What a treat! I was invited to speak at the 2nd Annual Main Street Piqua meeting this past Monday. My topic was “Downtowns, Cycling and Economic Development.” It is one thing to go to a community and talk about cycling. It is another to be invited to a community like Piqua that has a 14 mile in-city bike/hike trail. Piqua has about 21,000 people and is what I call a stand alone city. It is not part of a string of suburban communities. It is not attached to an urban area. It is surrounded for miles by agriculture. Lots of corn and beans. Lots of dairy farms. Piqua also played an important role in opening Ohio in the late 1700’s and early 1880’s.
As part of the visit I figured that I should become familiar with Piqua and its surrounding environs and spend the weekend and get some bike riding in. I had the good fortune to have lodging arrangements made by Main Street Piqua and a riding partner was arranged by Bill Lutz of the City of Piqua. Bill introduced me to Jim Hemmert who was to be my cycling guide, ambassador and new friend. After a stop at Parkers Bike Shop and Smitty’s Bike Shop, I was ready to ride around town.
Jim took me on a 25 mile jaunt through Piqua. The bike/hike trail was spectacular. The entire 14 mile loop stays within the city limits, bisects downtown, follows and crosses the Little Miami River, through a historic cemetery, forested areas, past three lakes, and loops the edge of the city. Every few miles, the scenery changes in very exciting fashion. It seems that every neighborhood has quick and easy access to the bike/hike trail. In fact, the driveway of the Comfort Inn where I was calling home for the weekend is only a few feet from it’s driveway. A person on a bicycle can be in Downtown Piqua in about 5 minutes!
The work that the Piqua community has undertaken to preserve its past and serve its present population is outstanding. Areas that were once part of the Miami to Erie Canal have been paved over and for many years served as back alleys connecting streets and bringing delivery trucks to back doors that were once front doors to the canal. Not anymore. An aggressive plan by the Main Street Piqua is working to reclaim these areas, recreating some of those old front doors. Susie’s Big Dipper Ice Cream is one of the businesses participating in the project. (I highly recommend their butter pecan ice cream!). Electric lamps and brick sidewalks have been started. Additional plantings, paving and parking areas will complete the infrastructure portion of the project. The rest of the stores in this section will be echoing Susie’s work. I will add that in front of Susie’s is one of the many bike racks found in Downtown Piqua.
Downtown Piqua is also home to Barclay’s – a third generation clothing store. Barclay’s has completed extensive facade work. Every detail of the outside “decorations” (I’m not an architect), are highlighted beautifully. My photo really does not do it justice. They have a been a mainstay in Downtown Piqua for 3 generations. Barclay’s is still a regional destination for clothes buyers in the Miami Valley area. It is refreshing to see a store like Barclay’s that the community supports and in turn, Mr. Harrison, the proprietor is an outstanding supporter of his community. Being as sweaty as we were at this point, it was better that we looked from the outside.
Jim and I finished our ride – I was awestruck with the beauty and care in which the path went through so many parts of the city — and always within the city limits. Historical plaques highlighting Piqua’s rich history and contributions of many of its citizens are also found along the bike/hike trail. Graffiti? Barely. If graffiti is found, citizens like Mr. Hemmert are quick to call City Hall and in no time, the graffiti is removed or covered over. This community takes great pride in this asset and works hard to keep it attractive.
Gentleman that he is, Jim invited me to dinner with his lovely wife. We went to Beppe Uno’s. Now, I am used to really good Italian food – my wife Alberta is Italian and has spoiled me with her cooking. I have to say that the spaghetti and meatballs at Beppe Uno’s matches my wife’s cooking. Yeah, it’s THAT GOOD! I even went back for lunch the next day. As Bill Lutz and Lorna Swisher were having lunch, four ladies rode their bikes up to have lunch there. It’s bike friendly too!
More in a day or two. My head is still swimming (or would that be pedaling). Next is the Fort Piqua Hotel.