‘Transformative’ trail to link downtown to Lunken Airport, beyond

Wade Johnston and other Greater Cincinnati transportation advocates have long viewed an old railroad track as a key to linking the city to the rest of the region – and really, much of Ohio – by bike.

For more than a decade, groups such as Johnston’s nonprofit Tri-State Trails have worked with local governments and foundations to come up with a plan to convert the railway easement into The Oasis Trail. Supporters view it as a key connecting segment for several regional and statewide trails.

To Johnson’s excitement, a major step in the project’s development occurred Tuesday when Great Parks announced an agreement with Metro, the city of Cincinnati and Indiana & Ohio Railway to acquire the corridor needed to build it.

As part of the project, Great Parks will construct a 4.75-mile paved, shared-use pathway between Cincinnati’s Sawyer Point riverfront park and Lunken Airport in the eastern part of Hamilton County. The Oasis Trail will extend the existing Ohio River Trail west from its current terminus at Wilmer Avenue.

The goal is to begin construction by 2027.

“It’s a really exciting day for the city,” said Johnston, Tri-State Trails’ executive director. He described the projected $13 million construction project as an opportunity for the entire region.

“This trail has the potential to be a transformational trail for communities all along the Oasis corridor trail and beyond,” he added. “I think it has the potential to capture all that same energy we currently see along the Little Miami Scenic Trail that runs through Loveland and bring it to downtown.”

Top priority for Hamilton County residents

Great Parks CEO Todd Palmeter called the announcement an “incredibly significant moment in trail connectivity.” He noted that these types of trail expansions throughout have become a top priority of Hamilton County residents in recent years.

Once the Oasis Trail opens, Great Parks will operate 12 miles of contiguous trail from downtown to Terrace Park, including significant segments of the Cincinnati Riding or Walking Network, or CROWN, a proposed 34-mile urban trail loop around the city.

In total, the trail miles managed by Great Parks will increase to nearly 90.

“Building the Oasis Trail to connect downtown Cincinnati with our regional and state trail network will achieve a vision shared by Great Parks and our partners for the past 17 years,” Palmeter, who’s been with Great Parks since 2003.

Investing in more than just pavement

While on paper, a five-mile span of pavement may not seem like that big a deal, project partners believe the Oasis Trail has the potential to have a considerable economic impact on the region by making it more attractive and accessible.

The Oasis Trail will serve as an important segment in the Ohio River Trail, which would grow to 23 miles from Smale Park to New Richmond in Ohio. There are miles-long, unconnected segments in Northern Kentucky and Dearborn County, Indiana as well.

The project would also complete the last remaining gap in the local stretch of the Ohio to Erie Trail, a Cincinnati-to-Cleveland path that runs 326 miles.

“The Cincinnati Chamber recognizes the catalytic effect connecting our community and job hubs via trails has on the region’s economic growth potential,” said Brendon Cull, the organization’s president and CEO.

Johnston believes the new trail may also make biking a more practical option for everyday transportation for some people by providing perceived safer places to ride.

The Oasis Trail promises to offer cyclists, runners and walkers a direct, off-street pathway that goes from downtown to Anderson Township. It’ll also tie into the Little Miami Scenic Trail, which will extend 78 miles to Springfield.

That transportation element is key, according to Darryl Haley, CEO and general manager of Metro, the bus provider in Hamilton county. He referred to it as an “important project” to “provide citizens with enhanced multi-modal options for how they connect in our region.”

“The signing of this agreement brings us one step closer to bringing this vision into reality for Greater Cincinnati,” he added.

Riding into 2027

As part of the agreement, Metro will purchase rights to the northern track easement from the railway. Metro already owns the rest of the property needed to build the trail.

Great Parks will design, engineer, construct and operate the trail through an operating and lease agreement with Metro. The city will partner with Great Parks on engineering and construction.

Currently, Metro has committed $3 million in public funds for the easement and Great Parks has committed $1 million in public funds for engineering.

The grassroots CROWN effort, led by Tri-State Trails, has committed an additional $2.75 million in private funding. That will serve as a local match for state and federal grants.

Construction won’t begin for another three years most likely. But Johnston and crew are already looking for the next trail to build. “Tri-State Trails is grateful to Great Parks, the city of Cincinnati and SORTA for their perseverance to make this significant milestone possible,” Johnston said. “We’re one step closer to completing the CROWN urban trail loop, and we’re already working on the next phases to expand its positive impact to even more neighborhoods.”

Tri-State Trails

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