Living, breathing and hiking Ohio’s Buckeye Trail
By Brent Anslinger
Most of us have heard of the Appalachian Trail (AT), and many of us are inspired by the thought of hiking for six months from Georgia to Maine along the spine of the Appalachians on the AT. Brent Anslinger of Miamisburg, Ohio, thru-hiked the AT, and with his wife, Amy, the Pacific Crest Trail before settling down in the Buckeye State to hike Ohio’s own long-distance trail.—Andrew Bashaw
Amy and I consider ourselves part of the long-distance hiker community, so when we moved back to Ohio we wanted to connect with our own state and its long trail to help build awareness and recreate that community here at home. Inspired by trails like the AT we were curious what the Buckeye Trail (BT) was all about, if it was “backpackable” and the similarities or differences to other long trails. We weren’t 100% sure of what we were getting into, but we knew it would be an adventure, and every adventure has an element of the unknown.
We did a little research and came to find out about another small group of Ohioans that were equally inspired by the AT more than 50 years ago. In 1958, Merrill Gilfillan published an article in the Columbus Dispatch titled “A Buckeye Trail: So far it is just an idea.” He laid out a vision of a 500-mile route from the shore of Lake Erie to the banks of the Ohio River so Ohio might have its own AT-like experience. And that idea went viral, by 1950’s standards, of course.
Today the Buckeye Trail (BT) proudly hosts major portions of the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail and the 6,800-mile American Discovery Trail. Since the BT has become a key piece of our national trail system we got to hike three great trails at once!
Like most outdoor-loving Buckeyes, it turned out, we had followed the BT’s blue blazes before without even knowing it. Growing up here, I didn’t realize that one trail connects so many of our state’s natural and historic treasures into one long journey until I saw a map of it in my Scout book.
One of my favorite natural settings along the BT was the quiet serenity of hiking by waterfalls underneath a hemlock canopy through Hocking Hills State Forest. We had the BT all to ourselves right next to the popular destination of Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Hills State Park.
We were surprised by how scenic and enjoyable some of the back-country road portions of the BT route were as well. On our adventure through southern Ohio, where only a car or two would pass by in a day, we met a woman gathering walnuts in her driveway. We learned from her that driving over them was the simplest way to get the hulls off. Who knew we’d get common sense lessons in rural living like this?
The variety of experiences that our state trail provides are overwhelming. We can’t imagine a better way to get to know local people, small towns, shared history and our natural landscapes than completing Ohio’s long trail. And you can never hike the same trail twice; the BT changes with the lighting of the day, the direction you travel, the seasons of the year and the people you’re with.
While a majority of BT hikers are day hikers to these great destinations, a few hundred “section” hikers have completed the whole thing over time. I hear that several serious hikers are interested in attempting the two-to-four month continuous journey around Ohio on a BT thru-hike this summer. That 1950’s idea is definitely catching on.
Amy and I feel that more Ohioans are becoming inspired by the idea of the BT and are choosing to walk to get away from it all. Whether we’re out for a stroll under the blue blazes in historic trail towns like Milford along the Little Miami, challenging ourselves over the steep ridges of Shawnee’s “little Smokies” or walking with history among the remnants of Lockington Locks on the old canal towpath, there is something for everyone to be proud of in our ever-evolving BT right here at home.
The nonprofit Buckeye Trail Association has been the leader in building, maintaining, protecting and promoting Ohio’s 1,400-plus-mile state trail since 1959. To support this great idea visit buckeyetrail.org to become a member, volunteer or take a hike!