Cars dismantled the U.S. railroad system, but it was always a messy, incomplete destruction: Often only the trains themselves were wiped out, with the tracks left to wait and rust.

Cars dismantled the U.S. railroad system, but it was always a messy, incomplete destruction: Often only the trains themselves were wiped out, with the tracks left to wait and rust.

So it was in Ohio, home to thousands of track miles during the peak of rail travel circa 1916. Eventually some rail corridors fell to development or disappeared beneath nature's vengeful growth. Others remained, standing silent but steadfast.

In Ohio, hundreds of miles have been transformed into multiuse rail trails. From Lake Erie to the Ohio River, they connect rural towns, scurry through natural spaces and provide low-impact outdoor utility for bikers who want to avoid the rough grade of mountain-biking routes and the traffic of roads.

Among the state's most useful and most popular is the T.J. Evans Trail, 14 lovely miles connecting Newark to Johnstown that compose the healthiest section of Licking County's growing trail network.

On Thursday, I started a bit east in Alexandria, then took an additional spur that travels to the Newark YMCA. Even to a thin-tired track bike, the terrain and pavement of those 20-odd miles posed few problems. (Uneven spots were brightly marked with yellow paint.)

Essentially a microcosm of rural Ohio, the T.J. Evans shoots through dense creekside forests, occasional stone outcroppings, small towns and working farmland. Literally. In one spot, you've got pastures on your left and right sides, with cows giving you their blank trademark stare.

Many sections also interact with Raccoon Creek, a small stream that runs east to feed the Licking River. (It's distinct from the Raccoon Creek in southeastern Ohio, where conservationists have been working to repair extensive pollution.) Several bridges - including a beautiful white number near Cherry Valley Road - offer excellent views of rushing water between winding, secretive banks.

Leaves should be exploding with color there this weekend.

If you're unable to do the entire length, the most picturesque stretch appears just after passing the giant metal grain elevators of the Granville Milling Co. Last week, three deer unbothered by bikers stood only feet from the trail, grabbing lunch and posing for sun-dappled photographs.

Looking for other places to enjoy the state's fall color? Biking, hiking and backpacking trails abound on the Ohio Adventure Map at columbusalive.com/venture.