HILLIAR TOWNSHIP – The southern end of the Heart of Ohio Trail is set to receive extensive renovations in the coming years.
Planning has begun for the “Lytle Road Oasis,” a trailside amenity that will “enhance access and experiences of Heart of Ohio Trail patrons,” according to a statement from the trail board.
The project will take place along a thin strip of land between Lytle Road in Hilliar Township and the Heart of Ohio Trail. The Knox County Land Bank acquired the 1.98-acre parcel on April 16 through the state’s forfeited lands list, according to land bank president Jeff Gottke (foreclosed properties that fail to sell at two consecutive sheriff’s sales end up on this list).
The land bank plans to sell this property to the Knox County Park District, Gottke said, which will then partner with the Heart of Ohio Trail board to complete the project.
“It’s kind of a good three-entity partnership,” Gottke noted.
The trail board recently submitted plans to the park district, obtained by Knox Pages, which detail the cost and purpose of the project. Park District Director Lori Totman said they “will not be able to do much in 2020,” but the project could be completed in 2021 or 2022.
The Lytle Road Oasis will include a new, ADA-accessible parking lot at the trailhead, as well as benches and interpretive signage. Invasive plant species will be replaced by native plants, grasses and shrubs, which will run alongside the trail.
An interactive kiosk will allow trail patrons to learn about local history, including information on the area’s first settlers, early farming practices, and the role of the railroad in the growth of the community.
The Oasis will sit just south of the trail’s pedestrian bridge, which crosses Route 3 near the Lytle Road intersection. The bridge was built in 2016 and is considered one of the most scenic aspects of the trail.
“Many trail travelers like to connect with the outdoors, the land and local community they are traveling through,” the board said in its proposal. “This property will be ideal for a rest stop with some information about local flora and fauna, as well as some history of the area and its people. It will also serve local trail users with another access point and assist physically challenged users. In the future, it may provide access to a local business.”
The Heart of Ohio Trail, which runs from Mount Vernon to Centerburg, currently has five access points: CA&C Depot (Mount Vernon), Thayer Road (Mount Vernon), Simmons Church Road (Mount Liberty), Memorial Park (Centerburg) and Huffman Road (Centerburg).
The asphalt trail offers close to 20 miles of walking, in-line skating and biking. It is owned by the county and maintained by the non-profit Heart of Ohio Trail organization, which includes the board.
The trail board estimates the project will cost $25,700, although grant funding could cut into that figure.
The parking lot will be the most expensive part of the project, coming in at an estimated $16,500. It will include five or six parking spaces, with ADA-compliant parking for two cars or one van. It will also include a concrete path, leading visitors from the parking lot to the trail.
The park district can tap into Ohio Department of Transportation metro park funds to help mitigate construction costs, the trail board said, and the park district can supply the equipment and personnel for the initial clearing and grading of the parking lot.
The park district may also pursue funding through the Knox County Foundation’s Knox Parks Fund, which would reduce overall project costs.
If all goes according to plan, the Lytle Road Oasis could serve as a viable ‘first impression’ for bikers, walkers and runners entering Knox County on the Heart of Ohio Trail.
The Oasis will run alongside the southern end of the trail, just a few miles inside the county line, which will soon be connected to the Ohio to Erie Trail, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The Licking County Commissioners bought land in January that will allow this connection to take place.
This means people will soon be able to ride into Knox County on the Heart of Ohio Trail from other parts of the state. The Lytle Road Oasis – leading up to the newly minted pedestrian bridge – may be their first impression of the area.
“We want to give cyclists a reason to stop and enjoy that little area...” Gottke said. “It’ll be some kind of attraction.”