Explore all the ways of the city this summer

photo: Shannon Thomas paddleboards at the RiverScape River Run, equipped with whitewater features

By Nick Hrkman

By now every Daytonian should know that Dayton is the Outdoor Adventure Capital of the Midwest. But what has the city done to earn that title since it was so boldly claimed? And who are the “adventurers” who claim it?

Shannon Thomas

After years of running his own screen-printing business, Shannon Thomas learned that his grandmother was diagnosed with both pancreatic and lung cancers.

“All I was doing at the time was working and saving money,” Thomas says. “She told me, ‘If there’s anything you want to do in this life, do it now, while you can.’” She had an adventurous personality and spirit—she was a grandmother who drove a convertible at 90 mph. She saw I wasn’t happy.”

Thomas started with canoeing and kayaking, but doing multi-day trips started to hurt his back.

“Then I found out about Stand Up Paddleboarding [SUP] and fell in love with it,” Thomas says. “It opened up new opportunities in the watersports community. Paddleboarding is a smaller, newer sport, so I was one of the few people in the Dayton area I knew of to start doing it.”

Thomas couldn’t have fallen in love with SUP at a better time. The Mad River Run at Eastwood MetroPark was completed in 2013 and is now connected to the recently opened RiverScape River Run in downtown Dayton. These whitewater features allow paddlers to practice and perform tricks as crowds watch from the riverbanks.

“Being on the river is my favorite thing,” Thomas says, “whether it’s a lazy nine-mile trip down the river with friends or a 15-minute session at one of the local whitewater parks. I love feeling the energy of the river—that’s where I feel most at home.”

Favorite gear: “My favorite thing is my daypack. I live out of it. I have my passport, wallet, laptop, keys, deodorant, change of clothes, go-pro chargers. As long as I have that backpack, I’m fine.”

Leslie Heck

Leslie Heck grew up hiking the trails at Clifton Gorge and Glenn Helen.

“When I was in high school and had my driver’s license, Glenn Helen was my sanctuary when I was upset or needed to escape,” Heck says.

Heck, who now works at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, reconnected with a friend from middle school who encouraged her to try bouldering, rock climbing without the use of ropes or harnesses. She went to Urban Krag in Dayton’s Oregon District and was surprised to learn how welcoming and supportive the climbing community in Dayton is.

“With climbing—just go,” Heck says. “Go to the gym and don’t feel like you have to go with someone. I’ve seen so many people start to boulder and get to know more and more people, and then they’re a part of the community. You’ll start a route in the gym and get frustrated when it doesn’t work. You’ll sit down to take a break and then talk with someone else sitting nearby about different routes they’ve already figured out.”

Favorite gear: “I was really proud when I got my rope last year. I felt like a bona fide climber. It allowed me to lead-climb more consistently. That’s the goal—to climb outside.”

Jordan Hart

In the summer of 2003, Jordan Hart took a weeklong bike trip with his Boy Scout troop to Lake Erie and back.

“I rode my first century [100-mile trip] when I was 15,” Hart says. “I was hooked.”

In the summer of 2016, Hart made a 2,007-mile trip from Owen Sound, Ontario, to Mobile, Alabama, in just one month. The route, charted by the Adventure Cycling Association, included many stops at historic sites along the Underground Railroad, including several in Xenia and Springboro.

When he’s not cycling across the country, Hart, who lives in Troy, enjoys his morning commutes to work along the Dayton region’s paved trail network.

“In the morning, I can hop on Great Miami River Trail and make my 23-mile ride with less than two miles of that on surface streets,” he says. “It’s great to not have to worry about cars early in the morning”

Want to get started with cycling but wary of riding in the street?

“Start out with a Bike for the Health of It ride on Saturday mornings and then make your way up to a group ride with a local shop or check out a local club and some of their rides,” Hart says. “Another great way to get comfortable riding in traffic is to join the Courteous Mass ride in Dayton on the first Friday of the month.”

Favorite gear: “Two years ago I got a Garmin [GPS] as a gift. I use it all the time now to track my rides. I used to keep a spreadsheet logging all my miles, but now I can just upload all the data and it’s recorded for me, including maps of where I’ve ridden.”

Thomas and Heck were both born and raised in Dayton and have witnessed the city’s transformation over the years.

“The perception about Dayton has changed,” Heck says. “I’m biased because I’ve gotten to know people who are very active and supportive of cycling and other things, but with Bike Miami Valley and all the cycling initiatives—Link, bike lanes—all of that has raised public awareness of Dayton as an active city.”

“We aren’t Colorado,” Thomas says, “We don’t have mountains. But we have so many well-maintained trails to hike and explore—we probably have more trails than most cities. Having the MetroParks’ classes and retail shops pushing for outdoor recreation has been a huge help for the region in advancing the lifestyle.”

Dayton is starting to attract attention from outdoor recreation enthusiasts around the world, too. The International Trails Symposium was held in Dayton May 7-10. Hosted by the American Trails organization, the symposium promoted the development of diverse, high quality trails and greenways to benefit people and their communities.

To get more involved with outdoor recreation in Dayton, sign up for Five Rivers MetroParks Try-It experiences and workshops by visiting MetroParks.org; join the Dayton Hikers by visiting MeetUp.com/DaytonHikers; boulder or climb with Urban Krag Climbing Center by visiting UrbanKrag.com; and paddle with Whitewater Warehouse by visiting KayakDayton.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Nick Hrkman at NickHrkman@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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