CINCINNATI — For years, breweries have served as popular gathering places for cyclists and running groups after logging considerable miles across greater Cincinnati. And now, those same breweries are helping to raise support to create the region’s first urban trail loop.

What You Need To Know

  • Ales for Trails aims to use a local love of beer and cycling to raise awareness and support for the in-progress CROWN bike path

  • The plans to connect mixed-use paths across greater Cincinnati to create a 34-mile loop

  • The projects to not only create recreational opportunities but also make local bike paths more safe and reliable forms of day-to-day transportation

  • The event runs all month long at 10 participating breweries who've donated to the CROWN plan

This July, 10 beer-makers across are taking part in the annual Ales to Trails campaign to raise awareness about plans for the CROWN network. 

CROWN, which stands for the Cincinnati Riding or Walking Network, is a planned 34-mile, multi-use paved, off-street trail that will connect more than 50 communities across Southwest Ohio.

When complete, the CROWN will connect several key regional trails that are currently detached from one another — Wasson Way, Ohio River Trail, Little Miami Scenic Trail (often called the Loveland Bike Trail), Mill Creek Greenway and Canal Bikeway.

A sign promoting the CROWN bike trail created by Tri-State Trials. (Photo courtesy of Tri-State Trails)
A sign promoting the CROWN bike trail created by Tri-State Trials. (Photo courtesy of Tri-State Trails)

To take part in the month-long Ales for Trails promotion, individuals need to first stop by one of the participating breweries to grab a Trail Hop Card or download one online. Then, with the purchase of a beer, they’ll get a stamp. 

The first 100 individuals who submit a completed “Trail Hop Card” by July 31 will receive an Ales for Trails Buff. They’ll also receive an entry into raffles for a chance to win brewery merchandise and gift cards.

“Trails and breweries are places designed to bring people together,” said Caitlin Sparks with Tri-State Trails, the nonprofit spearheading The CROWN project.

"There are many local breweries sitting right on the CROWN trail and some that are not far off,” she added. “We think this is an enjoyable way for people to come together, have fun and enjoy two of Cincinnati’s greatest resources — breweries and the trail.”

Streetside Brewery took part in the inaugural fundraiser last year. Garrett Hickey, its managing brewer and owner, called it a “great community event” for an “amazing community asset. He expects this year to be even better.

“Cincinnati is lucky to have something like this that promotes ease of transit and health of our citizens,” he said. “We’re excited to be back.”

A year of growth, progress and bikes

Now in its second year, Ales for Trails has grown from seven breweries to 10. Each of the breweries is on or near part of the CROWN trail loop — and they’re spread across the region. There’s even one in Northern Kentucky this year.

The list of participating breweries: 

  • Fifty West Brewing Company (Mariemont)

  • Listermann Brewing Trail House (Norwood)

  • MadTree Brewing Company (Oakley)

  • Sam Adams Cincinnati Taproom (Over-the-Rhine)

  • Streetside Brewery (East End)

  • Taft’s Ale House (OTR)

  • Taft’s Brewpourium (Spring Grove Village)

  • Urban Artifact (Northside)

  • Woodburn Brewing (East Walnut Hills)

  • Wooden Cask Brewing Company (Newport, Ky.)

What’s unique about this event is that Tri-State Trails, the organization behind the CROWN plan, won’t receive any money from beer sales. Instead, each of the breweries donated money to support the project and to help raise awareness. 

Tri-State Trails will accept private donations on its website.

Wade Johnston, director of Tri-State Trails, said that besides fundraising for the construction of the trail, it will also increase support for the project and cycling overall.

A map of breweries taking part in the second annual Ales and Trails campaign. (Photo courtesy of Tri-State Trails)
A map of breweries taking part in the second annual Ales and Trails campaign. (Photo courtesy of Tri-State Trails)

Tri-State Trails, an initiative under the environmental nonprofit Green Umbrella, advocates for bicycling as an important tool for enhancing the vibrancy and equity in communities.

Once finished, the CROWN will connect to a number of parks, schools, employment centers, stores and entertainment options, such as breweries.

“Just like the neighborhood breweries,” Johnston said, “the trail is a welcoming public space that connects people.”

Giacomo Ciminello, the taproom manager at Woodburn Brewery in East Walnut Hills, sees “many joggers and cyclists” whizzing past the large street-facing windows on Woodburn Avenue. “It only made sense to give them a small respite while they’re out enjoying the day.”

For Bobby Slattery, owner of Fifty West, the topic is a little more personal. While he’s reluctant to call himself “a cyclist” because he “doesn’t ride 120 miles a week,” he has a passion for the sport and rides, even taking part in a few triathlons.

A cyclist rides a bike near Lunken Airport on Cincinnati's east side. (Casey Weldon/Spectrum News 1)
A cyclist rides a bike near Lunken Airport on Cincinnati's east side. (Casey Weldon/Spectrum News 1)

Since opening a decade ago, his east side brewery has been a regular stop for cyclists in part because of the Little Miami trail that now runs behind it.

“It wasn’t always in our backyard,” he said. “We spent about 10 years working with all the different agencies to help pull that trail together. Now, we get thousands of cyclists and runners every month.”

Fifty West actively sponsors local running groups and cycling teams. Slattery wanted to find an “active way” for people to get involved in the community.

Grabbing a cold beer — and one of Fifty West’s popular burgers — is a great way to get a few carbs and calories back after a long run or bike ride, too, he joked.

“It’s a social thing first and foremost,” Slattery said. “There’s not a better way to kick back after a 30-mile ride than having a beer with your friends and just talking about the experience or really just life in general.”

Over the course of a month, Fifty West will have “thousands” of hardcore cyclists and runners make their way through the taproom. What gets Slattery most excited, though, is seeing the casual riders enjoying a weekend together out on the trail.

“What’s neat, for us, is to see the families that decide to head out for a ride and then stop at our brewery for a snack after their ride,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Building a network of trail network that’s fun and useful

The CROWN project has received support from a collection of supporters, including Wasson Way, Ohio River Way, the City of Cincinnati and Great Parks of Hamilton County. There’ve also been a collection of corporate partners.

Tri-State Trails will use $44 million in public funding, plus another $10 million in private donations to bring the dream to life.

So far, the trail connection process is about halfway done.

Katie Varatta is a “big fan” of the CROWN proposal. The 42-year-old has been cycling for more than 15 years, starting back when she lived in Chicago.

Now in Anderson Township, Varatta’s typical ride takes her from her house in Anderson Township to Salem Road and down Eastern Avenue. She’ll pass both Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium before turning around and heading back.

Katie Varatta, a Cincinnati-area cyclist, on the road on her bike. (Photo courtesy of Katie Varatta)
Katie Varatta, a Cincinnati-area cyclist, on the road on her bike. (Photo courtesy of Katie Varatta)

“More often than not,” she’ll stop at Streetside on Eastern for a beer (or two) on the way home.

“Every time I stop after a ride with a group of people or even by myself, there are always other cyclists doing the same thing,” she added. “It definitely adds to that feeling of community." 

Colin Groth, a downtown resident, loves the local cycling scene — the local bike shops; the growing park system and trails; the camaraderie of the ever-increasing number of riding groups and the regular meetups at local business, whether they’re coffee shops like Deeper Roots or a local brewery. He often parks at Fifty West before hitting the Loveland Trail. 

Safety remains a concern, though.

“We have some great amenities in our trailways like Lunken, Loveland and the Ohio River Trail, and I enjoy it once I get to the trails, but it’s definitely still a challenge sharing the road (with cars and trucks),” he said. 

A distracted driver hit Groth while he was riding his bike near Findlay Market in OTR a few years ago. He noted specific areas, like Riverside Avenue on the east side, Central Parkway in downtown and other areas with unprotected bike lanes. 

The CROWN will help ease some of those travel risks. It would offer riders an entirely off-road, paved path.

As part of the Trails for Ales promotion, Tri-State Trails will promote not only the CROWN but a general advocacy for the needs of cyclists.

“This isn’t just about raising money. It’s about raising awareness about bicycling as both recreation and a mode of transportation,” Sparks said. She sees the promotion to “get people to talk about the topic over a beer.”

More information about the CROWN plan and the Ales for Trails event is available on the event’s website