KURTIS A. TUNNELL

MEMORIAL TRAIL PROJECT

The Kurtis A. Tunnell Memorial Trail Project is a proposed 13.5-mile extension of the Heritage Trail from its current terminus at Cemetery Pike near Plain City (Madison County) westward through Union County, to a new terminus in the village of Woodstock, Champaign County.

On August 31, 2019, Kurtis A. Tunnell, an avid cycling enthusiast and beloved community leader, was tragically killed after a vehicle collided with his bicycle on Scioto Darby Road near Hilliard. It is our honor to celebrate his legacy with this project.     

Origin of the Heritage Trail
The Heritage Trail is a 6.2-mile multi-purpose trail converted from an abandoned railroad corridor in Franklin and Madison Counties in Central Ohio. The trail begins in Old Hilliard and continues northwest toward Plain City where it terminates at Cemetery Pike.

Efforts to construct the trail began when Conrail abandoned the line in 1984. In 1992, a group of residents, community leaders, and cycling enthusiasts established the Heritage Rail-Trail Coalition, which received a 501(c)3 not-for-profit status the following year. Over the next three years, the coalition worked diligently to generate enough funding to purchase the abandoned right-of-way. The City of Hilliard purchased a 1.2-mile segment in 1993 and the coalition purchased a 5-mile segment the following year. The first mile of the Heritage Trail was opened in 1996.

In 1999, the coalition donated the segment of the trail from Hayden Run Road to Cemetery Pike to the Franklin County Metro Parks while the City of Hilliard maintained ownership of the segment south of Hayden Run Road. Soon after, Franklin County Metro Parks began making improvements to the trail with the goal of one day extending it to Plain City and beyond.

Union County's Efforts

In 2006, the Union County-Marysville Economic Development Office sought the assistance of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) and local representatives to research possible bike routes and trails throughout Union County. A draft route map was produced that included the extension of the Heritage Trail into Plain City and across southern Union County.

In 2008, an informal trail development committee was established to advance the development of a countywide trail system. The committee recognized the need to create an official master plan and began raising funds to hire a consultant. In late 2013, a consultant was hired to develop Union County’s first trails and greenways master plan. The Union County Trails & Greenways Master Plan was completed in Spring 2015 and was subsequently adopted by Union County, the City of Marysville, the villages of Richwood and Milford Center, and Jerome and Millcreek townships.

 

In late 2017, the Union County Health Department retained the services of Toole Design Group to provide technical services for updating the Union County Trails & Greenways Master Plan and to organize community efforts with the goal of launching a formal working group. Throughout the following year, several meetings occurred which resulted in preliminary updates to the master plan. In 2018, the National Park Service – Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program (RTCAP) offered its assistance to the trail committee to advance its goal of formalizing the master plan update and establishing a working group. It was also during this time that discussions occurred with Franklin County Metro Parks, Union County, and Plain City officials concerning the extension of the Heritage Trail to Plain City.

Throughout 2019, multiple trails and greenways workshops were conducted to complete an inventory of existing and planned parks and trails, develop a vision for future trail development, and establish a plan to meet regularly with community stakeholders to monitor the ongoing progress of trail development throughout Union County. Throughout this process, the extension of the Heritage Trail has remained a top community priority.  

Proposed Route

The project will commence in Plain City near the intersection of OH-161 and Middleburg-Plain City Road. The trail will travel westward for approximately 13.5-miles and terminate at South Main Street in Woodstock, Champaign County. Two potential alignments are under consideration: one utilizing a vacant railroad bed and another parallelling the Big Darby Creek and Middleburg-Plain City Road. 

Additionally, routing through the village of Plain City is under review and will be necessary to connect the existing Heritage Trail to the new trail extension. 

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Project Timeline

This project represents a multi-year, multi-phase effort. The completion of this project is highly dependent on many factors, including property and right-of-way acquisition, availability of funding, and overall community support.

 

Trail Ownership

Initially, the Union County Board of Commissioners will maintain ownership of the property/trail and lead the project until a long-term management organization is established.

Project Funding

Efforts to secure funding for the project are on-going. In January 2021, the project received a $500,000 earmark from the State of Ohio's Capital Appropriations Bill. 

Regional Connectivity

The Kurtis A. Tunnell Memorial Trail Project is the first step in a coordinated effort to further develop trail connectivity in Union County and other locations within West-Central and Central Ohio. While this project seeks to extend the Heritage Trail to Woodstock, future plans also include extending the trail westward for connection with the Simon Kenton Trail, an existing trail in Champaign, Clark, and Logan Counties.

 

Furthermore, it is anticipated that the extension of the Heritage Trail would allow for future connectivity to the proposed 5.5-mile Addison White Trail, which is planned between Milford Center and Marysville in Union County. 

 

Finally, Franklin County Metro Parks is working to extend the Heritage Trail from its origin in Old Hilliard to a point near downtown Columbus. This extension, together with the planned Addison White Trail and the potential connection of the Heritage Trail to the Simon Kenton Trail, would allow trail users to access Columbus, Marysville, Urbana, Springfield, Xenia, and Cincinnati.

In Memoriam

Kurtis Adair Tunnell, an alumnus of The Ohio State

University Moritz College of Law, died on August

31, 2019 as the result of an automobile-bicycle accident.

He was well-known throughout the Central Ohio

community. Shortly after graduating from law school,

Kurt joined the law firm of Bricker and Eckler, where

he spent his entire 31-year career before retiring in

January 2018. At Bricker and Eckler, he built a practice

that centered on the intersection of public policy and

politics. 

At age 33, he was tapped by Governor-elect George

Voinovich to serve as Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel.

His distinguished service to Ohio began with Governor Voinovich and continued through the years in all facets of Ohio government serving Ohio governors, attorney generals, members of the Ohio General Assembly, congressional leaders, and President George W. Bush as his Ohio counsel during and after the 2004 presidential campaign. Kurt gave selflessly of his time and talents to elected officials of both parties, clients, and friends.

Kurt left behind his wife, Julie Jones, and three children, Kristine, Jordan and Jessica.

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