Wabash Cannonball Trail

West Unity area youth make use of a section of the Wabash Cannonball Trail that has been offered to Williams County by the Northwestern Ohio Rails-to-Trails Association (NORTA). FILE

The Northwestern Ohio Rails-to-Trails Association (NORTA), on Thursday, offered about six miles of the Wabash Cannonball Trail to Williams County Commissioners and the county park system.

“For over a year, we have been working with Todd Roth (Williams County engineer and parks board member) on the Williams County Active Transportation Committee,” NORTA board member Randy Miller told commissioners. “We are pleased with all of the participation throughout the county seeking ways to connect the many towns and village trails to the many parks (in the county).

“We see the excitement in sharing ideas in meetings with this group, and the common visions to help us all be connected as one,” said Miller.

“We are prepared to offer six miles of the Wabash Cannonball Trail stretching from County Road 17 to the Fulton County Line,” said Miller.

NORTA owns 32 miles of trail, formerly railroad lines of Norfolk Southern Railroad, in Henry, Williams and Fulton counties, and has formed partnerships with communities the trail passes through — Toledo Metroparks, Maumee, Whitehouse, Wauseon and Lucas County.

These partnerships have enabled NORTA and partner communities to strengthen their ability to attract funding for trail and park improvements thought the 25 years of trail/park use.

To date, the western section of the rail line has not included community partners, Miller said, but has relied on the sweat equity of volunteers to clear and maintain the trail. “We are funded primarily through annual memberships and donations,” he said, “and we have accomplished many good things in recent years.”

While NORTA has been working with volunteers on the trail from Montpelier to the Fulton County line, the trail in the county has not been an official part of any parks system but has been the object of some consideration for recreation officials in Montpelier and the county — who want to connect the trail to existing recreation areas and establish the county as a hiking and biking recreation destination.

To some degree, the trail has already attracted hikers from elsewhere in the country, but Miller pointed out that there is greater potential as the trail comes under more energetic administration. In 2018, he said, “We were officially named by the State of Ohio as Ohio Bike Route 90 as part of the Ohio Department of Transportation’s network of state bicycle rounds.

Additionally, the Wabash Cannonball Trail, from County Road 17, is a part of the National Scenic Trails North Country Trail — a network of trails that stretches 2,600 miles from North Dakota to Vermont.

“We are willing to provide a transfer of ownership and the deed to over 130 acres of this rustic wooded trail to Williams County, and we are not asking for any reimbursement for the property,” Miller said. “As an owner partner, Williams County would agree to abide by the covenants adopted by all of our other partners and ownership of this ‘long skinny park’ will give you a voice at the state and national level.”

Roth told commissioners that the park board had discussed the NORTA proposal and that the board would like the section of trail to become part of the county park system.

Commissioners were in general agreement that the addition of the trail to the county parks system would be a positive thing, but didn’t act on the offer. Commission President Lew Hilkert requested that Roth and the park board evaluate the offer and provide a breakdown as to what acceptance of the trail would cost the county in terms of maintenance and other liabilities.

“This opens opportunities (for the park system),” said Roth. “It opens up opportunities for funding potential (recreation-specific grant funding) that we wouldn’t have. I see it as a good opportunity.”

“I see it as a good opportunity,” agreed Commissioner Brian Davis. “But we need to do due diligence.”

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