Can Springfield be Ohio's next bike hub? Cycling advocates see potential in area's bike trails

Heading north you can make it to Bellefontaine or, if you hang a left at Urbana, you can ride another 20-plus miles before you run out of real estate just outside of Greenville.

To the south, pass through Yellow Springs before hitting Xenia. From there, you can head west to Dayton or stay the course and go all the way to Cincinnati.

If you’re looking to get out of the house – an endeavor made all the more important in these days of coronavirus-related shutdowns, when acts of social distancing can leave people stuck indoors and feeling isolated – then Springfield is uniquely positioned for its access to some fresh air.

That’s because the city serves as one of the hubs for the Miami Valley Bike Trails, 330 miles of paved multi-use recreational trails. Touted as the largest paved network of trails in the United States, the Miami Valley Bike Trails is an asset for the region and the state, a benefit of living in Springfield and, once tourism resumes, an attraction for out-of-town and even out-of-state visitors alike.

“With the coronavirus pandemic, the governor issued orders to stay at home but left allowances for getting outside and exercising. Bikes are a specific part of that,” says Scott King, president of Bike Springfield, a nonprofit organization that advocates for cycling, represents a group that includes everyone from competitive cyclists to those that rely on bicycles as their primary means for transportation.

“It’s great to be able to get out on the bike paths and get some fresh air.”

Made up of a network of pathways that includes the Little Miami Scenic Trail and the Simon Kenton Trail, the vast regional trail system has its roots in the Huffy Corporation of Dayton. Then-president of the company Horace M. Huffman Jr. first formed and led the Greater Dayton Bikeway Committee in the mid-1960s, pioneering one of the first regional bikeway plans in the country. That would eventually lead to the 1976 construction of an 8.2-mile pathway along the Great Miami River, now known as the Horace M. Huffman, Jr. Great Miami River Trail.
The Buck Creek trail

Through the decades, individual trails and pathways were built throughout the region, and the network began to take shape.

“We make the claim to be the nation’s largest network of paved trails and no one has challenged us on it,” says Louis Agresta, transportation planner for the Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee (TCC).

“There are two reasons for this. One is that we had a lot of industry in the region that resulted in abandoned railroads. And the second is that with the urbanized areas, we’re able to use federal transportation grants. The majority of our trails are built on abandoned rail corridors using federal funds. That’s why they get paved.”

This confluence of factors, an infrastructure of abandoned rail corridors amidst natural beauty that connects a vibrant cluster of cities and communities, results in the Miami Valley Bike Trails network.

While Springfield has yet to conduct any formal studies on the economic impact of tourism created by the trails, there are plenty of indications that the system draws tourists to the area. Google Analytics of the Miami Valley Bike Trails website, provided by Agresta and the TCC, show that almost 5% of visits to the site come from Nashville, demonstrating, at least, outside interest in the network. And, he says the website consistently fields questions about lodging in the area, too.

“I always meet people on the trails that bring their bikes to the area. They stay at an Airbnb for two or three days because there are so many trails here,” says Kim Fish, an avid cyclist and member of two Springfield bicycle groups, the Old Spokes Bike Club and The Road Fish.

“The people that go traveling for biking, they want to be able to ride for a lot of miles and see different things every day.”

This is especially good news for Springfield, considering the economic fallout expected to result from the coronavirus pandemic – even after the virus spread has been contained. A resource like the Miami Valley Bike Trails could be leveraged to draw visitors to the region, helping to jump-start the local economy.

Attorney and partner at the Springfield law firm Martin Browne, Randall Comer is among the Springfield residents who consistently use the trail system. An avid cyclist and city booster, Comer sees the trails as an asset for city residents and businesses.

He believes the city can build a whole bicycle-driven economy around the trails, one that would benefit bicyclists as well as everyone else. And the economic impact could reach beyond commercial development. A 2011 research study from the University of Cincinnati revealed that for the stretch of the Little Miami Scenic Trail that runs through metropolitan Cincinnati, housing prices went up $9 for every foot closer to the trail entrance.

“Let’s put an emphasis to maintain and expand the infrastructure and incentivize businesses to locate alongside the path. It would be a win-win. There would be food and lodging for cyclists, and you would create economic development at the same time,” Comer says.

“It’s about building awareness and then putting the resources behind it. Of the assets we already have here, I’m not sure if enough of the public knows about the trails.”

Leveraging the value of the trail system is a shared desire among those that use it every day.

Just as people travel to the Miami Valley to ride the trails, members of the Springfield bicycling community travel elsewhere for the same reason. They bring back some pretty good ideas, too.

Fred and Carisa Peters are members of the local competitive cycling team Champion City Cycling. They point to Venice, Florida, as a place for Springfield to look to for inspiration.

“Venice will have businesses right off the paths and signage that says, ‘Ice cream to the right’,” Carisa says.

“We have the infrastructure in place that is conducive to doing so much, to become a place where people want to go,” says Fred.

King also spurred some new ideas based on takeaways from other bike trail hot spots.

Cyclists take a break along the path that goes from West Liberty to Xenia.

Following a cycling summit in Miamisburg last year, King came away impressed with a presentation from the visitors bureau of Bentonville, Arkansas. With a paved trail system that connects to off-road mountain biking tracks, Bentonville is a cycling tourism destination. King points to the city’s tourism page, which has a whole section devoted to bicycle tourism, including a page that lists bike-friendly hotels.

“We have the Little Miami Scenic Trail, the Simon Kenton Trail, the smaller east and west spurs. It’s grown here for tourism. And it might not even be biking leading the charge, but cycling can be a part of it,” says King.

“Look at Mother Stewart’s brewery. The Fountain Avenue strip. Cyclotherapy is opening. They want to focus on the cultural aspect and be more than just a bike shop, where you can come have coffee or take classes.

“It’s all part of the puzzle.”
Cyclotherapy is tentatively scheduled to open Friday, April 24, pending its forthcoming building inspection.

Jon Francis is opening Cyclotherapy with co-owner Paul Cross. Just as King says, Francis and Cross are planning to open a bike shop that not only sells bicycles, but also serves as a hub for the community and the region itself. Although its planned April 1 opening had been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shop is now tentatively scheduled to open Friday, April 24, pending its forthcoming building inspection.

Easily accessible from the Miami Valley Bike Trails, Cyclotherapy hopes to help build a bridge between the trails and economic development downtown – one rider at a time.

“The big thing riders can do is just get out there. People feel safer going to places that have more people and the more heavily trafficked a place is, the safer people feel and the more included they feel. It’s nice to see other people out and doing what you’re doing,” Francis says.

“Riders create more riders. And then it just grows and grows and grows.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.