2018 is officially “Ohio's Year of the Trails.” Here's our guide to all things walking and hiking in Central Ohio.

Steve Wilson made a life-changing decision while on a walk.

Wilson had recently retired from a 41-year career in banking. He'd started out as a teller and retired as CEO of the Lebanon Citizens National Bank in Warren County. He was 65 years old and, as he says now, “I wasn't ready to sit down.”

So he went for a walk. A long walk. A day after his retirement, Wilson jumped on the Ohio to Erie Trail at the banks of the Ohio River near Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Twenty-six days later, he dipped his toes in Lake Erie at Edgewater Park in Cleveland.

The Ohio to Erie Trail is mostly composed of former rail and canal trails, paved and dedicated for non-motorized use. Twenty-two local and regional off-road rail trails and greenways come together to form about 280 of the OTET's 326 miles, including stretches through Columbus using the Camp Chase, Scioto and Alum Creek trails. It's been years in the making, linking one trail to the next and then working to fill the gaps.

Connectivity: It's the big buzzword among trail wonks. Small trails become big trails when they can connect to one another, connecting communities, connecting people. Usage and usefulness increase proportionately. When it comes to trails, size matters.

Connectivity was kind of the point behind Wilson's walk as well, linking one chapter of his life to the next. The walk gave him time to reflect, time to refocus, time to recharge. It also gave him time to contemplate his next move.

By the time Wilson's foot was wet with lake water, he knew what he wanted to do. He was going to try his hand at politics. Shannon Jones, Warren County's 7th District senator, had just announced she was stepping aside to run for a seat on the Warren County Board of Commissioners, and Wilson decided to throw his name in the hat for consideration as her replacement.

Four months later, in January of 2017, a seven-member screening committee picked Wilson from a group of five applicants, and a couple of weeks later, the 24-member Senate Republican caucus voted him in. The retired banker was now an Ohio senator. When he got to the Statehouse, the new Republican senator from southwest Ohio found his office was next to one occupied by Sean O'Brien, a Democrat from northeast Ohio, who was quick to compliment his new neighbor's notable hiking feat.

Sen. O'Brien, it turned out, was also what Wilson calls “a trails guy,” and their ongoing discussions grew into what became the Ohio Legislative Trails Caucus, the first legislative group of its kind in the nation. The purpose of the trails caucus, says Wilson, is to “protect, maintain and expand Ohio's trails network, and promote it so citizens of this fine state are aware of what an incredible resource Ohio's trails are.”

In its first year, the caucus and Ohio Department of Natural Resources endeavored to catalog every state, municipal and county trail in Ohio and make them all available at one online portal, now found at trails.ohiodnr.gov.

The two neighboring senators also co-authored Senate Concurrent Resolution 15, resolving to designate 2018 as “Ohio's Year of the Trails.” The resolution was adopted on June 7. “It's intended to further our goal of educating and advocating on behalf of trails in Ohio,” Wilson says.

Why 2018?

“Because it's here,” he says.

Read More: 

Trail Guide: Central Ohio Art Walks & Landmark Talks

Trail Guide: Walking with a Purpose

Trail Guide: Central Ohio Greenways

Trail Guide: Columbus & Franklin County Metro Parks Turns 70 This Year

Trail Guide: Walk with a Doc

Trail Guide: Find Your Own Path