Finding Your Way Along Wasson Way

Walking the Wasson Way trails is actually quite relaxing (other than the “traffic jam” section) and relatively easy due to the flat terrain.

I’m used to hearing people tell me to “take a hike,” but this is the first time it was for a writing assignment. I was happy to oblige, and not just because I needed to reach my 10,000 steps goal for the day. As much as I’d love to tell my kids that Wasson Way is arduous and uphill both ways, it’s actually quite relaxing other than the “traffic jam” section (more on that later) and relatively easy due to the flat terrain.

PHOTOGRAPH BY JUSTIN SCHAFER

Xavier to Rookwood

I start my trek at Montgomery Road near Dana Avenue, which is close to my old stomping grounds at Xavier University (Class of 19-something). I suppose I could have worn the rental shoes that I “forgot” to return at Stone Lanes after a late evening of alcohol-abetted bowling back in my carefree/careless undergrad years, but they weren’t exactly comfortable on the bowling lanes more than 30 years ago. I doubt they’d hold up well during a five-mile walk.

Montgomery Road is currently the western terminus of Wasson Way, but future plans call for extending it through Xavier’s campus, behind the old King Records building and into Avondale. Projected completion: spring 2024.

The first leg of my eastern journey takes me to Tamarack Avenue on the opposite side of I-71. This stretch definitely has a city feel to it, passing two large parking lots (one abandoned, the other operational) and several businesses. There’s a very cool Where the Wild Things Are–style mural running the entire width of the Duke Energy Dana Operations Center building that’s worth studying. And kudos to the volunteers who planted trees and flowers along this section; it’ll feel even better when the trees mature.

The bridge sections (a small one across a Dana Avenue ramp and a larger one that spans I-71 North and South) can subject your ears to a full-on aural assault as dozens of cars and trucks whiz by on the freeway below you. Someone has used chalk to create thought-provoking text and poetry on the side railings of the bridge across I-71, a welcome distraction from the car cacophony.

The section from Tamarack Avenue to Madison Road was the first phase of the project to be completed, and it’s quite nice. The path opens up a bit behind Withrow High School, and there’s a short gravel walkway that runs parallel to the paved section, with more trees planted alongside, many with small markers indicating they were donated by an individual or business. (To get details about donating a tree or bench, e-mail wassonway@gmail.com). You’ll see signs for the Wulsin Play Area, but getting there is a bit tricky; look for a narrow walkway between two houses on the left. Abutting streets have easy, well-marked access to the path. As I get closer to Madison Road, I’m tempted to take the steps down to the Rookwood complex and maybe pick up new hiking gear at REI and some granola from Whole Foods. Then I realize I’m strolling through Hyde Park, which isn’t exactly like hiking Mt. Rainier.

Madison Road to Oakley

God bless the countless dedicated volunteers and public officials who have made Wasson Way a reality. It’s a lovely car-free option for folks from all walks of life, from stroller-pushers to sportos to senior citizens.

The stretch from Madison Road to Paxton Avenue is a bit challenging, though, as it offers several opportunities for pedestrian/vehicle interaction—and we know who wins those contests. The crossing lanes on Madison and Edwards roads are clearly marked, with push buttons to activate the “walk” signal. Then you’ll confront several “yield” signs for the Hyde Park streets that intersect with Wasson Road. And the contentious new Wasson Tower apartment complex at Michigan Avenue will add more cars to already congested streets.

If you’re looking to beat your personal record in the mile run, this is not the stretch for you. Just be patient, gather your wits, and keep your head on a swivel at every intersection. The silver lining? Busken Bakery has opened a walk-up window with a few booths for seating smack dab in the middle of the Madison/Edwards traffic triangle. It may be counterproductive for those looking to walk off some calories, but it’s a stroke of pure marketing genius since most of us can’t resist the siren song (and smell) of a fresh glazed doughnut.

This stretch also could benefit from a few landscaping enhancements; the chain-link fence from Drake to Paxton roads feels rather industrial. The good news is volunteers will be adding trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, and native groundcover plants this fall.

Once you cross Paxton, you can let down your guard and enjoy the scenery. Even though the always-busy Hyde Park Kroger is on your left, there’s enough of a vegetation buffer that you don’t really notice it and plenty of mature trees near the fenceline of Portsmouth Avenue homes on the right. The trail currently ends before you reach Marburg Avenue.

Next Phases

Wasson Way is a welcome addition to this east-central section of Cincinnati. It’s sure to get more folks out of their cars and onto their feet (or bike or skateboard) to walk, to shop, and maybe even to commute to work. But the real game-changer is coming this winter, when Phases 4 and 5 create another 1.25-mile stretch under Marburg and Erie avenues into Ault Park and east to Old Red Bank Road in Fairfax. No streets to cross, and more of a walk-in-the-woods vibe.

On my Way way back, the street crossings feel like less of a hassle. There’s always an adjustment period—for both walkers and drivers—as we learn to peacefully co-exist. I also notice a few things I missed while walking east: the artwork at Tamarack, the houses near Withrow with newly installed back gates to access the trail, and a doggie doo-doo station and trash receptacles to help keep things tidy. I even spot my old apartment on Wasson Road on the second floor of the building that now houses R.P. McMurphy’s.

The round trip walk is roughly five miles. Enough time to listen to a few podcast episodes, commune with nature, see other human beings, and even ponder the pointlessness of pilfering used bowling shoes. Thank you, Wasson Way, for showing me the error of my youthful folly.

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