STRUTHERS: It is not often that you can hop on a rail trail in one state and end up in another.
Welcome to the Stavich Bike Trail that connects Ohio and Pennsylvania. The little-known trail runs 10.5 miles from Struthers on the west to New Castle on the east.
It was built on the right of way of the old Penn-Ohio electric interurban line between Youngstown and New Castle that stopped running in 1933.
The old trolley line remained intact largely because it was next to active rail lines used by the once-booming steel mills in Youngstown and New Castle.
The no-frills trail was designated a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2003. It runs through three townships and two counties in the two states. It is quiet, secluded and largely uncrowded.
It runs through tiny Lowellville in eastern Mahoning County and parallels the Mahoning River. It is billed as a trail with rail and celebrates the area’s once-strong rail history.
In fact, the 31-year-old trail disappears in sleepy Lowellville and you end up riding along Liberty Street for a half mile. You will pedal past the high school, athletic fields and the village gazebo. Traffic is light and slow. The trail resumes again at the far edge of Lowellville.
It also runs through Poland Township in Mahoning County and through Hillsville, Edinburg and Union Township on its way to New Castle in Pennsylvania’s Lawrence County.
The trail is 8 feet wide and covered with asphalt for a smooth ride. It is a bright, sunny trail, and conditions are better along the seven-mile Pennsylvania section because it was repaved about six years ago at a cost of $800,000.
The Ohio section is bumpy in spots and in need of repaving. Culvert and guardrails in Ohio also need work. But no one has found the funds.
The trail runs past woodlands, wetlands and farm fields, following the path of the old Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal, which once connected the Beaver and Erie Division of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal with the Ohio & Erie Canal in Ohio.
The canal started at New Castle and ran west on the Mahoning River to Youngstown, Warren and Akron. It operated from 1840 to 1872, carrying pig iron, iron ore and passengers. The trail also follows the earlier Mahoning Path used by Indians that connected the Beaver and Cuyahoga rivers.
The Stavich Bike Trail is not a totally flat ride. It is a rolling, up-and-down ride with an elevation change of 100 feet along the route.
The hills are noticeable between mile markers 5 and 7. They are present because interurban railroads were not built to the strict standards of regular railroads and could handle steeper slopes. Those hills offer trail users some of the best views of the Mahoning River.
I had major trouble finding the eastern terminus near New Castle, and had to stop and ask for directions twice.
The western terminus in Ohio is hard to miss, marked by a huge sign welcoming visitors to the Stavich Bike Trail. I hopped aboard the off-road trail there and pedaled next to state Route 289 into Lowellville.
At the three-mile marker from the western terminus, you come to the state line, marked by small signs.
The Stavich Bike Trail was constructed and is maintained from private funding from the John and George Stavich families and from individual donations.
The Lowellville/Hillsville Charitable Foundation takes care of the Ohio section, along with Struthers and Lowellville. The foundation also pays for liability insurance on the trail. There has been talk about having the Mill Creek MetroParks take control. The land under the trail is owned by FirstEnergy’s Ohio Edison and leased to the foundation.
The trail was officially dedicated in June 1983. That makes it one of the oldest rail trails in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
It is used by bicyclists, walkers, joggers and in-line skaters from spring through fall. Motorized vehicles are prohibited, although there are few spots where you may end up sharing the trail with a neighbor in a vehicle trying to get to his or her driveway.
Trail hours are dawn to dusk daily. There are few amenities: benches, picnic tables, port a potties.
To get to the trail’s western terminus, take U.S. 224 west to Poland. Turn right on state Route 616 and follow it across the Mahoning River. Just after the river, turn right onto Broad Street in Struthers. The trailhead and sign are on your right in about 1 mile.
For trail information, call Gary Slaven of the Falcon Foundry Co. in Lowellville at 330-536-6221, says the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Mahoning County offers another attractive bike option: the Mill Creek MetroParks Bikeway. The 11-mile paved bikeway is on an abandoned railroad. It runs from Western Reserve Road in Canfield Township to the Mahoning-Trumbull County line in Austintown Township.
You can hop on at trailheads at the MetroParks farm in Canfield Township, and at Kirk Road and Mahoning Avenue, both in Austintown Township.
The line was built in the 1860s as the Niles and Lisbon Branch of the Erie Railroad Co. and served as a key link between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Passenger service was discontinued in the 1930s. The tracks and ties were removed in 1989.
The north-south bikeway, built with federal and state grants, opened in 2000.
It is surrounded by suburban development. Sites along the trail include the 154-acre Sawmill Creek Preserve and the 402-acre MetroParks Farm in Canfield, with classrooms, displays and agricultural exhibits.
For information, contact Mill Creek MetroParks, 330-702-3000, www.millcreekmetroparks.com.
Another bike-and-hike option is the Little Beaver Creek Greenway Trail in nearby Columbiana County. The trail — 10 feet wide and paved with asphalt — stretches 10 miles from Lisbon north to Leetonia.
It follows the route of the old Erie Lackawanna Railroad, along the very pretty Middle Fork of Little Beaver Creek, a federal and state wild/scenic stream.
The rail trail — it is managed by the Columbiana County Park District — passes farms, fields, heavy forests and backyards. There are 30-foot-high sandstone cliffs and gorges.
You can even hop off the trail to visit a historic covered bridge. The Centennial Bridge on Eagleton Road at Teegarden was built in 1875 and used until 1992. It is 67 feet long and built of white oak. It is one of five remaining covered bridges in Columbiana County.
At Leetonia, you can visit the old beehive coke ovens that were used from 1866 to the 1930s to produce steel. The complex, with 200 old ovens, was built by the Leetonia Iron and Coal Co. and later run by the Cherry Valley Iron and Coal Co. The facility is off Logtown Road.
There are five trailheads along the Greenway Trail that opened in 2000. Amenities are limited.
For information, contact the Columbia County Park District at 130 Maple St., Lisbon, OH 44432, 330-424-9078. You can also check out http://www.bicycletrail.com/index.htm.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.