The Miami Valley Matrix: Dayton, home of the nation’s largest paved trail network

By Terri Gordon

The Miami Valley can thank Horace Huffman, Jr. and the 1913 Flood for the over 340 miles of paved track, devoted to walking, running, and biking, that now make up the nation’s largest paved trail network.

When the Wright Brothers opened their bicycle shop in 1892, the bike was a hot new technology. It had come a long way from the pedal-less scooter-style originals. It had developed beyond the “highwheel” varieties and, with the newest safety features (like brakes), was becoming a serious form of transportation. Natural tinkerers, the Wrights were soon selling their own improved versions.

George Huffman, the new owner of a sewing machine business, was also keen on this new technology, producing his own version of the “critter” the same year the Wrights opened their store (they wouldn’t sell an original model until four years later). As the Wrights modified their bicycles to make airplanes, Huffman morphed his sewing machine operation into bicycle manufacture. By 1924, the Huffman Manufacturing Company was making bikes in full force. By the time George’s grandson, Horace Jr., became involved, the bicycle was a popular commodity. In 1949, the company invented training wheels, opening the market to children and securing the bicycle as a recreational vehicle. “Huff,” as he was known, was not through.

The Great Flood of 1913 left Dayton—founded on the Great Miami River where its three tributaries, the Stillwater, the Mad River, and Wolf Creek, converge—swamped. The devastated city swore, “Never again!” The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) was formed and built the system of dams that still protect the region from flooding. The dams are unique in that they do not hold water; it flows freely through built-in vents until there is too much, then the vents work to slow it down. When that happens, water collects in the ample space behind the dam, letting it drain slowly, as the river can accept it without flooding. Levees help protect sensitive areas, and the river was widened in spots, creating beaches, to help manage overflow.

Consequently, the system also resulted in a lot of open space that couldn’t be developed because it needed to be free to flood. While some was used for agriculture, the bulk of it was reserved for recreation, by statute. And so, parks were created—managed by the MCD until Five Rivers MetroParks formed, and management turned over to them.

Huff, according to MCD General Manager Janet Bly, was inspired by a visit to Sacramento, where they were trying to build a bike path but faced difficulties because they didn’t own all the land. The light bulb went on for Huff, as he realized Dayton, through the MCD, owned all the land along the rivers, and more. He returned enthused and started working with the various agencies—the city, the county, and the Chamber of Commerce—to build a bike trail.

“They raised the funds locally and developed the original eight-mile loop that goes from Helena Street/Island Park to the University of Dayton, on both sides of the river,” Bly says. “And that was the start of what, today, is known as the nation’s largest paved trail network.”

Little by little, neighboring communities built their own bike trails, along their rivers and using abandoned railroad corridors, eventually connecting them to the loop. And that process continues.

Planning commissions look at the “big picture,” and into the future. The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission (MVRPC) is no different, and according to Executive Director Brian Martin, has been “very involved in assembling this quilt” that covers Montgomery, Miami, Green, Clark, and Preble Counties, plus part of Warren. Always looking 25 to 30 years into the future, they foresee growth. Columbus and Cincinnati both have trail systems they’d like to connect to Dayton, and to the west, Richmond, Indiana, would also like to link. As all that brews in the background, MVRPC continues to fine-tune the local system (their latest plans can be seen on MVRPC.org).

“Connectivity to the network is very important,” Martin says. “We don’t want people taking their bike by car to the trailhead. We want them having the confidence to cycle from their home. There are some physical barriers, some gaps, that need to be filled in that are very important to making sure that happens.”

In the meantime, folks can ride, walk, or run clean, safe trails—the Great Miami River Trail, the Mad River Trail, The Little Miami Scenic Trail, and more—for exercise, for transportation, for pleasure. There are even specialized trails for mountain bikes and horses. Dayton also has 300 miles of natural surface trails in its parts of the North Country Trail and the Buckeye Trail, with another 75 scattered throughout the MetroParks system. Additionally, the region has the Twin Valley Trail, a 22-mile backpacking route. It is worth mentioning that many of these trails are ADA accessible, and many can be used for cross-country skiing in winter.

In 2010, the Great Miami, Stillwater and Mad Rivers became the state-recognized Great Miami River Watershed Water Trail—265 miles of waterway for paddlers and fishers—and in 2016 was named a National Water Trail System, one of only 22 such systems in the country.

This trail is about to get better, too, as work finishes up on RiverScape’s River Run, a project that has removed the dangerous low dam below the Dayton Art Institute and constructed whitewater “chutes.” These structures will create a “wave,” says Chief of Planning and Projects Carrie Scarff.

“Whitewater paddlers come from the bottom of the drop in these short little kayaks, and they do cartwheels and flips and somersaults,” Scarff says. “It’s great to watch.”

The changes also open the downtown portion of the river to through-travel, expanding the river trail.

All of this improves the quality of life for area residents and helps draw talented workers to the area. Increasingly, it also means tourism dollars, as the area becomes a destination for hikers, bikers, and paddlers—who stay in local hotels, shop in local stores, and eat in local restaurants. It would be easy to take all this greatness for granted, except others have started to notice. The League of American Bicyclists designated Dayton a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community and Five Rivers MetroParks a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Business designation.

Pull-quote: “It really puts Dayton on the map, on a worldwide platform.”

Which brings us to the really big deal: The International Trails Symposium. When Dayton representatives presented the idea of holding the biennial event in Dayton, the event’s leaders were skeptical.

“They were [like], ‘Isn’t Dayton a flyover town?’” recalls Bly, who participated in the process, “And we were [like], ‘No, it’s a fly-into town!”

The pitch worked. American Trails will host the 23rd International Trails Symposium, “Trails Take Flight,” in Dayton, starting May 7.

Amy Dingle, director of Five Rivers MetroParks Outdoor Connections Department, also worked to bring the symposium to Dayton, and is excited to show off all Dayton has to offer.

“The symposium is really what American Trails would say is a premier event for trail managers, trail governors, industry leaders, planners, designers, and enthusiasts worldwide, to come together to communicate and experience an inspirational and educational conference,” Dingle says. “It really puts Dayton on the map, on a worldwide platform.”

Another big event takes place at Wright State University in the days prior the symposium: the Cycling Summit.

“The Cycling Summit is a conference-style event that tries to use the power of cycling to show how it can drive the economy in your community, and that’s whether you live in a large community or a small community,” says Committee Chair Robin Gregory. “We want to show you that there’s value to you with the cycling industry.”

Experts will speak on topics including funding, safety, health, and development. Vendors will also display the latest in bike-related wares. The Cycling Summit is free to the public, though organizers offer breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack, so pre-registration is required.

On Saturday, the cycling summit hits the road, or trails, rather—on the Miami Valley Cycling Summit Century Ride along the Little Miami Scenic Trail. The fully supported ride, complete with rest stops, food and water stations, and emergency assistance, will start at the Fairgrounds Recreation Center in Xenia and turn back at Miamiville (a metric century will turn back sooner, for a 100-kilometer, or 62-mile, ride).

Both the trails symposium and the cycling summit are great ways to kick off the month of May, which also happens to be National Bike Month.

“It was started by the League of American Bicyclists in 1956,” says Lucy Sanchez, outdoor recreation event coordinator at Five Rivers MetroParks, “and the whole month is geared toward celebrating all the great benefits of cycling and encouraging other people to give it a try.”

The parks system team has planned many things, but their biggest event is its free pancake breakfast held at the end of Bike Week, in celebration of Bike to Work Day. Whether you are biking to work, or school, or just for fun, you are welcome to join them at RiverScape.

Also, a brand new Miami Valley Ohio Bikeways Guide Map features all the latest trail information, including trail connections and mileage distances between communities. The map is free on the Miami Valley Trails website and at Five Rivers and other parks districts.

A lot of effort has gone into developing the trail system, which follows the original trail system.

“We have a lot more wildlife, even in our urban areas, than a lot of people would expect,” says Bly, who likes to hike, “with eagles and herons. We see deer splashing through the rivers. We see beavers. People are always showing us the great fish that they’re catching.”

Residents owe it to themselves to get out and see it for themselves, at one of the planned events or on their own.

 

Events

RIVER RUN OPENING, May 5

Grand Opening/Ribbon Cutting Ceremony of RiverScape River Run, 4:30–5:30 p.m. at 237 E. Monument Ave. Celebrate the opening of two whitewater “play spots,” where experienced paddlers can “shoot the rapids” and perform other stunts.

 

CYCLING SUMMIT, May 5

The Miami Valley Cycling Summit, 7:30 a.m.–4 p.m. at Wright State University, 3640 Colonel Glen Highway. Free and open to the public. Registration is required at Cyclingsummit.com. A “Grassroots Social” will be held at The Wandering Griffin, 3725 Presidential Dr. at 4 p.m., immediately following the summit.

 

CENTURY RIDE, May 6

Miami Valley Cycling Summit Century Ride, 6 a.m.– 7 p.m. startsing at the Fairgrounds Recreation Center, 120 Fairground Rd.  Bike the Little Miami Scenic Trail. Early registration is $25; onsite registration is $35. Learn more at GCParksTrails.com.

 

TRAILS SYMPOSIUM, May 7

American Trails International Trails Symposium Free Public Event, 12–5 p.m. at the Dayton Convention Center, 22 E. Fifth St.
The Outdoor Adventure Capital of the Midwest, Dayton was chosen to host the biennial International Trails Symposium. While much of the symposium is for paying professionals (though Ohio residents receive a 40 percent discount), organizers have included a free public day to showcase some of what makes Dayton’s trails so special.

 

TRAILS ROCK PARTY, May 8

Trails Rock Party, 7–11 p.m. at Riverscape MetroPark, 237 E. Monument Ave. Attendees can walk or bike the trail system, check out the recent construction of a white water paddling area, choose food and drink from various vendors, join a live auction, and enjoy the music of The Sly Band.

 

GO W/ THE FLOW, May 15

GO W/ THE FLOW–Bike Edition, 67 p.m. Get ready for National Bike to Work Week with this free class at RiverScape MetroPark. Bike to the event, and don’t forget your yoga mat!

 

BIKE TO WORK, May 19

Five Rivers MetroParks Bike to Work Day, 7–9 a.m. at RiverScape MetroPark, 237 E. Monument Ave. Free pancake breakfast, live music, and more at this “Celebration of Cycling.” Groups can enter the team challenge prior to the event for a chance to win prizes.

A complete schedule is available at MetroParks.org/biketowork.

For more information, please visit… 

MetroParks.org

MiamiValleyTrails.org

MiamiConservancy.org

MVRPC.org

CyclingSummit.com

AmericanTrails.org

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Terri Gordon
Freelance writer Terri Gordon writes across a range of topics, including nature, health, and homes and gardens. She holds a masters in English and occasionally teaches college composition and literature. Her blog, WordWorks (http://tsgordon.blogspot.com) is a "bulletin board" of some of her favorite things.

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