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Cruising along on the nearly 10-mile T. J. Evans Panhandle Trail (known locally as the Panhandle Trail), you might be surprised to encounter a massive basket seemingly plunked down by a giant. In fact, this quirky piece of Americana is the former home of the Longaberger Company, maker of handcrafted baskets. The seven-story building is a replica of the company’s iconic Medium Market Basket, and its majestic appearance near the trail adds a surreal spirit to a route that is otherwise imbibed with a friendly neighborhood feel.
Beginning just east of downtown Newark, the T. J. Evans Panhandle Trail runs parallel to active tracks of the Ohio Central Railroad, making this a nice example of a rail-with-trail. Built and funded by the T. J. Evans Foundation, the path is primarily used as a recreational corridor by families who live nearby. Its first few miles are tucked behind neighborhoods and businesses and run along OH 16 and the rail line, illustrating how much urban activity and transportation can fit along a single corridor.
Looking south around mile 3.5, find the larger-than-life Longaberger basket building. Longaberger employees conceptualized the picnic-basket exterior and interior and constructed the majority of the building’s cherry woodwork. If you are interested in Longaberger baskets, the town of Frazeysburg, about 10 miles from the trail’s end in Hanover, is the site of the Longaberger Homestead. Here you can learn about basketmaking on the weaving floor, visit the shop, or even try your hand at making one of the signature baskets.
For the next handful of miles, the path winds through the rural landscape of eastern Licking County. Here in Amish country, horse and buggy caution signs are as prevalent as cornfields. You sail past grazing cows and hear frogs croaking in marshy areas along the trail. Summer days find turtles sunning on logs and creek banks. American sycamores, slippery elms, and bittersweet grow in the surrounding woods, and white-tailed deer visit isolated ponds along the route. The best time to experience this trail is early October, when the leaves are bright and the air is crisp. The last 2 miles of the Panhandle Trail mark the southern border of the Virtues Golf Club property, the top-ranked public course in the state; the club also has a nice restaurant.
Back in Newark, you’ll find the Panhandle Trail’s sister route, the 14-mile T. J. Evans Trail on the west side of town. With Newark’s growing trail system, there are less than 2 miles of on-road riding between them.
To reach the trail’s west end in Newark, from I-70, take Exit 132. Head north on OH 13, which becomes W. National Dr., and go 7.5 miles. Turn right to stay on W. National Dr., and go 0.3 mile. Turn left onto S. Third St. In 0.4 mile at the traffic circle, take the first exit (right) onto S. Park Pl., and go 0.1 mile. At the next traffic circle, take the second exit (left) onto S. Second St., and go one block. Take a right onto E. Main St. In 0.5 mile, turn left onto N. Morris St. After crossing the railroad tracks, veer right and turn left into the parking lot.
To reach the eastern endpoint in Hanover, from I-70, take exit 129 or 129A. Head north on OH 79, and go 9.4 miles. Turn right onto OH 16 E, and go 10.5 miles to the OH 146/Nashport Road exit. Turn left onto OH 146/Nashport Road, and go 0.3 mile. Turn right onto County Road 585/Marne Road. Go 1 mile to Felumlee Road and turn left. Go across the railroad tracks; the end of the trail will be on your left.
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