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Biking Bonanza: Central Ohio hopes to roll out new trail systems

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Biking the Olentangy Trail is a favorite for outdoor enthusiasts around Central Ohio, especially when the leaves turn lush and green and the sunshine warms the surrounding parks. Beyond that, though, the trail connecting Worthington to Clintonville to Ohio State is a vital pathway for folks looking for alternative commuting options for their daily treks downtown.

A few miles to the east runs the Alum Creek Trail, connecting Westerville, Easton and Bexley. The two trails run parallel to one another, but the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) and Central Ohio Greenways (COG) hope that in a few years, the two will become connected through an additional path.

The change would be part of an effort to expand Central Ohio’s trail system, adding 500 new miles of pathways to the over 230 that already exist throughout Franklin County and the surrounding seven counties.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

The vision was developed by COG, a collaborative group including local governments and private and nonprofit partners that wanted to create a cohesive trail system, says COG coordinator Melinda Vonstein.

“What’s really exciting is that these new trail connections will fill in gaps in our trail corridors that largely run along river corridors, and they’ll also connect neighborhoods to jobs,” Vonstein said.

Vonstein says the number of miles traveled along the Central Ohio trail system has increased every year since 2014, reaching 11.5 million miles in 2017. On top of that, the region is growing in population, and congestion in the city is getting worse. 

The combination of these factors, Vonstein says, will increase the demand for a more accessible trail system, and one of the existing limitations the expansion is hoping to address is the lack of east to west trails.

“Initially about 10 years ago, trails started to be built in our region as an effort to protect our waterways, so many of the trails that exist run along our north valley corridors,” Vonstein said. “What we’re trying to do is create some connections, some east-west connections, to create a truly interconnected network of trails.”

Within the city, these proposed connections include paths connecting the Olentangy to the Scioto Trail along 161 and through the OSU campus. But the expansion would move outward, too, connecting Lancaster, Johnstown, Delaware, Marysville, and Circleville.  

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Vonstein says the trails throughout Central Ohio are meant to provide a safe, low-stress transportation option for people ages eight to 80. She’s most excited about connecting historically underserved people in this regard with access to trails, and she says the COG is working with other groups “to create a transportation system that works from neighborhood to town centers.”

Aside from providing more accessible transportation, however, the expanded trails will also give folks using the paths a chance to experience a wider range of the area’s urban, suburban, and natural environments.  

“We really see these trails as linear parks that are a way to not only connect people to mobility options, but also as a way to connect with nature,” Vonstein said. “We’re really excited that this trail vision allows us to connect to a lot of natural places and gives us the opportunity to just experience the nature and really amazing spaces that Central Ohio has on a more human scale outside of the car.”

The vision to add 500 miles of trails is ambitious, though, and will likely carry a hefty price tag. Vonstein says the project is expected to cost at least $250 million, and the timeline for development is dependent on finding funding sources. Still, she says a study COG funded last year indicated regional leaders see access to trails as a driver for economic development, better health outcomes, and improved quality of life.

The group’s next steps will be to conduct another study this year focused on how trail use supports economic development, social equity and the environment, which Vonstein hopes will help with grant funding.

“We, our community leaders, and our trail advocates in Central Ohio really see the value of trails, so we know that there is an opportunity to find some funding to accelerate the pace of this development,” Vonstein said of the vision. 

The new trails may still be a few years out, but it’s never too late to start exploring the existing paths. COG is also working with Yay Bikes!, a local bike advocacy group, to help educate people on safe bicycling habits both on and off pathways. Maybe one day, folks will be able to take what they’ve learned and hop not just from Clintonville to Grandview, but also from the Hilltop to Whitehall.

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Community

Cedar Point, Kings Island are suing to get you back

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It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? Columbus Zoo & Aquarium are allowed to re-open but Cedar Point and Kings Island have been snubbed in Gov. Mike DeWine’s most recent announcement that Ohio’s entertainment venues were allowed to re-open.

After being left out of the party, Cedar Point, Kalahari Resort and Kings Island sued the director of the Ohio Department of Health Thursday, arguing that Dr. Amy Acton doesn’t have the authority to keep the state’s amusement parks and waterparks shut down and in doing so is violating the park’s rights.

The lawsuit was brought by attorney Maurice Thompson, executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law. The county health departments for both parks were also named in the lawsuit.

No word yet from the Ohio Department of Health as to when, or if, either amusement park will be allowed to open in June.

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Community

Updated hours for North Market as first Farmers’ Market of the season opens Saturday

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Get excited Columbus foodies - this Saturday marks the beginning of North Market’s Farmers’ Market season! The Farmers’ Market will tantalize your taste buds every Saturday this summer through October, from 8 a.m. until noon at the North Market outdoor plaza at 59 Spruce Street.

During the coronavirus pandemic, North Market provided customers with fresh pick-up bundles. Now they’ve updated their operating hours to give consumers who want to shop again a chance to pick their own culinary delights.

"The hope is that a gradual reopening will strike a balance between the desire to serve the public and still respect the very real health concerns still shared by merchants, public, and staff," said Rick Harrison Wolfe, North Market's executive director, in a press release Thursday.

The updated hours, which will go into effect this Sat., June 6, are as follows:

  • Monday - Tuesday: closed
  • Wednesday - Friday, Sunday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Saturday: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

All of those in attendance will have to observe the following guidelines as outlined in a press release by North Market:

  • North Market's mask requirement that applies to indoor merchants and guests will also apply to all outdoor vendors and guests.
  • Access to each farmers' market booth will be limited. Markings on ground will indicate this requirement and will show the distance required between people. Only one person/group traveling together may be in each box at a time.
  • Several farms and vendors will offer contact-free shopping and pre-orders. North Market asks that guests pre-order and plan out shopping trips when possible. This helps keep crowds to a minimum and lines moving smoothly.
  • Farms and vendors will provide hand sanitizer for guest use.
  • North Market farms and vendors are committed to helping prevent the spread of illness by washing hands frequently, covering coughs/sneezes, staying home when sick, and avoiding exposure to others who are sick. We ask that all guests follow the same protocols and do not visit North Market or the Farmers' Market if feeling ill.
  • North Market farms and vendors will continue to strictly follow all local public health guidelines, safety protocols, and best practices.

If you’re interested in which merchants will be open on what days, North Market has been dedicated to providing you with that information during the pandemic. You can find the list, which is updated daily, here.

Although there are still limitations on indoor seating, outdoor seating on the porch and the farmers’ market plaza are currently available.

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Weekend Getaway: Ohio State Park lodges reopen

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Cooped up inside of our homes for the past few months, everyone could use a change of scenery. Luckily for those that love the great outdoors of Ohio, the perfect getaway is now possible once again.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced on May 28 that all nine Ohio State Park lodges would be reopened by June 5.

The places where you can escape to are listed below in order of closest proximity to Columbus to furthest:

  • Deer Creek
  • Burr Oak
  • Mohican Lodge
  • Salt Fork Lodge
  • Shawnee 
  • Hueston Woods
  • Maumee Bay
  • Punderson Manor

Director of State Park Lodges Tom Arvan had this to say in the May 28 press release:

“Our staff has been working diligently to ensure that guests return to a safe and sanitized environment following the CDC safety guidelines. Our goal is for our guests to feel comfortable as they enjoy the fun activities and relax in the natural beauty of the lodges and all the state parks have to offer this summer.”

Visit https://www.greatohiolodges.com/ to secure your much-needed wilderness adventure today.

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