A bike ride on the relatively new Wabash Cannonball trail in Monclova Township in southwest Toledo is a ride through some of the most beautiful parts of our area. It also is a ride through history. In a short distance of a little more than nine miles the trail provides a ringside seat to historic and geologic events.
The trail was built over the abandoned Wabash railroad tracks that at the turn of the century connected Toledo with Montpelier, Ohio. This trail is part of the Rails to Trails project that would eventually traverse the entire width of the country. Already, part of the Toledo-Montpelier stretch and parts of a southwestern tract, circa 1855, between Toledo and Fort Wayne, Ind., have been completed.
The wide open fields at the trailhead at Jerome Road look ordinary enough. But it was here in these very fields in 1794 that General “Mad” Anthony Wayne fought a pitched battle with the Indians. The decisive victory in the battle of Fallen Timbers paved the way for westward expansion into the Northwest Territories. Occasionally at dusk and sometimes in early morning twilight the whole area becomes shrouded in a thick blanket of fog rising from the nearby Maumee River.
With a bit of imagination one could still hear the echoes of that famous battle through the ground glass curtain of fog. I am amused by the thought of a soldier, ala The Twilight Zone, materializing out of the fog and staggering to the back porch of a nearby modern home asking a soccer mom for a drink of water. Much of the open fields beyond Jerome Road have now yielded to housing developments. It is a rather abrupt transition from the battle of Fallen Timbers to the backyard barbecue grills, Roller Blades, and sport utility vehicles.
Beyond Monclova-Waterville Road the landscape changes again to familiar rural Ohio with plenty of farmland, wooded areas, and open spaces. On any summer weekend there is the delightful sight of little children, clad in colorful uniforms, playing soccer in the fields by Keener Road.
As one approaches State Rt. 295, the light blue water tower looms high over the trail from the right. At that point the trail enters Oak Openings Preserve Metropark, a marvel of nature spread over more than 3,500 acres of mature black and white oaks and prairie grass. Its fertile sandy soil has proven very hospitable to a staggering 1,000 species of plants. The park's soil and its living sand dunes are remnant of a remote glacial past. A wide variety of birds - bluebirds, indigo buntings, lark sparrow, and whip-poor-wills among them - nest here.
From the bike trail, however, one gets but a fleeting glimpse of what the park offers. To really enjoy its beauty and appreciate the diversity of its flora and fauna, take the side trail into the park just beyond Wilkins Road. For hearty walkers and sturdy riders there is a 17-mile hiking trail and a 23-mile horseback trail through the park.
There is plenty of wildlife along the Wabash Cannonball Trail as well. There are butterflies of all kind, small furry insects, rabbits, raccoons, weasels, minks, skunks, and an occasional fox. Sometimes a black snake (nonpoisonous and rather timid) slithers across the trail in search of a better feeding ground. And, as if to complete the tapestry of nature, a deer or two may also show up unexpectedly.
In a bygone era when trains thundered through this landscape down the Wabash Cannonball tracks, the riders could not have appreciated the richness and beauty of this land. Today, thanks to the legacy of that era, walkers, Roller-Bladers, and bikers can travel the same route but with a different perspective. They can now enjoy wild flowers, listen to the cacophony of bird songs, see an occasional deer, appreciate the sweet smell of hickory smoke wafting from a farmhouse, and listen to the muffled sounds of water rushing through Swan Creek.