BELLVILLE, OHIO: My bike ride on the Richland B&O Trail in north-central Ohio got off to a pretty shaky start.
I pulled into the trailhead parking lot off state Route 97 between Bellville and Interstate 71 in southern Richland County. Several other bicyclists were there, all looking at the broken glass that was everywhere. It was obvious that six or perhaps as many as eight vehicles had gotten their windows shattered very recently.
Those vehicles were gone from the parking lot that was surrounded by corn standing 6 feet high, but the glass was evidence of what had happened. Two of the cyclists figured that the odds were against the thieves returning and proceeded to lock up their vehicles before pedaling off. Two others said they were going home. I headed east to Butler to find another trailhead where my vehicle might be safer.
The 18.4-mile crescent-shaped trail stretches from Mansfield at the northern/western terminus to Hitchman Park in Butler in southeast Richland County, the southern/eastern terminus.
It runs along the Clear Fork of the Mohican River, past cornfields, through wooded tracts and rolling hills, behind factories and through small towns like Bellville and Lexington.
It is seven miles from Mansfield to Lexington, six miles from Lexington to Bellville and five miles from Bellville to Butler.
The trail is about 71 miles from Akron, with easy access off I-71.
Once part of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the trail drops about 222 feet between Mansfield and Butler. The high point is 1,292 feet at Atta and the low point is 1,070 feet at Butler.
The 10-foot-wide trail is popular with in-line skaters because it is asphalt paved. Work on the trail began in 1986 and it opened in late 1995. The trail is owned and managed by the Richland County Park District.
It was one of the first trails in the United States to be developed under the federal Rail-to-Trail Act. It survived lengthy legal challenges from landowners unhappy with the prospect of losing what they thought was their land in the rail right of way.
There are 19 road crossings and the trail parallels state Route 97 in some places. There are 18 bridges, nine parking areas, five stream crossings and four public restrooms along the trail. Attractions include the Gorman Nature Center and the Richland County Historical Society. In season, bike rentals are available at several locations.
Many bicyclists favor the six miles between Bellville and Lexington because of the rolling terrain and the fact that trail passes under I-71.
At present, the northern terminus is North Lake Park off West Fourth Street on Mansfield’s southwest side. There have been proposals to extend the trail farther north to the old Ohio State Reformatory, a former prison with an imposing castle-like structure. There is also talk of extending it east into Ashland County and to Loudonville.
For trail information, contact the Richland County Park District at 419-884-3764 or http://gormannaturecenter.org. For tourist information, call 419-525-1300 or 800-642-8282 or go to www.mansfieldtourism.com.
Nearby attractions include Malabar Farm and Mohican state parks. Malabar Farm was once the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and conservationist Louis Bromfield.
Bromfield’s 32-room mansion is known as The Big House. It is surrounded by a working farm that preserves Bromfield’s farming philosophies. Hollywood celebrities Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married in the house.
You can see farm animals, fish in farm ponds, hike 12 miles of trails, tour the farm on wagon rides and more.
For more information about Malabar Farm, contact the park at 419-892-2784 or www.ohiodnr.com.
Mohican State Park is located at the edge of Loudonville, the canoe capital of Ohio. You can paddle canoes and kayaks or float in inner tubes on the Mohican River.
The 1,110-acre park includes a very popular 96-room lodge and a scenic tree-lined gorge with seven miles of hiking trails. The park includes camping and cottages.
There are 25 miles of mountain bike trails in the state park and the adjoining Mohican-Memorial State Forest. There is also the 29-acre Clear Fork Gorge State Nature Preserve in the heart of the gorge.
For state park information, call 419-994-5125 or go to www.mohicanstatepark.org.
There are lots of campgrounds and tourist-based activities in and around Loudonville.
The Wolf Creek/Pine Run Grist Mill is a gem. It was built about 1831 north of Loudonville off what’s now state Route 60 by Isaac Meanor, powered by springs where Wolf Creek began.
It was moved, piece by piece, starting in 1969, by Ed and Lavern Pennell. Reconstruction was completed in 1975. It sits on state-owned land off state Route 3 south of Loudonville and across the highway from Mohican State Park.
The mill is owned and operated by a nonprofit friends group, Friends of Wolf Creek/Pine Run Grist Mill.
Ashland County once had more than 60 grist mills; today the Wolf Creek Mill is the only one left. In 1840, Ohio had 1,861 buhrstone mills. There were only 94 still standing in 1922.
The 2½-story mill has an overshot waterwheel affixed to the mill’s south side. The waterwheel is 16 feet in diameter and powered by water from Pine Run that is transported on a wooden flume.
Inside the mill are two sets of French granite buhrstones. There is also a bullwheel that is 14 feet in diameter plus original gears and iron teeth.
It is a pretty impressive place for the $1 admission.
The friends’ group was formed in 2000 when it looked like the old mill might be demolished by the state after years of neglect. It has been slowly restored to operating condition by the volunteers.
Other historic structures have been moved to the mill site: the 1815 Fromme log cabin, the Frick’s sawmill from the 1880s and the Schenck Farmstead from the 1820s. A real historic village is growing at the edge of Loudonville.
Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from May through October. Other times are offered by appointment. For information, call 419-668-2497 or www.wolfcreekmill.org.
For Loudonville tourist information, call 1-87-2MOHICAN or go to www.discovermohican.com.
You can also visit the Ohio Bird Sanctuary, a 72-acre preserve with trails and captured and injured raptors. It is at 3774 Orweiler Road between Mansfield and Lexington.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 419-884-HAWK or go to http://ohiobirdsanctuary.com.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.