CHAMPION TWP.: Northeast Ohio's Western Reserve Greenway is, in fact, very green. And very cool.
The 43-mile rail trail in Trumbull and Ashtabula counties is surrounded by leafy trees. It is a well-shaded trail that is 10 degrees cooler than the surroundings on a hot summer day.
The multipurpose trail is alos part of a bigger project: to create a 100-mile corridor from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.
The Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway would run from Ashtabula on Lake Erie in Ashtabula County through Trumbull and Mahoning counties to East Liverpool on the Ohio River in Columbiana County.
The Western Reserve Greenway stretches from Champion Township north of Warren to West 52nd Street in Ashtabula. It roughly parallels state Route 45.
The route, the one-time Penn Central 714 rail line that shut down in 1976, crosses five state highways and will take you under Interstate 90.
It is similar to other rail trails: It is flat - very flat.
The north-south trail features a lot of undeveloped countryside for bicyclists, walkers, joggers, skaters and equestrians. That includes passage through Mosquito Creek State Wildlife Area, with a small deck for watching wildlife.
You might see white-tailed deer, great blue herons, woodchucks, ducks, geese, wild turkeys and, if you're lucky, a bald eagle.
You will also see suburban houses, farms and businesses in the two counties, but the overall feel is a rail trail that is far away from civilization.
The 10-foot-wide trail runs through some prime wetlands and can be a bit buggy at times.
Park at Sunrise Trailhead
The trail has been developed by countywide pakr districts in the two counties: Ashtabula County Metroparks and Trumbull County MetroParks.
They leased the right of way from the state.
The trail's southern terminus is off Champion Avenue East, just east of state Route 45. That's about one hour from downtown Akron.
But there's no trailhead or parking at the southern terminus, as I discovered on a recent visit.
You can park abotu one mile south of the trail at the Trumbull County Trade & Career Center off Educational Highway. You can then head north on Research Parkway (it's an easy pedal) to reach the trail.
When I asked a local walker where people park, he told me that most people use the Sunrise Trailhead next to the rail trail at state Route 305. That is about one mile north of the trail's southern end.
The trailhead got its name from an old rail community that once existed there.
It is one of three trailheads along Trumbull County's 14.7 miles of trail.
The other trailheads are near Bloomfield on state Route 87 in Bloomfield Township adn the Oakfield Trailhead (named for another old town) on Hyde Oakfield Road in Bristol Township.
The Trumbull County trail is totally blacktopped.
Last stop, Rock Creek
The final section of trail in Ashtabula County, near Rock Creek, is to be paved next year with federal funds.
That stretch - about seven miles - is rough and may be muddy. You will need a mountain bike to ride it.
Ashtabula opened its first section of trail in July 2002; Trumbull opened its first section in November 2003. Planning for the project began in the early 1990's.
There are six trailheads in Ashtabula: Herzog Rotary Park in Ashtabula Township; Munson Hill Station in Saybrook Township; off state route 307 and at Lampson Road, both in Austinburg Township; in the village of Rock Creek; and off U.S. 322 in the village of Orwell.
The rail trail also has strong ties to the Underground Railroad. In fact, the trail's northern terminus is at a building that was the last Ohio stop on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves heading for Canada and freedom.
Interestingly, the use of federal funds to build much of the trail also means that it is open in the winter to snowmobiles. That's a big consideration in often-snowy Ashtabula County.
There are picnic benches along the trail and restrooms at the trailheads.
Turnoffs to local trails provide greenway access to local residents.
Plans call for expanding the trail north to the city of Ashtabula waterfront and south to Warren and even further south through Warren and Niles, said Mike Sords, an Ashtabula County park commissioner, and David W. Ambrose, a Trumbull County park commissioner.
The next greenway improvement in Trumbull County calls for extending the trail 2.5 miles south to North River Road at the north edge of Warren.
No means of support
What's amazing is that the rail trail has been developed by the metro park districts in the two counties, even though the park districts have no employees and no levies to provide money and must rely on volunteers and lots of fundraising and federal, state and private grants.
They both get some money from county commissioners and from state gasoline taxes. But there is no assured source of park income in either county.
The Ashtabula-to-Warren trail is part of a bigger trail network that includes the 11-mile Little Beaver Creek Greenway Trail from Lisbon to Leetonia in Columbiana County and the 11-mile Mill Creek Bikeway, also known as teh Mahoning Bikeway, in Canfield and Austintown townships in Mahoning County.
About 60 percent of the 100 miles of trail has been built and most of the rest is being planned or designed.
The Ashtabula-Warran trail is open from dawn to dusk.
It is patrolled by volunteers. You can join them by calling 330-372-4873.
To get to the Sunrise Trailhead from Akron, take Interstate 76 to state Route 44. Take state Route 44 north toward Ravenna. Follow the signs for state Route 5 east toward Warren. Exit at state Route 45 and go north to state Route 305. Turn east (right) and proceed to the trailhead. It will be on your left.
The trail also has its own support group: Friends of the Western Reserve Greenway at P.O. Box 1788, Warren, OH 44481. It sponsor a summer bike tour, WOW (or the World of Wildlife). It will be staged Aug. 12 with 20-, 40-, and 62-mile routes. Check http://www.ndcis.com/wow for registration and information.
For Trumbull tourist information, contact the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau at 321 Mahoning Ave. N.W., Warren, OH 44483; 866-360-1552 or 330-675-3081; http://www.exploretrumbullcounty.com.
For Ashtabula tourist information, contact the Ashtabula County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1850 Austinburg Road, Austinburgh, OH 44010; 440-275-3202 or 800-337-6746; http://www.visitashtabulacounty.com.
For information about the lake-to-river greenway, contact Mill Creek MetroParks at 7574 Columbiana-Canfield Road, P.O. Box 596, Canfield, OH 44406; 330-702-3000; http://www.millcreekmetroparks.com.