Small Towns and Cycling …. again!

August 30 2012: What an incredible day!  I woke up and decided that it was just time to go ride for a while.  A while turned into 90 miles.  Living in a community that is both suburban and on the rural edge makes getting out of town and into the rural hinterlands pretty easy.  I decided to tool on down to Louisville, Minerva and up to Alliance and then home.  In was an informative ride in terms of the three communities, places in between, and new technology – I’ll get to that one.

As I was pedaling south on State Route 44, I came across a caravan of trucks that were doing some sort of seismic testing – looking for natural gas deposits.  There were two young guys running door to door leaving notes on the front doors.  And behind the trucks, for miles were lines of orange electrical cords and black electrical cords connected to black plastic boxes.  Pretty amazing to watch.  I passed a fracking well that had been recently drilled in a farm hay field. The hay had been recently mowed and there was the wellhead with brine trucks lining up.  I am ambivalent about the whole fracking issue.  One the one hand, it is fascinating to read about and see new jobs in economically depressed areas of Ohio; to read of old steel plants coming back to life and new construction on the way.  The idea that job-starved eastern Ohio may have a shot as prosperity (or at least good paying jobs) is refreshing.  On the other hand, if the frackers get it wrong, there is an aquifer that runs through and provides drinking water to about 1/3 of the state and contaminating that drinking water source is a damn scary thought – an environmental disaster will be monumental – for both humans and the livestock that are also dependent on the wells that provide drinking water.

Riding through any part of rural Ohio is always brings surprising sites.  I passed a few dairy farms and this time a chicken farm!   Haven’t seen one of those in a while.  Unfortunately, I was too early for the ice cream store in North Baltimore – they have incredible home made ice cream.  Their peanut sauce is fantastic!  Obviously, I highly recommend it.  There is a group from Kent that regularly pedals the 25 miles to get there just to eat ice cream – yeah, it’s that good!

Being that I was going to be in Louisville, I stopped in to see City Manager Tom Ault.  Tom showed me the newly submitted site plans for the new Chesapeake Energy plans to develop the only undeveloped industrial park in town (300 acres).  It is an incredible looking plan that will hold about 300 – 400 new jobs.  (if we think about the multiplier effect, there could another 400 + spin-off jobs created in the area).  Tom is a very forward thinking manager and has spent a lot of time thinking about and talking with Council about what this new development means to the city today and years in the future.

Louisville is a quaint small city.  I pedaled out through the residential areas on East Avenue.  There is a beautiful canopy that spans the street.  The houses are older, and very well maintained and landscaped – it made for very comfortable cycling.  Like many older small cities though, the downtown needs a lot of work; the properties are suffering from decades of neglect and disinvestment.  Hopefully, the Chesapeake investment will lead to an invigorated downtown — and I think it will.  Louisville is certainly a community to watch.

Visiting Louisville City Hall

Visting Louisville City Hall

There is a 2.5 mile bike path to the north of downtown Louisville.  I don’t know what plans Stark County has to expand bike/hike trails.  I will say that they need to embrace them connecting Louisville to Canton and the North Canton area and other communities in Stark County.  A 2.5 mile trail is not a significant contributor to the community as a tourist attraction;  It can be however a significant contributor to the health of the community.  I am a tad biased – I see bike/hike trails as community and people connectors and an essential component to small town economic sustainability.

There are a series of backroads that I need to take to go from Louisville to Minerva.  This stretch of road leads me to a few “crossroad places.”  One of the things that fascinates me is the name of  the”places” I ride through: Paris, Freed, Israel.  These aren’t really towns — more like crossroads with a name.  Of course with my mind for musical trivia, after going through Paris and Freed, all I think of was Joni Mitchell’sFree Man In Paris.”  That played through my head for a good hour!  Beats talking to oneself…

Grabbed this little guy from the middle of the lane in Paris, Ohio

The view from atop a hill in Freed, Ohio

Minerva, on the other hand, has an entrance on Route 30 that needs some work, but their downtown is gorgeous.  This town is a real gem in Northeast Ohio that few people seem to know about.  The downtown area street is brick with historic era street lamps, brick inset sidewalks, and well maintained and full store fronts with antiques and an art studio or two.  Minerva Music is a really cool music store and Henri’s Cloud Nine is well known through Stark and Summit counties for having incredibly beautiful prom and wedding dresses.  Recently the Hart Mansion restaurant opened up near the downtown – it features a menu that will knock your socks off.  Being in spandex and a cycling jersey, I was not dressed to get lunch there, but all reports are that the trip is well worth it to eat here.

City Hall and brick streets in Downtown Minerva, Ohio

Americana in Minerva, Ohio. Very picturesque downtown.

The only down side of being in Minerva is that it is an eight mile series of uphill rides on Route 183 to get to Alliance, the home of University of Mount Union, (approx. 2,500 students), an excellent institution of higher education.   Alliance has about 22,000 people, far larger than Louisville or Minerva.  It is, like Louisville and Minerva, a stand alone city, with Mt. Union being a  a significant community anchor, though I am very surprised that there is no reference on their website to Mt. Union.  There are some neighborhoods that are a little run down- no different than any other place.  The curb/gutter actually made for good riding and the folks there were very accommodating to me and my bike.

The University of Mt. Union is a beautiful campus.  There has been quite a bit of new construction that honors and matches the architecture of the area.  These buildings are are not “interpretations” of Federalist architecture that substitute materials.  This is a comfortable campus – makes me wish I was young college student again.  I tip my cycling helmet to the board, administration and alumni of Mt. Union.

I’ve been through the main routes of Atwater, Randolph and Rootstown enough to be familiar with them and their respective pavements.  However, I never really paid attention to the houses.  All along Waterloo Road I became aware of the many 1 – 2 acre “sprawl” houses.  Enough has been said in other places about growth management in unincorporated areas.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like cycling out to “stand alone” cities and taking in these picturesque countrysides…man….what a great way to spend a day.

Next weekend I am going to Piqua, Ohio to ride that town’s bike/hike trails and the surrounding roads, weaving in and out of the downtown and then speak with their Main Street Piqua group about cycling and downtowns on Monday.   I am honored and excited, though I am not sure I can tell them anything. The City of Piqua has done some fantastic revitalization work including constructing bike/hike trails around their downtown — this town gets it!!!   I am sure that I will learn a lot.  In the meantime, if you don’t have one, go buy a road bike (and a helmet).  You’ll be glad you did.

©2012 Economic Development Data Services; all rights reserved.

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