By Isaac Miller
If you’re like me, then you probably enjoy Appalachian Ohio’s beauty. I enjoy exploring this region’s rolling hills, lush wooded areas, and weaving waterways such as the Hockhocking River. An excellent place to experience all of that is the 22-mile Hockhocking Adena Bikeway between Athens and Nelsonville.
I sometimes run on the section between Athens and The Plains, which is conveniently accessible from my current Rural Action office on Columbus Road. Like our social enterprise Appalachian Understories, I am passionate about this region’s natural and cultural heritage, and the Bikeway is a great place to reflect on that. Let’s take a look at this region’s heritage as seen by land now occupied by the Bikeway.
It is common to find trails adjacent to rivers. Interest in coal and salt production brought the Hocking Canal through Appalachian Ohio, reaching Nelsonville in 1840 and Athens in 1843. The industries were developing quickly, and with its slow speeds and ice in freezing weather, the Canal was simply not efficient enough. In 1869, the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad (C&HV) reached Nelsonville and would reach Athens the following summer. Carrying coal as well as other freight and passengers, the railroad helped bring an economic boom to Appalachian Ohio. Most of the Bikeway traverses the former C&HV between Nelsonville and Athens. The rails were last used by C&HV’s successor, Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O). The first few miles of the bikebath going west into Athens traverse the former Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) roadbed.
Coal communities, or “Little Cities of Black Diamonds” dotted this area and were connected to markets through steel rails carrying iron horses. In fact, the Bikeway passes the former mining company town of Eclipse. The Eclipse Company Store is now a popular restaurant establishment offering live music and more.
Eclipse, trains and the Bikeway get me thinking about family heritage. My late maternal grandfather grew up in The Plains, and I recall him telling me a story from his childhood. He told me of his class walking to Eclipse and waiting for a train. This train was possibly a steam-powered C&O train, likely traveling on what is the Bikeway now. A classmate was given the opportunity to flag the train as it came into town. The kids boarded the train and each paid a fare to the conductor. Although trains were more common in this area back then, I can only imagine the excitement these kids must have had taking a field trip on a train. The train ran to the Athens Station on Union Street, and a school bus picked up the class and brought them back to school. As a train enthusiast, I unsurprisingly asked to hear this story many times from our grandfather. Cherish your grandparents and the stories they tell you because life is short and these stories are important reflections of our past.
The B&O and C&O tracks in Athens are gone, but the Bikeway still provides exciting opportunities for Appalachian Ohio residents and visitors. Some, like Robert Delach, use it as their primary transportation method.
“I use the bikeway to go to stores, to go to the southside or ridges, or go to Little Fish or Devil’s Kettle,” he says.
Delach is a cycling enthusiast who is an officer of the Athens Bicycle Club and Secretary of the Bikeway Advisory Committee. He says the Bikeway brings in people from around the state, and they often patronize local businesses.
“It gets people here to spend money.”
The Bikeway has seen 5K races to even major events such as the Athens Marathon – a Boston Marathon qualifier. Delach says the race is possibly the easiest Boston Marathon qualifier. The race begins in Uptown Athens but is almost entirely located on the flat Bikeway between Athens and Nelsonville.
If you are new to this area and looking for something to do, I highly recommend the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. It is a treasure of this region as it provides so many opportunities. Anyone interested in learning more about the Bikeway should visit its website.