This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Simon Kenton Pathfinders’ founding.
What started as an idea to have a shared-use path in Champaign County two decades ago has grown to a 32-mile path which now extends to Springfield and Bellefontaine.
The organization started in 1997 with 17 members and now has over 300 members from surrounding areas outside the county and outside the state.
On Sept. 10, the Pathfinders will hold their annual fundraiser bike ride to support the pavement of the northern extension and maintenance of the Simon Kenton Trail.
This year’s ride will be sponsored by the family of Rita A. Larson.
Early registration is available online at simonkentonpathfinders.org, through registration forms at the Depot Coffeehouse, 644 Miami St., or from any member of the Pathfinders.
Registration on the day of the ride will be from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Depot.
The idea of a local bike path started with Pathfinders President Nancy Lokai-Baldwin.
“I used to ride my bike to Yellow Springs,” Lokai-Baldwin said. “I drove up to Yellow Springs and by the time you got off work and you went to Yellow Springs and came back it was dark. I thought ‘man we should get one of these things in our community’ because there wasn’t anything that just anybody could do in our community – you either had to have a membership for something or you had to go out of town and I just felt like this could cover recreation, transportation, health benefits for everybody.”
Speaking with other community members, Lokai-Baldwin was surprised at how many people were interested in having a bike path.
While there was interest in developing a path from some community members, there was also doubt from others.
“I think someone said to me real early on when I was gathering people around, ‘good luck that’s never going to happen in this county,’” Lokai-Baldwin said. “I think that stuck in the back of my head. Why can’t it happen … a lot of people were negative, but there were more people that wanted it so it started to balance out.”
In April 1999, the Pathfinders group was awarded a $272,397 grant for construction of the Simon Kenton Trail’s first phase.
As part of the path’s development, Pathfinders cleaned up the proposed the area where the path would be located. Lokai-Baldwin said eight tons of trash was picked up from the path during cleanup.
“There were mattresses, tires, TVs,” Lokai-Baldwin said. “I guess because rails had quit being used they just used it as a dumping spot so (the trail) really beautified the area.”
The first 2.5 miles of the path opened in July 2001 running from Woodburn Road to state Route 55. Lokai-Baldwin said this was an accomplishment that usually would have taken 10 years to get done.
“To see people laughing, smiling, communicating with each other, grandmas, grandpas, little kids, moms and dads walking down the trail or they’re standing around their bikes,” Lokai-Baldwin recalled. “That’s kind of an achievement to think that the community is working together for a good cause.”
Following the initial development of the path, the path continued to extend further over the years into Clark and Logan counties.
Lokai-Baldwin said one of the biggest accomplishments the Pathfinders had was saving the old railroad structure that would eventually house the Depot.
“If we hadn’t bought it there was a business that was going to buy it and tear it down,” Lokai-Baldwin said.
Pathfinders purchased the old Pennsylvania Railroad Station in July 2003 with plans to restore and update the building for trail users and the community. The building was sold to the city of Urbana in 2005 allowing for renovation funds to be collected from the Ohio Department of Transportation.
The Depot opened to the public as a rest area in April 2007 and would be leased to the Depot Coffeehouse.
Ruth Zerkle, a charter member of the Pathfinders, said the addition of the trail has helped the development of the community through new businesses, tourism and the use of the path.
Twenty years after the process started, Lokai-Baldwin said maintenance and work to improve the path still continues.
“Somebody said ‘do you ever quit’ and I said ‘no’,’” Lokai-Baldwin said. “If we don’t maintain this what’s going to happen to it?”
Lokai-Baldwin said the future plans for the trail including paving the 15.88 mile stretch from Urbana through West Liberty and to Bellefontaine. She added the Pathfinders are raising funds to maintain the trail from County Line Road to Bellefontaine.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.
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