It’s a best-kept secret in plain sight, a 64-mile stretch of path that offers residents over several northwest Ohio counties a place to relax, exercise or just enjoy the outdoors.
The Wabash Cannonball Trail isn’t advertised with a marketing campaign; its existence is spread by word of mouth, occasional public information meetings, and a quarterly newsletter sent to subscribers. But Bonnie Markley, Northwestern Ohio Rails-to-Trails Association (NORTA) board member, said after 24 years the walking and biking trail has developed a following.
“We see increases as time goes on. People are aware of the trail with time,” she said.
What begins in Maumee divides into two forks. One travels west into Montpelier in Williams County; the other takes a route through the extreme southwest corner of Fulton County and through Henry County. The trail’s most recent extension is an almost two-mile section opened to fanfare June 23 at Liberty Center. About 100 people attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony including District 1 Senator Rob McColley and District 81 State Representative Jim Hoops.
“We purchased a very linear piece of ground so we could put a trail there,” Markley said. “It’s what we needed to get the trail users into the village.”
In Fulton County, the trails heads west just south of County Road F until it heads northwest around County Road 18-2. One glitch is the section between County Road 11 and County Road 13, where trail users are diverted by signs due to a Norfolk Southern railroad crossing. Markley suggests riders use fat-tired bicycles in the area.
“There are some areas that are more challenging, that are somewhat less maintained than others,” she advised.
That includes a county stretch from U.S. 20A to the unincorporated community of Elmira. “It’s not developed as well as other areas. (People) just have to pay attention to where they’re going,” she said.
The entire length of the trail is fully accessible but conditions will vary according to location, Markley added.
The trail property was acquired in 1994 by a partnership that included the Toledo Metroparks, Lucas County, the City of Maumee, the Village of Whitehouse, and NORTA. The Wabash Cannonball Trail was acquired specifically as a walking, biking trail.
Each partner maintains their section of the trail, although NORTA maintains all of it outside of Lucas County except for the section through Wauseon. That is the responsibility of the city’s Public Works Department, Superintendent John Arps said.
Markley said NORTA, which is operated by volunteers, has limited resources for upkeep. “That’s why we encouraged all the individual (municipalities) to take ownership,” she said. “That would be the ideal. At this point, Wauseon is the only one that’s done that.”
Donations to maintain the trail are offered occasionally, but the majority of maintenance is performed by about a dozen volunteers, most of them NORTA board members. “We basically cut the brush out and keep it mowed all the way through,” she said.
Because not everyone in its path is familiar with the Wabash Cannonball Trail, NORTA keeps it covered with signage and tries to raise awareness of its benefits to communities and individuals. The organization touts such trail areas as the Fraker Mill Bridge, south of Delta between State Route 109 and County Road 6-3, a haven for photographers and landscape artists. There are also scenic bridges over Beaver Creek in Williams County and across the Tiffin River.
And a portion of the trail between County Road 17 and State Route 127 in Williams County is certified by the North Country National Scenic Trail.
“When we hear from the public it seems to be all positive,” Markley said.
She said a uniformly maintained trail would be ideal, “but it would take a lot of effort and a lot of funding to make it happen.” Some state grants have been received through NORTA’s joint cooperation with individual municipalities along the route.
However, Markley doesn’t discount the idea. “I never know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Julie Brink, coordinator for the Fulton County Visitor’s Bureau, attended the Liberty Center ribbon-cutting, and has posted photos of the event and the trail segment in Elmira on social media.
“This is a connecting trail, and it brings the communities together,” she said.
The Visitor’s Bureau has also included information about the trail in its brochure.
“There’s some work to be done on the Fulton County segment of the trail,” she said. “I’m really hoping that our trail can be refined. We’ve got some rough spots that need to be smoothed out. I’d like to see a nice trail from the beginning to the end.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.