Trail blazers

Hundreds of hikers and mountain-biking enthusiasts are expected to hit area trails during this weekend’s Rivers, Trails and Ales festival in Marietta, but those folks may encounter some problems locating the more than 15 miles of off-road hiking and mountain-biking trails that lie within Marietta’s city limits.

Maps of the trails are available but difficult to read, especially for out-of-towners not familiar with the city’s layout. And signage directing people to the trailheads from main thoroughfares is rarely available.

“I didn’t know much about those trails and don’t know exactly where they’re located,” said Wes Zoller of Marietta who regularly runs or bicycles on Marietta’s better-known River Trail.

Zoller said he would like to know more about the other pathways for a change of pace.

“I would make use of those trails because it’s good to mix it up when running,” he said.

Situated on the city’s more than 1,000 acres of greenspace-much of that acreage obtained with state grant money-the trails are basically built and maintained by the River Valley Mountain Biking Association.

“Our original plan was to have wooden trail signs with routed or engraved lettering like you find in many state and national parks, and we have members who have made them, but many of those signs have disappeared,” said Ryan Smith, a local businessman and member of the local mountain biking association.

He said vandals have stolen many signs soon after they’re erected.

“We’ve had signs, but it’s a challenge to keep them up,” Smith said. “It’s an ongoing battle, and we’re looking at putting up signs that are less costly and less labor-intensive to install on the trails.”

For the weekend’s festival Smith said temporary laminated cardboard signage will be put up to help direct hikers and bikers onto the city trailheads through Sunday.

Marietta biker Jim Hackathorn has used the inner-city trails.

“I walk them often, but they’re not marked that great,” he said. “I would like to see more signs directing people to the trails. I think many more people would be using the trails if they were marked and advertised better.”

The city website has a printable map of the municipal trail system and some additional information about the trails.

As of Thursday the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website only contained the city map of the trail system, although the CVB’s 2013 visitor guide does contain a partial description of the trail system.

Under a “Hiking and Parks” heading on the website is only a link to the Hocking Hills area.

CVB Executive Director Jeri Knowlton said she didn’t realize the information wasn’t online.

“Honestly it’s just been a complete oversight,” she said. “And we try to migrate all of the information from our visitor guides onto the website, but the trail information has apparently been overlooked.”

Knowlton said the CVB will get that information online, and is currently working to beef up more promotion of the city trail system.

“I attended a meeting of the Mayor’s Alternative Transportation Advisory Committee this week and have asked that group for more information and a better list of the city’s recreational assets so we can include them as we promote the community’s local attractions,” she said.

Knowlton added that better trail mapping is also in the works for the entire area, thanks to a grant obtained by the Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley Regional Development District. She said local entities like the CVB, city, county, and others are providing Buckeye Hills with GIS information so that more detailed online and paper maps can be developed for use by tourists and the local community.

“The work that has been done on these trails by Ryan Smith, the River Valley Mountain Biking Association and others has been a tremendous grass roots effort,” Knowlton said. “And we need to promote more about these assets.”

She said for the past year the CVB has partnered with the Wayne National Forest and Voinovich School in Athens to develop better information about area trail systems, including those in Marietta.

Knowlton said the Marietta CVB is also working with its counterpart in Wood County and Parkersburg, W.Va., to promote attractions and assets throughout the entire area on both sides of the Ohio River.

A pamphlet containing maps of the Marietta trail and other trails throughout the county is available through the Washington County Health Department.

“It’s called the Washington County Physical Activity Resource Guide, and is part of the department’s Creating Healthy Communities effort,” said Jeannie Farnsworth with the health department.

She said the purpose of the guide is to encourage the community to get out and exercise, using the trails and other recreational assets available locally.

Marietta Councilman Roger Kalter, an avid supporter of the hiking and biking trails and a member of the local Marietta Rowing and Cycling Club, agrees that the city trails need better promotion.

“We want more people hiking, biking and walking these trails,” he said. “Kids use some of them to get to school. But I would like to see more adults on the trails, too.”

Kalter said the rowing and cycling club works in tandem with volunteers from the River Valley Mountain Biking Association to help maintain the trail system.

The trails are totally built and maintained by volunteers to relieve the city of those costs.

During a recent meeting of city council’s lands, buildings and parks committee, Kalter noted that Smith had established a special fund with the Marietta Community Foundation to help cover maintenance and material costs.

“I set up a Marietta Trails Maintenance Fund with the foundation, specifically for the off-road and mountain biking trails within the city,” Smith explained. “We have a lot of volunteers who build and maintain these trails, but there are also a lot of people who use the trails and may not have the time or be able to volunteer, so this would provide a way for them to contribute, too.”

He noted the Washington County Health Department has also been very supportive of the trails system and has obtained Healthy Communities grant funding that provides tools for maintaining the trails as well as materials to help build bridges across small streams on the trail system.