On a clear, crisp afternoon in October of 1993, for the first time in over 80 years, a mule crossed over the Cuyahoga River in Peninsula just south of Lock 29 of the Ohio &Erie Canal. The mule and his driver were followed by a procession of people, some in period costumes, some in park ranger uniforms; some walking, some riding bicycles. The event marked the official opening of almost twenty miles of the Ohio &Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Today this popular multi-use trail is the heart of Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), and it now continues outside the national park as part of the Ohio &Erie National Heritage Canalway. Eventually the trail will be 101 miles long, connecting Cleveland, on Lake Erie, to New Philadelphia, on the Tuscarawas River.
Within Cuyahoga Valley National Park you can access the Ohio &Erie Canal Towpath Trail at any of eleven trailheads. The trail is designed for hiking, bicycling, and cross-country skiing and is graded and surfaced to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Some sections are also shared with equestrians. When planning your trip, you might also consider using the shuttle service offered by the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (800-468-4070; www.cvsr.com).
A Quick Look
Within the boundaries of Cuyahoga Valley National Park the Ohio &Erie Canal Towpath Trail passes near the remnants of a full range of canal-related structures including lift locks, aqueducts, feeder canals, and various weirs, sluices, overflows, gates, and other devices used to control water levels. (North of Station Road, where the canal is still watered, these water-control devices are still in use today). Your trip will take you past much of the valley’s human history, such as the site of South Park Village, a Native American settlement dating to AD 1000; or Pilgerruh, site of the first known Moravian missionary settlement in the valley; plus a canal-era mill, farmsteads and fields in production since the 1800s, and historic homes in canal villages.
National Park Service facilities along the way help interpret the valley’s natural and human history: Canal Visitor Center introduces twelve thousand years of human history and development in the Cuyahoga Valley. The Boston Store tells the story of the canal through its boat builders and watermen. The Stephen and Mehitable Frazee House has exhibits on settlement, building construction, and the vernacular architecture in the region. Hunt Farm Visitor Information Center presents the life of the farming community. All along the Towpath Trail are numerous informational panels, or waysides, that will help you understand what you see and, in some cases, what you can no longer see.
As you travel along the canal, the evolution of transportation in the valley is all around you. You parallel the first transportation route through the valley—the Cuyahoga River—and the one that put the canal out of business—the Valley Railway. The development of bridge engineering in transportation is evident from an 1882 wrought iron structure, to the graceful form of a 1931 concrete arch, to major interstate highway bridges whisking today’s travelers from rim to rim across the valley.
The Ohio &Erie Canal Towpath Trail connects a large number of trails, facilities, and other points of interest. Among the many sites and attractions you will be able to reach, via back roads or connector trails are Hale Farm &Village, Brandywine and Boston Mills Ski Resorts, Brandywine Falls, and Hostelling International’s Stanford Hostel. Along the way you might see deer, coyote, beavers, great blue herons, or even a wild turkey. In spring, look for woodland wildflowers, such as spring beauties and trout lilies; in summer look for the purple and white dame’s rocket. Fall is the time for the yellow of wingstem and the purples of joe-pye weed, ironweed, and asters; and winter brings the muted colors of dried goldenrods and grasses.
Things to Keep in Mind
Sandstone mileposts along the trail mark the approximate location of the original mileposts as recorded on earlier survey maps. These mileposts measured miles from the beginning of the canal near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland’s industrial flats. The original mileposts were determined using the chain and link method. Washouts and other changes over the years necessitated rerouting some parts of the historic towpath when the trail was constructed. As a result, the distance between mileposts is not always 5,280 feet.
Canal locks were always numbered starting from the high point, increasing in the direction of the flow of the water. Hence, lock numbers within the park increase as the canal heads north, or downstream.
The Ohio &Erie Canal Towpath Trail is a very popular trail, with 1.5 million visits per year. Less busy times include weekdays, before noon on weekends, and days with less than ideal weather. Remember, it is a shared trail used by hikers and bicyclists and by visitors of varying ages and abilities. Some short sections are also open to horse and rider.
A few tips will help make your trip on the Ohio &Erie Canal Towpath Trail safe and enjoyable. All are based on the golden rule of a shared trail: be courteous.
Travel at a safe speed. Adjust your speed to match traffic flow.
Keep to the right except to pass others.
Give a clear warning before passing on the left.
Everyone yields to horses. If you need to pass, make sure the rider knows in advance that you are passing. Be especially cautious, as horses can be startled by sudden movements or sounds.
Travel single file when passing or being passed.
Park regulations require that pets be kept on a short (six-foot or less) leash.
Move completely off the trail when stopped.
Back to the Future
The 1996 legislation designating the Ohio &Erie National Heritage Canalway has enabled the park’s neighboring cities, counties, and park districts to extend the Towpath Trail north into Cleveland and south through Akron and Massillon into New Philadelphia. Seventy-five percent of the trail is completed, and progress continues on the remaining twenty-five percent. When the trail is finished, you can start in Cleveland and along the route be able to sample food in the ethnic neighborhoods, visit restored historic sites, and rest in small towns and villages. You will pass through a variety of preserved natural areas—forests, wetlands, open fields, and stream corridors. Using connector trails or side roads, you can catch a baseball game, visit an indoor rain forest, or explore a world-class art museum.
Yesterday we wrote about the Towpath Trail yet to be. Today we write of a national heritage canalway that will extend the Towpath Trail from New Philadelphia to Cleveland and connect the region and its people through their shared natural, cultural, industrial, and recreational heritage. For more information on this project, visit the Web site of the Ohio &Erie Canalway Association at: www.ohioanderiecanalway.com.^ top
Excerpted from the book Trail Guide to Cuyahoga Valley National Park 3rd Edition, copyright © Cuyahoga Valley Trails Council. All rights reserved.
This excerpt may not be used in any form for commercial purposes without the written permission of Gray & Company, Publishers.
by Cuyahoga Valley Trails Council
The complete trail guide to Ohio’s popular national park, written by people who know it best—the volunteers who help build and maintain its trails. Every trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is described in detail, with specifics for hikers . . . [ Read More ]
The Cuyahoga Valley Trails Council (CVTC) is a non-profit all-volunteer organization dedicated to building and maintaining trails in the Cuyahoga Valley. CVTC was formed in 1985 from the Ad Hoc Trails . . . [ Read More ]