Making tracks in Wayne National Forest

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I hadn’t walked the railroad tracks since I was a punk teenager who used them as a place to party, stash beer and visit friends from Wilkinsburg to Swissvale to Braddock in ’70s suburban Pittsburgh. This time was different. I was trying to get back on track, so to speak, after drifting off course while walking a stretch of the Buckeye Trail in Wayne National Forest in Ohio.

I’d set off, as I often do, based on guidance from AthensTrails.org, a great guide to local hiking spots. I wanted a day hike. Something not at Stroud’s Run. Something up near Burr Oak State Park, which I’ve been wanting to explore.

The Long Run segment of the New Straitsville section of the Buckeye Trail and North Country Trail sounded like the perfect choice. It was about 6.5 miles roundtrip and would let me get acquainted with Wayne National Forest. Athens Trails provides great, detailed guidance on the hike. I printed it out, grabbed my day pack and drove about a half-hour from Athens to the trailhead in Glouster. So far, so good.

Trail head for the hike I took.
Trail head for the hike I took.

The first stretch of the trail was a slog, as AthensTrails warned it would be. Muddy. Rutted. Making me wonder if I’d screwed up with this choice. But as promised, it soon improved, turning into a remote, beautiful path through the forest.

The blue blaze of the Buckeye Trail.
The blue blaze of the Buckeye Trail.

The Buckeye Trail is well marked with blue blazes. And that’s where I made my mistake. At one point, I misread the instructions I’d printed out from AthensTrails, and instead of following the blazes (as I should have) I trudged up a steep utility access cut that was heavily overgrown with weeds. I bushwhacked my way through a mile or so of this before coming to County Road 21 and realizing I was off course. Checking my maps, I found I could take 21 down to State Road 13 and walk south to pick up the Buckeye Trail where it crosses the highway and heads over to Burr Oak State Park. The railroad tracks run parallel to 13 at that point, so I just followed them until I found where they intersected the trail and walked it back to the trailhead.

This is the point along the railroad tracks where I found the trail and got back on track. It crosses the tracks and then heads over into Burr Oak.
This is the point beside Sunday Creek and the railroad tracks where I found the trail and got back on track. It crosses the tracks and then heads over into Burr Oak.

In the end, I walked about 8.3 miles instead of the 6.4 I would have walked if I’d followed the directions correctly. But the hike was worth it. It was a great way to get acquainted with Wayne National Forest and although I didn’t actually get over to Burr Oak, it prompted me to return the following weekend to explore the area with Lara. It’s a beautiful lake. Best one I’ve encountered thus far in Ohio, and there are trails throughout the park —  it’s even possible to circumambulate the lake. I intend to return to give that a shot later this summer …

The route I took on the Buckeye Trail.
The route I took on the Buckeye Trail.
Cool, fluorescent fungus I saw during my hike back.
Cool, fluorescent fungus I saw during my hike back.
The trail meanders briefly onto private property, and this stile allows hikers to go over the fence to pick up the trail again on the other side.
The trail meanders briefly onto private property, and this stile allows hikers to go over the fence to pick up the trail again on the other side.
There are a series of caves -- cliff overhangs, more accurately -- along the trail.
There are a series of caves — cliff overhangs, more accurately — along the trail.

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