Beloved trail nears completion


By Staff Report

The final segments of a nearly two-decade-long trail project are nearing completion after the Muskingum Valley Park District was awarded federal funds designed to promote recreation and alternative transportation in communities across the United States.

The highly competitive grant will ensure that the Muskingum Recreational Trail, which currently exists as paved, gravel and grassy pathways, will have the entirety of its almost eight-mile route fully asphalted, providing greater access and utility for members of the community.

The first four-mile portion of the trail was constructed around the turn of the twenty-first-century between the Village of Dresden and Rock Cut Road in Muskingum Township.

The entirety of that portion of trail exists on a reclaimed railroad track, that like numerous similar projects across the country, has been transformed for recreational activity after the tracks stopped being used by the railroad.

Around 2010, the trail was then extended northward into the village through a combination of dedicated pathways and shared streets.

That path begins around the Jefferson Township garage, where the original route ends and runs along Main Street before it separates from the roadway eastward between Dresden Elementary and the Dresden Swim Center before ultimately terminating at the Dresden River Park.

Around that time, another half-mile portion of the trail was also completed near Ellis Dam-Lock #11 between Ellis Dam Road and the historic 1913 railroad bridge, which crosses the Muskingum River, that was redesigned and paved for pedestrian and cyclist traffic.

Over the last decade, the missing portion of the land needed for the trail between Ellis Dam Road northward to Rock Cut Road was acquired with over 50 acres of wetlands alongside the river, adjacent to the trail.

This summer a wildlife observation deck was constructed along the trail, above the wetlands, allowing for the viewing of various native species.

As part of that construction project, a crushed gravel aggregate was rolled and compacted between the observation deck and Ellis Dam Road, which allowed construction crews access to build the deck.

That pathway, while more traversable than the grassy pathway it replaced, was only a temporary solution, planned to soon be covered with asphalt.

The recent awarding of a federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant, which could be deposited as soon as early next year, will provide the funds necessary to asphalt the entire pathway between Ellis Dam Road and Rock Cut Road.

Once completed, the entire trail from the Dresden River Park south to the recommissioned 1913 railroad bridge will be fully paved and accessible for a wide range of recreational activities.

For Muskingum Valley Park District Executive Director Russell Edgington, the Muskingum Recreational Trail is a highly-used pathway that offers tremendous views from multiple various locations along the trail.

Edgington cited the recently completed wildlife observation deck, which offers trailgoers the chance to observe various creatures in their natural habitat, as well as an overlook from the century-old railroad bridge, that offers a unique view of both the river and historic dam.

That project is only one of many currently underway by the park district, one of which is the Westview Community Park along Dresden Road that will offer plenty of recreational activities such as a short trail and children’s area to memorialize the school which once stood in its place.

A survey conducted by the park district last fall has helped to guide Edgington and his team as to what amenities the community would like to see developed onward into both the short and long term future.

Edgington explained that over 6,000 Muskingum County residents received the survey, that was designed to help guide the park district in what the community most valued and wished to see in both facilities and services within their local parks and recreation.

That survey, according to Edgington, showed that the community really supported trails from longer ones such as the Muskingum Recreational Trail to shorter ones such as the Joe’s Run Trail.

Community members also reported in their surveys that they wanted to see more connectors to those trails from sites such as subdivisions and apartment complexes for quicker and greater access.

For Edgington, as Executive Director he has been tasked with not just planning for the next decade, but what the community will look like in the next 50 or even 100 years.

“One of the reasons we are so successful with receiving grants is because we write them looking towards the future,” said Edgington.

Once the Muskingum Recreational Trail is paved, it likely won’t see any additions for at least the next decade, Edgington added, but he is hopeful that with the proper planning and coordination it will eventually happen.

The park district technically owns the land, an old railroad track, that would be necessary to connect the trail south to the Zane’s Landing Trail in Zanesville, however, due to some structures that were built on top of that land it’s unlike such a connection will happen anytime soon.

Edgington has some creative ideas for other possible ways to connect the two trails that he hopes long term will connect the two pathways.

Those decade long planning discussions include expanding the trail northward from the Dresden River Park to trails in Licking County that along with their planned developments could allow someday for community members to go from downtown Zanesville to cities as far away as Cleveland or Cincinnati without ever leaving a protected trail.

Edgington is excited that in the future the trails will not only offer recreational opportunities for residents and future generations but also the economic impact that the trails might offer in drawing additional tourism dollars.

“Everything has to start out with a vision and we have a vision,” said Edgington. “When you look at what that would mean for our community, it’s pretty incredible to think about the tourist activities and the money that it would generate for our local economy.”

The entirety of the eight-mile Muskingum Recreational Trail is currently open and free to the public, however, the entire portion is not yet paved.

The Muskingum Valley Park District encourages visitors of any of it’s numerous parks and trails to respect the environment and to share images of any local animals found at its facilities on its Facebook page at: Muskingum Valley Park District