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This is What a Trip Along the Devou Park Trails is Like

It’s that time of year when we’re aware of both impending and immediate changes happening around us.  

The leaves on the trees flare with color then mute to duskier shades. The temperature bounds up and down, winsome when it warms, warning us that winter’s on the way when the wind blows cold. Sunshine grows more fleeting, and it’s that measure of less light every day that seems to carry the most weight.

The end of October is when political, personal, and holiday schedules collide.  We all call carry our own internal calendars, which can bend to or be oblivious to whether it’s the start of school, the end of baseball season, the autumn equinox, Columbus Day, or candy splurge-palooza, a.k.a Halloween. For me, it was daylight savings time about to fall back that triggered my quest to find the right way to cap off what had been a remarkable outdoor season.

Good news took the form of a recent week of warm weather, a gorgeous stretch of Indian summer as temps pushed toward 80 and we got to furlough the furnace for a week. Wanting to commemorate and luxuriate in Mother Nature’s glory, I slipped out a little early one day with the aspiration to ride every sanctioned trail in Devou Park. While certainly not a goal that rates on the level of world peace or universal health care, it was nonetheless a fitting conclusion to the summer. 

Built for hikers, trail runners, mountain biking, and more, the trails were designed and developed by Covington resident Chad Irey. 

Irey credits the City of Covington and the Devou Park Advisory Committee for their support and long-term vision in realizing how these improvements benefit Covington in terms of housing values, economic development and recreation options.  Irey also specifically thanks Laura Baverman-Rinehart, Marissa Tucker, and Natalie Gardner for their crucial, ongoing support.  Finally, in Chad’s words, there have been “thousands of volunteers donating millions of hours” over the years as the Devou Park Trails have gone from drawing board to reality.

Last month ago, the city announced the opening of the Sleepy Hollow section of multi-use trails in Devou, news that furthered Covington’s claim as home to some the best trails in the Midwest.

Starting in downtown Covington, I warmed up by riding west to Goebel Park, south on Philadelphia Street, and under the highway on 9th Street, making my way to the trailhead for the Lewisburg section that starts across from the VFW hall on Montague. Built a few years ago with the help of a Place Matters grant from the Center for Great Neighborhoods, the trail climbs from a small parking lot up to the crest of the park anchored by Drees Pavilion overlooking the Ohio River. The Lewisburg portion features shale-like trailbed not found elsewhere, with some big berms cut into the hillside that make the return trip fast and fun.  Unfortunately, this was my first leg, not the last, or more precisely, the climb, not the descent. When confronted with this sort of incline, I’m forced to shift down, stand up, and forget about fun while I churned up the grade. Doubly grateful for the golden carpet of leaves that led to the first creek crossing, for the iridescence took my mind off the hard labor involved in hauling myself of the hill.

Via the paved roadway at the top, I connected Lewisburg to The Full Monty trail which begins across the street from the Behringer-Crawford Museum and right behind the city maintenance yard. As flowing and wild as a whitewater river, this trail cascades down the backside of the park, running between the golf course and Montague Road.  I barely needed to pedal for over a mile as the trail swoops down, which meant gravity worked its magic and spirited me down the hill. Occasionally technical with various rocky transitions, nonetheless, it’s a wide-grin ride that almost made me forget the residue of fatigue that Lewisburg left in my legs. At a hairpin fork in the trail, I turned right to continue down to the eventual intersection of Montague and Sleepy Hollow roads, keeping the newest section of trail for the return trip.  This is also known as “saving the best for last.”

Following Sleepy Hollow Road northwest for a very short bit to the baseball field a hundred yards away, it’s here where most cyclists gather to start biking because of the easy and ample parking. 

This is the site of the Devou Park Trails Phase I, where the grizzled veterans recall it all began with a handful of volunteers armed with shovels and rakes. The well-groomed path climbs via a series of switchbacks from the map board at to the iconic Covington incinerator – no surprise, this section of trail is called Incinerator, which I climbed to Trail Surfer, up again on Pig’s Tale, then plunged down Devou-tion. The latter trail is the only one-way section of trail in the system; both hikers and bikers are warned against trying to climb Devou-tion as the grade is too steep and those descending are moving fast through some tight corners. 

My first few times on this section had me jumbling the name from Devou-tion -- which suggests polite homage to the gods of balance and stability – to De-evolution, which in my mind more suitably applied to the crazy idea that the shortest distance between two points is a line, albeit not exactly straight, but one that runs smack downhill. 

At this point in my sojourn, I was roughly (and feeling rougher) a third of the way done. Forging forward, it was back up the top half of Incinerator again, bouncing over familiar roots and rocks while negotiating a few tight passes and an equal number of fast troughs. Cresting the ridge, the Bates-Coombs Loop circles around the top – a welcome chance to catch my breath while racing around the rim. By far the longest stretch of trails, it takes a little topographic homework to connect the spurs off the Loop to the series of trails midway up the hill, which is how I found myself flying down and flailing up both sections of Back Bowl, then reversing my initial clockwise on the B-C Loop so that I could cover the mile or so my route missed the first go-round. Then one more time down Back Bowl to run the entire length of Train Surfer and I packed it in… at least for this cluster of trails.

Only three sections remained, all of them comprising the newest section, back on the southeast side of Sleepy Hollow Road: Goat’s Path, Old Montague Trail, and Sleepy Hollow Trail.  

Old Montague veers slightly from where the Full Monty ends at a locked gate, so it’s a slightly different starting point on a vastly different terrain. Old Montague was clearly graded and traversed by motorized traffic at some point in long-ago history. Now, it is the most gentle rise in the park, like the rope pull up the beginner’s slope at the ski hill. Sleepy Hollow trail starts with a second creek crossing, ascends up a series of hills to the peak; as about half of the leaves have fallen, I was able to peek through the trees to see Sleepy Hollow Road down below. But I had to look fast, as this trail goes through a hairpin turn and, picking back up the skiing metaphor, it’s as big and bold as a mountain run in Vail, CO.  Sculpted from a remarkable hillside, I literally flew down this section, up and down-down, a little up, and down-down, turn, down, curve, down, and across a final creek crossing.  Wonder of wonders, it then opened up into an even wider section of more downhill, more gravity, more fun. Truly, Kings Island holds little allure after running these trails time and again. For free. No lines except for the one I was focused intently on following down the run.

Sleepy Hollow Trail ends at Old Montague, so it was that relatively easy climb to Goat’s Path which connects midway up into the Full Monty, which meant when finished, I had covered every inch of the trails as intended. I was dirty and tired, but unfortunately not quite done as I had to now climb what had been the fun part of Full Monty, then truly finish by zipping down Lewisburg and heading back into the heart of Covington.

So looking back, it may sound like a lot names and a fair amount of distance ~ 12 miles of gorgeous trails and countless smiles and panting gasps. Devou Park can now rightly claim to be a “destination” location for riders throughout Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. For those more far-flung, these trails will be an economic boost for Covington hotels, restaurants and other businesses since many visitors will stay overnight to get in two full days of riding (with hopefully a shower in between). This abundance of outdoor riches right in town will attract relocation within the region, especially for empty nesters, and will boost property values in the area. For residents, this is a huge recreation bonus that should be utilized as often as possible.  Kudos to Chad, everyone who worked on the trails, City Hall for supporting the work with zoning and approvals, and Covington at large to turning Devou into the metropolitan area’s crown jewel of greenery and healthy escape. 

Written by Richard Hunt, RCN contributor and owner of Roebling Point Books & Coffee (and partner at Keen Communications)

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