By Katie Griffith
All it needs is $2 million — and you can help by drinking local beer.
The Cincinnati Riding or Walking Network (CROWN) surpassed a major milestone in June when it secured $6 million of an $8 million goal to complete segments of a 34-mile mixed-use walking/biking path.
Led by Tri-State Trails (an initiative of regional sustainability alliance Green Umbrella), Wasson Way, Ohio River Way and a public-private partnership, CROWN aims to connect over 100 miles of pre-existing and to-be-constructed trail systems while boosting economic development, improving transportation options, stimulating businesses and promoting healthy activities.
CROWN launched in August 2020 and has broken a lot of ground since. As it stands, 17 of the 34 miles are complete, five additional miles are completely funded and 12 miles await funding, says Tri-State Trails Director Wade Johnston. A number of public and private partnerships have come together to support CROWN, most notably United Dairy Farmers and Kroger Health (each contributing $1 million) and a capital campaign cabinet co-chaired by Wym and Jan Portman.
“We’ve been interested for decades in connecting people to the outdoors,” says Jan Portman. “Not only for physical, but mental health. We have dreamed about this kind of urban loop in this city. It’s such a great idea; it connects with so many priorities for so many groups of people, like transportation. But I think most importantly, the CROWN is going to connect people to places that they care about and places that can improve their lives, like universities and grocery stores and parks and the arts and healthcare centers.”
Currently mid-construction with various segments complete and open for recreation, Cincinnati’s first urban trail loop will enclose and connect more than 50 communities — that’s more than 356,000 people, according to CROWN’s website.
It’s also notable that CROWN will serve as a “hub,” Johnston says, to access the Little Miami Scenic Trail, Ohio River Trail, Mill Creek Greenway, Wasson Way and Murray Path. It also will include downtown’s Smale Riverfront Park, which was named one of USA Today’s top 10 river walks in 2021, and Riverfront Commons in Northern Kentucky.
“The CROWN loop will take advantage of some of the great things in Cincinnati that are unique to the Midwest,” says Wym Portman. “We have a beautiful river, we are connecting to one of the best park systems in America, and we have arts and culture connections to the art museum and Cincinnati Ballet and more.”
As more segments begin to open for recreation, the benefits are revealing themselves. Jan and Wym Portman attribute the opening of a walk-up window at Busken Bakery along Wasson Way to the development of the trail, as well as a recently announced apartment project by PLK Communities LLC.
“We call that ‘bikenomics,’ where we are seeing the economics of how much people care about trails and want to be close to them and are willing to support businesses along the way,” Jan Portman says.
At about $1.5 million per mile (excluding bridges or retaining walls) Tri-State Trails’ Johnston says CROWN is a $50 million project that will leverage $42 million in federal funding in addition to the $8 million target in private donations.
CROWN now needs to secure the remaining $2 million of that $8 million and has launched promotional programs such as July’s Ales for Trails to help.
In July, a visit to MadTree Brewing Company, Fifty West Brewing Company, Streetside Brewing, Listermann Brewing Trail House, Big Ash Brewing, Dead Low Brewing or North High Brewing Company can benefit CROWN. Each brewery — all located along existing and planned parts of the path — paid CROWN a fee to participate. Ales for Trails offers a Trail Hop Card (like a passport) that can be obtained at one of the breweries or downloaded on CROWN’s website. Buy a beer, get a stamp. Get stamps from all seven breweries by July 31 to get a free Ales for Trails T-shirt and a chance to win a grand prize raffle.
Johnston sees Ales for Trails as a part of CROWN’s goal coming to life, as it benefits both patrons and trail-adjacent businesses. He also notes countless coffee shops, ice cream parlors, restaurants and retail spots that exist on the path as possible participants in similar programs in the future.
“This is what I envision will be the first of many types of programs like this that celebrate what is connected by the trail,” he says. “One of the things I’ve thought about is how along the Ohio River Trail there’s like five different local barbecue joints like Montgomery Inn Boathouse or Eli’s BBQ.”
He says it’s especially important that anyone can participate in these initiatives by walking or biking instead of driving, which positively impacts the environment as well as individual health.
“One of the coolest things about the trail network in my opinion is just seeing our city from a different perspective that you cannot see from your car,” Johnston says.
Part of the trail that’s currently walkable is the portion of Wasson Way from Marburg Avenue in Hyde Park to Montgomery Road at the edge of Xavier University’s campus. ArtWorks’ 300-foot mural “Electric Avenue” dances along a portion of the path on the Duke Energy complex beside Montgomery Road. It colorfully celebrates sustainability, energy, movement and nature and was unveiled in summer 2020.
While parts of the trail will highlight recreation, others — like the connection to the Uptown Innovation Corridor when Wasson Way is fully complete — highlight one of CROWN’s most pivotal benefits: equitable transportation options.
“The connection to Uptown is going to touch Avondale, Evanston, Walnut Hills, and it’s going to link the trail into the Uptown Innovation Corridor, and that to me is a game changer,” Johnston says. “Because all of a sudden, the trail will connect to our region’s second largest employment hub, and you have all these densely populated residential areas along Wasson Way that are now going to be connected to the hospitals and the university and all the job opportunities in that area.”
Specifically, according to Wasson Way’s website, 83,000 residents can benefit from this specific segment of CROWN plus gain walkable access to the 70 shops and restaurants in Rookwood. As of press time, three of the six phases of Wasson Way are finished, with phases four and five (1.25 miles, beginning at Marburg Avenue and ending at Old Red Bank Road) scheduled to be completed by winter and phase six (0.8 miles, beginning at Woodburn Avenue and ending at Blair Court) by 2024.
The goal is to have the trail completed by 2025.
“There are all kinds of destinations along the trail that are a part of our park system and all these different business districts that will be close by to the trail network,” says Johnston. “It’s such a cool way to celebrate the history and culture of our city.”
To learn more about CROWN’s progress or to donate, visit crowncincinnati.org.