It started with a Columbus Dispatch article written in 1958 and evolved into a 1,444-mile trail that loops around the state of Ohio, connecting 100 communities large and small.
Merrill Gilfillan, an avid outdoorsman who worked as a naturalist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, penned the article, with the hope that creating a statewide trail would encourage young people to slow down, get outside and learn about Ohio. Gilfillan’s dream became a reality, as the Buckeye Trail is one of 42 major long-distance trails in the United States.
Known for its distinctive Blue Blazes — 2 inches wide and 6 inches tall on trees or poles — the statewide route is part of an even bigger trail system as it overlaps with a portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail — the longest national scenic trail, spanning 4,600 miles through seven states.
“The Buckeye Trail runs through 47 counties and provides an amazing statewide connection,” said Brent Anslinger, Five River MetroParks outdoor recreation program manager and Buckeye Trail volunteer. “It also serves as a unique inspiration to challenge yourself.”
Anslinger met that challenge as he and his wife, Amy, became the second and third thru-hikers to complete the trail in its entirety in the modern era, in 2003.
But whether you are up for a 1,400-mile endurance-testing hike around the state or prefer a leisurely fun-filled weekend day hike, the Buckeye Trail — celebrating its 60th year — has something to offer.
The Buckeye Trail Association was established as a nonprofit organization in June 1959. On Sept. 19, 1959, the first 20 miles were dedicated in Hocking County. And, within just a few years, the trail ran from the shores of Lake Erie in Northeast Ohio to the banks of the Ohio River in Southwest Ohio.
It wasn’t until 1970 that the trail headed north up the western part of the state. A decade later, the trail was completed near Deer Lick Cave in the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in 1980.
The Buckeye Trail now has the distinction of being the longest loop trail and the 12th longest trail in the country.
The Buckeye Trail winds around the state and right through the Miami Valley. Almost half of the designated Trail Towns are in the area, as Dayton, Piqua, Troy, Xenia and Yellow Springs are included in the list of 11 destination communities.
“The goal of the Trail Town program is to build a relationship with a town or community,” said Angie Sheldon, Five Rivers MetroParks outdoor recreation coordinator and Buckeye Trail Town coordinator. “We want it to be mutually beneficial.”
Trail Towns offer various amenities for hikers, from campsites to restaurants, and are located on the trail. Dayton was the second designated Trail Town in the state, prompting several other local communities to apply for the designation.
“In a lot of ways, we’re still young, even though the trail has been around for 60 years,” Anslinger said. “When we look to the future, we want the Buckeye Trail to be a household name for day hikers and backpackers alike.”
The BTA would like to expand the scope of its current trail use, encouraging walkers and day hikers, weekend, weeklong and multi-week backpackers as well as long-distance adventurists to follow the Blue Blazes.
“It really serves everybody,” Anslinger said. “And we want more people to learn about it.”
Want to take to the trail? It winds through five of the area MetroParks, so that’s a great place to start.
“And a lot of it locally follows paved paths, so it’s easy for beginners,” Sheldon said.
More information, including downloadable maps, is available at www.buckeyetrail.org. You can also learn more about the trail at the 2019 Buckeye Trail Fest, May 16-19, at Camp Widewater on the Maumee and Miami and Erie Canal. There will be a full slate of programs, presentations and hikes. For more information, visit www.buckeyetrailfest.org/.