MIKE BRAUN Bike trail offers respite

Lined by a sentinel of trees, strewn with flowering plants and containing wildlife of many types, the Mill Creek MetroParks Bikeway offers nature as well as a place to relax.
Recently, my wife and I have been visiting the nearly 11-mile-long asphalt trail as part of a regimen of bicycle riding, for enjoyment as well as exercise.
Before starting our rides, I had no idea the trail was such a great place to unwind and exercise at the same time.
Starting out at the Kirk Road Trailhead, basically the trail's midpoint, Bikeway users can go north or south and get quite a lot out of a ride.
While the trail is open year-round, the coming months are among the best times if you are working toward a multipurpose trip, say exercise and wildlife watching, or simply just looking for a place to unwind and let the miles roll under your wheels or legs.
Logical starting point
The Kirk Road Trailhead provides a paved, 50-vehicle parking lot (soon with picnic tables), restrooms and a logical starting point. Trail hours are 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Going north -- by far the most traffic-challenged part of the trail -- you cross Kirk and then have a nice 1.06-mile ride, crossing North Turner Road and then New Road. The next 1.10-mile section intersects both Fairview Road and North Turner again, both avenues with significant traffic and requisite caution required of riders.
Mahoning Avenue is at the end of this segment and necessitates extreme caution as traffic whizzes up from the turnpike access to the west and down from the Austintown business center to the east.
The next stretch, a 1.23-mile length, ends at Silica Road. The north part of the trail concludes in a 1.40 mile run that crosses both Ohltown and Webb roads and stops at County Line Road after ducking under Interstate 80.
Laid back
The south excursion from Kirk is a bit more laid back and family friendly.
The longest segment of the trail, at 1.85 miles, dips under the Ohio Turnpike and then heads out across a gentle grade through woods, past a pasture with horses, and upscale homes. The trail also skirts the Robert J. Brocker Preserve, a 150-acre swath of unimproved wooded land that belongs to the park.
Herbert Road concludes this segment and heralds a rise in elevation along the next 1.32 portion of the trail leading to U.S. Route 224; another busy strip of road, this bisection warrants caution in crossing.
The next three segments -- 1.03, .58 and 1.03 -- I have yet to explore. The MetroParks Farm is here and users will cross Lisbon Street, state Route 446 and Leffingwell Road before coming to the trail's southern terminus at Western Reserve Road.
We've taken our son, Joel, 7, on his smaller bike, and our daughter, Raquel, 3, in a special bike trailer and both seem to enjoy the rides. The northern route is a bit more intensive for children with the heavier-traveled roads here. Traveling the Bikeway with children takes a bit more patience and observation than an adults-only ride.
Sights and interactions
Since we've started our jaunts, we've come across a variety of sights and interactions. For the most part, people you meet along the way are friendly and courteous, calling out some sort of "hello" as you pass by or "passing" if they come upon you quickly and quietly.
Animal life is varied as well. One evening last week, my wife, Lori, and I were surprised when a doe stepped in front of us and slipped across the trail as we rode. Earlier, a seemingly suicidal chipmunk dashed this way and that and very nearly got squashed under my wheels had I not swerved in time. An odd cat and rabbit pair greeted us just off the Mahoning Avenue crossing. Additionally, there is all manner of bird life in the canopy of limbs that graces most of the trail.
The Bikeway is an excellent -- and convenient -- location for families or adults. This is the spot if you're looking for a place to ride, walk, jog or skate, watch nature, relax or exercise.
Bikeway maps and info are available at the Kirk Road Trailhead or at www.millcreekmetroparks.com/bikeway.htm.
There are also other trails in the area, such as the Stavich Trail from Struthers to New Castle, Pa., and the Little Beaver Creek Greenway Trail that links Leetonia to Lisbon. More information on these local trails and others is available at www.railtrails.org.

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