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MILLERSBURG — Even in a brisk wind, under a light dusting of powdery snow, with just a hint of sun peeking through the clouds, patrons of the Holmes County Trail didn’t let a February day stand in their way of indulging in a favorite pastime — a trek along a Holmes County landmark becoming a popular year-round crossroads, where buggies and pedestrians, hikers and cyclists, strollers and runners cross paths along a 15-mile corridor between Fredericksburg and Killbuck.
Carolyn Wheeler, a Millersburg resident, parked her car on a blustery February day at the Millersburg Depot trailhead and unloaded her dog for their daily walk.
Although the blossoming of spring and the long days of summer heighten the influx of visitors, the trail is popular in every season, according to Wheeler, who said, “It is hardly ever crowded, but it is well-used.”
Wheeler, sometimes with her husband, walks two to three miles on the trail each day.
“In the summer, we ride bikes,” she said, often bringing their grandchildren, who “like to pick up sticks and drag them along,” for an outing on the trail.
“I love the trail,” Wheeler said, describing it as not only beautiful, but also conveniently accessible.
“It has been so wonderful for our area,” she said, offering the opportunity for a healthy lifestyle to residents and visitors to the trail.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen,” said Wooster resident Alan Huth, a marathon runner who got “fed up with running on roads” and has been regularly traversing about eight to nine miles of the trail since November of 2013.
“I have run all the way down to Killbuck and back,” said Huth, pointing out he shares the paved trail with “tons of people,” especially near Millersburg, even over the winter.
When the thermometer reaches 45 degrees, patronage blooms among people “walking dogs, runners, older people and kids ... and high-speed racing bicyclists, too,” he said.
One of the advantages of the trail cited by Huth is its safety.
“It’s great,” he said, calling it highly “usable.”
Mike Taylor, president of the Holmes County Rails to Trails Coalition, is one of the Holmes County Trail’s enthusiasts.
“It is a unique trail,” Taylor said, shared equitably by pedestrians and buggies; at 16 feet wide, it is double the size of a normal trail, “accommodating buggies on one side and walkers, runners and cyclists on the other side.”
“(We were) the first in the country to do that,” said Jen Halverson, director of the Holmes County Park District.
A huge plus is the trail’s function as “a transportation corridor,” relocating non-motorized traffic off of major routes.
“A really nice partnership” with the Ohio Department of Transportation has “accomplished what it set out to do,” Taylor said, in getting non-motorized vehicles off of state Routes 83 and 62 in particular.
“The locals don’t think so much about it,” Taylor said, but it’s a feature providing “a unique cultural perspective.”
Taylor drew attention as well to the trail from “a nature standpoint,” highlighting farmland, wetlands and wooded areas.
“It is very beautiful in terms of scenery,” he said, dotted with observation decks and benches designed for relaxing and enjoying it.
Birders especially take advantage of the decks to train their binoculars on the wildlife.
Halverson affirmed “quite a variety of landscape” features along the trail, from “wide-open spaces” to “canopies of trees.”
Just as varied are the reasons to enjoy the trail, with one of the primary ones to “be active ... recreational.”
“(The trail) means something a little different to each person using it,” Halverson said, having observed, because of the trail’s flat, smooth surface, children learning to ride bicycles on it.
Trail patrons use it to ride their bikes “to and from work,” she added; she has even seen roller bladers. “There is something for everyone.”
The Holmes County Trail “will eventually be (part of) a whole state system,” Halverson said, with “significant portions (already) completed. A few counties have completed entire stretches.”
“There are lots of great trails in the state,” said Taylor, noting the Ohio to Erie Trail, spanning Cincinnati to Cleveland, has also been supportive of the Holmes County Trail.
About 10 years ago, the first stretch of the Holmes County Trail was opened “north of the depot in Millersburg,” Halverson said.
The trail now spans Fredericksburg to Killbuck, with funds to connect Glenmont with Brinkhaven in Knox County, Taylor said. Ultimately, the stretch from Killbuck to Glenmont will be joined.
Along the Holmes County Trail are amenities, parking lots and access points — in Fredericksburg by the elementary school; in Holmesville behind the Route 83 Restaurant and at the Millersburg “old railroad” Depot, Halverson said.
Still another parking lot is available at the southern end of County Road 622 in Killbuck.
The trail has always been well-maintained, Taylor said, explaining that the park district owns the land, but the Rails to Trails Coalition maintains the trail.
The Amish community is an integral part of the coalition, he said, making an important contribution in its support.
“The local people (have been) ahead of the curve in thinking about what this trail could be,” Taylor said, “jump start(ing) it” with their vision.
According to information about the trail’s history provided by the coalition, the 1969 area flood rendered repair of the Holmes County railroad line financially prohibitive, prompting the development of a concept using the railroad bed as a recreational trail.
Dr. Robert A. Hart of Millersburg founded the coalition in 1996. Working in collaboration with government officials and citizens, the railroad corridor was purchased in 1998.
Halverson said in 2012 that no taxpayer dollars have been used for the trail, but rather, projects are paid for with federal, state, local and private grant funding; contributions and fundraisers.
“Our auction here raises a lot of money every year,” Taylor said.
It is held every summer on the second Saturday in June, Halverson said, and is “one of the main fundraisers for maintenance and upkeep (of the trail).”
The auction features a 5k race, breakfast, a chicken barbecue, and ice cream, she said, calling it “a great, all-day event.”
“The trails are a lot of fun in general,” said Taylor, “providing unique recreational areas throughout the state.”
Among them, the Holmes County Trail is “really blessed,” he said, emphasizing “family-oriented activities,” picnic spots and a playground at the Millersburg Depot.