Perfect spring weather, exercise and a bit of family bonding: My dad and I had it all for our first-ever trip along the Richland B&O bike trail on a recent Saturday in May.
We mapped a route from Butler to Mansfield and back--about 37 miles round-trip. It was the first bike trip of semi-significant length (well, of any length) I’d made since the birth of my daughter in February, and while I was itching to get back in the saddle, I was a little nervous about how I’d hold up.
We prepared to depart from a parking lot in Butler, set against a backdrop of farm machinery and the Whiffletree Restaurant, which looked like it might be a place to pick up some great local flavor.
Fortunately for us (especially for me, the out-of-shape cyclist), the asphalt trail was smooth, even and very well-kept, and we were free to travel at whatever pace we chose. The route treated us to a number of views: neat old farmhouses, granaries, industrial facilities; former depots and railroad bridges atop lazy creeks; spring foliage, rock outcroppings and farmers’ fields.
The Richland B&O is a rail-trail, meaning it was a railroad (the Baltimore & Ohio, of course) in its former life. Now converted into a scenic path that also passes through Bellville and Lexington, it appeared on our visit to be a popular recreational spot for walkers, joggers, in-line skaters and cyclists alike--plus a number of canine companions.
We stopped for a water break at a quaint-looking train depot-turned-rest area in Bellville, which also boasted an ice cream shop and antique stores across the street (sadly, they were closed at the time of our visit). If you’ve got time or are looking to grab a bite to eat, there are a number of offerings in downtown Bellville, including a dairy isle, pizza shop and coffee shop, among others.
About six miles northwest of Bellville, in Lexington, cycling enthusiasts can stop for repairs or just browse at Y-Not Cycling and Fitness.
Once you arrive in Mansfield (or perhaps you’ll choose to start there), take some time to relax and enjoy the scenery at North Lake Park or venture into town for some shopping, dining and sightseeing.
If you’re looking to extend your trip a bit, you can camp at River Trail Crossing in Butler, located on the Clear Fork Mohican River with easy access to the bike trail. Other nearby attractions include the Gorman Nature Center in Mansfield, Malabar Farm State Park in Lucas and Mohican State Park, about a 20 minute drive east of Bellville along Ohio 97.
Due to an incident with a forgotten backpack, we cut our trip short at around 15 miles (30 round-trip) and never made it to Mansfield. The good news is that a good samaritan kept an eye on the pack until our return--surely a testament to the nice sort of folks that frequent the Richland B&O.
Next time, we’ll make it the whole way. Promise.