accomplished with volunteers, donations and grant money.

“In southern Ohio with our poor economic conditions, we don't want to burden the counties with supporting this trail or building this trail.”

Troubled waters

The railroad served the industries in the area and was abandoned in the 1980s. Everything was sold for scrap — including the rails and bridge decks. 

Volunteers put in countless hours to clear debris from the trail and build it up; but they still faced the challenge of 14 stream crossings that didn't have bridges. They did find a company that could replace the bridges for $3 million, but that far exceeded their budget.

Things seemed a little hopeless until someone discovered that old flatbed railroad cars were available for free. After removing the wheel carriages and brakes from beneath the cars, the old flatbed railroad cars have returned to the Moonville line as bridges over the streams.


Eventually the association wants to extend the trail further to the outskirts of Athens, the home of Ohio University. From there, the association would like to connect to the 19-mile-long Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, that stretches between Athens and Nelsonville.

There was nothing like this in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio when I attended Ohio University many years ago. In recent years, I've often regretted that I hadn't taken up bicycling when I was a student there. There are miles of winding roads that pass old company towns and dilapidated buildings from the underground coal mines.

That opportunity is available to students and residents of southeastern Ohio now, thanks to the efforts of trail advocates like those of Moonville Rail Trail Association.

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