The 2017 International Trails Symposium Created Lasting Momentum in Ohio
When advocates gather, trail magic happens.
Trail construction underway at Hills & Dales MetroPark, site of 2017 Professional Trailbuilder Association Legacy Trail
Kristen Wicker, Five Rivers MetroParks
Dayton, Ohio— the “Outdoor Adventure Capital of the Midwest”— hosted the American Trails International Trails Symposium in May 2017. A year later, excitement continues to build— creating the momentum needed to take things to the next level at local, regional, and state levels.
“The symposium raised awareness about the important role that trails generate for economic development and people living healthy, active lifestyles, creating the type of places where people want to live, work and play,” said Amy Dingle, director of outdoor connections for Five Rivers MetroParks, one of the 2017 Symposium’s hosts. “The event launched new interest in trails and outdoor recreation.”
In 2019, the Dayton Convention and Visitors Bureau recognized six individuals as Community Ambassadors for the region for their help generating millions of dollars in economic impact from tourism — including Candace Mitchell, director of operations for American Trails. ITS 2017 generated nearly $680,000 in economic activity, with 568 attendees from 45 states and 13 countries. Each Community Ambassador received an official leather flight jacket to commemorate Dayton as the birthplace of aviation during an annual awards ceremony marking National Tourism Week.
The momentum ITS launched has continued with trail-related efforts and projects throughout Ohio, including those below.
- The state formed the Ohio Legislative Trail Caucus, the first caucus of its type in the nation, with 30 members (25 percent of Ohio legislation) and counting. The Caucus is focused on improving existing trails and ensuring smart planning for future trail networks. As one of its first actions, Ohio designated 2017-2018 the “Year of the Trails,” with goals including the creation of a comprehensive online trail map, updated state trail plan and designated trails system, state agency capacity building, and a statewide economic impact study.
- The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, one of the partnering organizations that hosted the Symposium in Dayton, is updating the Comprehensive Statewide Trail Plan. Leaders from throughout the state are involved in the effort, which is due to be completed at the end of the year. Already, the group has developed a vision statement: “Ohio is a leader in providing sustainable trails for all users offering an extraordinary network of world-class recreation and transportation opportunities linking communities, people and places and stimulating economic and social vitality.”
- The Ohio House of Representatives passed legislation in support of electric bicycles, a hot topic during ITS 2017, classifying them as bicycles rather than motorized vehicles and establishing requirements for using e-bikes. Trail managers in Ohio have widely accepted the idea that e-bikes should be allowed on the state’s trails, and the legislation was being considered in the Ohio Senate.
- Greene County Parks and Trails are moving forward with Caesar Ford Park, one of the Legacy Trail Projects that started at ITS 2017 with a design charrette by the Professional TrailBuilders Association. The Ohio Horseman’s Council is developing a shared-use trail system that will benefit the horse, mountain biking and hiking communities with five to seven miles of trails.
- Welcome Park, another ITS 2017 Legacy Trail Project, also is moving forward. The city of Dayton expects to sign a contract with the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) and begin the design phase this summer. The city and IMBA will partner to design and build a world-class mountain bike/BMX bike park facility that will enhance the city’s bike culture. The city envisions an integrated facility that riders of all ages and abilities can use to improve their skills and enjoy active outdoor recreation. The elements proposed include a series of skill-building pump tracks that kids through advanced riders can use; a 3,300-foot perimeter multi-use trail that incorporates such skill features as technical rock gardens and ladder bridges; and a 70,000-square-foot progression jump zone comprised of dirt jumps, berms and pre-fab bike-optimized features for riders of all levels. To help fund construction of the bike park, the city received grants from the Public Health Department of Dayton and Montgomery County and PeopleForBikes, a national cycling advocacy organization, along with a donation from Dayton business Bonbright Distributors. The Miami Valley Mountain Biking Association (MVMBA) has agreed to support future maintenance of the bike park. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2019.
- The Flight Line, also in the city of Dayton, has been awarded a Rails-to-Trails Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund grant to help with acquisition of an out-of-service rail corridor. The city hopes to convert a portion of the six-mile corridor into a recreational trail and urban greenway, including a linear park with downtown vistas. The Flight Line would be a transformative urban recreational trail that would link thousands of Daytonians to the Miami Valley’s existing 340-plus miles of connected, paved trails. The Flight Line also would create an urban multipurpose recreational trail connecting downtown Dayton with the rest of the regional trail system.
- The Adventure Cycling Route Network expanded with the opening of the Great Miami Riverway Alternate Bicycle Route. It connects three area counties to the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR), launched right before ITS 2017. The Chicago to New York City Bicycle Route (CNYC) launched in May 2017 and travels through the heart of Dayton. U.S. Bicycle Route 50 is almost finished and being marked throughout the region.
- Momentum grew for the Great Miami Riverway Coalition, a 99-mile regional destination marketing and placemaking campaign that includes five counties in the Dayton area. In 2017, the Great Miami Riverway brand launched, and branded wayfinding kiosks and medallions are now being strategically placed along the trail system. An updated website— www.greatmiamiriverway.com— was launched this spring that includes an interactive map, trip planner, itineraries, events calendar and much more. Communities located along the Great Miami Riverway have invested more than $300 million in riverfront development in the past 10 years— $16 million of that in 2017 alone.
- The Tait Station low dam, located near Dayton in the Great Miami River, is being removed to improve river conditions and eliminate a threat to public safety for those who enjoy recreational use of the Great Miami River water trail.
- The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission (MVRPC) is designing a project to measure the regional economic impact of the Miami Valley Trails. Envisioned as a complement to the Trail User Surveys MVRPC conducts every four years, this project will assess employment, indirect and real estate impacts that can be traced to the trails— analyzing data that can be used to communicate the benefits of the system to residents, business owners and elected officials.
- The Dayton Riverfront Master Plan is in the final stages of development and recommends strengthening trail assets and building new ones. The plan is a community-wide process that explores the tremendous potential of the four rivers in downtown Dayton to enhance regional vibrancy, livability and economic vitality. Visit https://daytonriverfrontplan.org for more info.
- Bike Miami Valley chapters expanded with the addition of Bike Yellow Springs and Bike Centerville.
- The Miami Valley Mountain Bike Association has been reinvigorated. The club is now actively working to increase its membership and look at land throughout the region where new mountain bike trails might be developed.
The Symposium’s lasting impact on the Dayton region can perhaps be best summed up in one family’s experience on one of the trails— another Legacy Trail Project lead by Professional TrailBuilders Association instructors— at Hills & Dales MetroPark.
“What was once an ugly headache of a trail is now settling in and recovering beautifully. Several visitors have commented on how much they love the new trail,” Park Manager Shelby Ashcraft said. “My mom, dad, brother, husband and I recently took a walk on that section of trail after a picnic. My dad has Cerebral Palsy and needs a trail that is smooth, with steady climbs and falls. Before the rework, I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking him to join us on a hike there, but thanks to ITS, the Professional TrailBuilders Association, and the hard work of the session participants and leaders, we enjoyed a lovely family walk.”
The 2017 International Trails Symposium was hosted in Dayton by the following partner organizations: