Blazing a trail: Columbus resident works to create walking paths

Columbus is known for trails, walking paths and the ever-popular People Trails.

Some are paved with asphalt or concrete. Others are worn into grass over time by a constant coming and going.

And some are the loving, careful work of one man, taking it one day at a time.

Over the past six years, Joe Turner, 71, of Columbus has created and maintained two trails in an area that runs parallel with Marr Road and a portion of the People Trails. One trail, about 270 yards, starts near the pedestrian and pedestrian bridge. The other, which diverges off of the first trail, is 220 yards.

Turner began in September of 2015 by making a “little trail by myself, for myself.”

“I noticed people were starting to walk it, so I started making it wider and then cutting back tree limbs and bushes,” he said. “And then I started to get sand from the riverbank and putting it on because the trail was muddy after rain or a thaw. … And it just kept getting wider.”

Turner said he doesn’t plan on widening the path anymore but will continue to maintain it. His work in the area has also included taking care of flowers (some planted by the city parks department, others by Turner), removing dead trees and tall weeds, and mowing.

Turner used to walk the People Trails and later decided to make a path of his own. His paths have “twists and turns,” and shade from trees. They are also sand trails, which is a more comfortable surface for runners than asphalt, he said.

Of course, one downside to this surface is the impact that a bad storm can have. A recent flash flood damaged both trails.

“About 70% of the sand was washed off the trail,” said Turner. “The flood brought in corn stalks that cover about 50 feet of the trail.”

He said that the time it will take to restore the area to its former state will depend on how easily he can get more sand; one estimate is 15 to 25 hours.

It’s not the first time bad weather has impacted Turners’ trails; he’s had flood damage about three or four times since starting the work.

“It’s in bad shape, but I can fix it,” he said.

Apart from a couple of occasions where family members have lent a hand, the trails have been almost single-handedly created and maintained by Turner.

While some might see this is a great deal of work, he enjoys the time spent working on and using the trails. He sees them as a way to give back to the community.

Turner is a truck driver with a dedicated run from Edinburgh to Michigan. While he’s home daily, the run itself is about 10 to 12 hours. He tries to work on the trails a couple of days a week.

“I love being outside, and it’s just peaceful — you know, hear the birds sing,” he said. “I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy the after-effect of it, what it looks like after the fact. And I appreciate the compliments of some of the people that walk the trail.”

One walker, Marcy Trisler, praised the trails and called Turner an “unsung hero.”

“It is really artfully done, delightful short diversions off the concrete path of the People Trail,” she said. “One man, one wheelbarrow, and a rake, just for the love of doing it, and seeing the joy it brings to others.”