by LCVB staff member Dan Maxson

Lake County’s Blue Blazes

August 25, 2018 saw the City of Mentor receive designation as a Buckeye Trail Town. A 12 mile stretch of roads and trails that includes Mentor Lagoons and Mentor Marsh now officially join Headlands State Park and Lake Metroparks Girdled Road Reservation, Penitentiary Glen, Chapin Forest and Greenway Corridor as ‘Blue Blazes’ sites. These two by six inch blue marks are found on trees in over 26 sections of the largest trail loop in the United States. Fourty-nine of our eighty-eight counties are part of the Buckeye Trail’s 1444 total miles. Here is the story of our state and Lake County ‘Blue Blazes’.

In 1958 a Merrill Gilfillan article appeared in the Columbus Dispatch encouraging the formation of Ohio’s version of the famous Appalachian Trail. This clockwise trail would run from the Ohio River in Cincinnati to Lake Erie. Despite some initial popularity in the hiking and fitness communities no immediate sense of urgency resulted in his visionary idea. A year lapsed and in 1959 a fledgling non-profit formed. Known as the Buckeye Trail Association, BTA completed the first 20 miles of trails and a dedication was formally held in the hocking hills locale. Completed in 1970, the 26 section trail covers not only 49 Ohio counties but spans many well known local sites, i.e., Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Bedford, Headlands, Akron and most recently Mentor.

Some fast facts about the Buckeye Trail follow:

  • The Buckeye Trail’s northern most terminus may be found at Headlands and Fairport Harbor.
  • Grandma Emma Gatewood (1888-1973) hiked the trail alone three times, completing one loop at age 67. She is also a member of the Appalachian Trail HOF (2012). Her attire of Keds sneakers and a laundry bag are legendary among fellow hikers.
  • There is a Little Loop Challenge that supports hikers on a one day-257 mile trek.
  • Captain Blue a.k.a. Andy Niekamp completed the entire 1444 mile loop in just 88 days in 2011.
  • ‘Blue Blazes’ found on trees indicate turns and directions on the trail. As you view the blaze on the tree just check out the offset for directionality.
  • Buckeye Trail Towns have designated signage to highlight their historical significance. Mentor’s signage can be found at the Civic Center property.

Fall foliage is just now underway. Download your own BTA map or Lake Metropark map and hike thru history. This is just another hidden gem found in Ohio’s smallest county with the most history!

Sources- buckeye trail.org, News-Herald, Mentor Community Newsletter Fall 2018

About Dan Maxson

Dan is the President of the Fairport Harbor Historical Society. He is also the local expert on Lake County lore and history.