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Friday, June 10, 2016

Riding the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail should be on every cyclist's 'must do' list

Riding the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail should be on every cyclist’s ‘must do’ list
By:  Michael Lander

If you're looking for a way to satisfy your urge to ride
your bike through areas that offer the best that nature
has to offer, the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath in
Cuyahoga Valley National Park may be exactly
where you need to go.

Along a once-great canal system, with several towns nearby, and located in the heartland of America, is a place of perfect serenity and natural beauty with wetlands, forests, and fields, and a river that has attracted people to it for many a millennium.

The canal system that once existed in this pristine paradise was known as the Ohio & Erie Canal and while only remnants of the canal still exist today, the tow paths that ran alongside it, that were originally used by horses or mules towing barges, are now popular multi-use trails that attract cyclists, runners, and others to the incredibly scenic area, a portion of which is in Cuyahoga Valley and in the
Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath is
extremely popular and is perfect
for a nice, leisurely bike ride.

The name “Cuyahoga,” is said to have originally come from Native American Indians and it translates to the word, “crooked,” which accurately describes the Cuyahoga River and how it weaves its way, twisting and turning, at the base of hills and valleys, as it travels over 90 miles of terrain in a U shape from its headwaters 30 miles east of
Cleveland south to Akron, Ohio

The river then makes a U turn and flows north through downtown Cleveland and finally into Lake Erie.  The overall U shape, along with the crooked path, is how it earned its name.

The towpath trail, as of today, is approximately 85 miles long and it is one of Ohio’s longest, most scenic, and one of the more popular trails in the region.  It was voted 2015 ‘Best of Ohio’ Bike Trail by readers of Ohio Magazine.

The towpath trail is currently about 85 miles long, but,
when all is said and done, it is expected to be 110
miles long, altogether.


“People love this trail.  The section in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is about 20 miles from Rockside Road in Cleveland to Bath Road in Akron and we get over two million visitors to our national park each year with a large percentage who also visit the towpath trail,” Pamela Barnes said.

Barnes is the Cuyahoga National Park Community Engagement Supervisor.

“The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is not yet complete, but it will eventually be 110 miles long, from Cleveland to New Philadelphia.  Progress is being made, and the section in downtown Cleveland, for example, is making some headway and people can keep up with any updates on the progress of this by going to the
Ohio & Erie Canalway’s website,” Barnes said.

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park has over 2 million
visitors each year, many of whom either ride their
bikes, run, or walk on the towpath whenever they do
come.

The Canalway’s website is also a good source for finding out about the many connections that there are to the towpath, according to Barnes.  There is also a Buckeye Trail that, like the towpath, is one of the 125 miles of trails that run throughout the park.

For the most part, the towpath trail is also relatively flat, which makes it very appealing to people of all ages, particularly those who prefer a more leisurely and recreational type of bike ride.

Visitors to the towpath can see a very diverse landscape
with wetlands, forests, and fields that are home to a
great variety and abundance of different types of
plants, trees, and wildlife.

“The trail does have some paved sections and the unpaved sections have crushed limestone, which is very smooth so it is not a problem for cyclists.  It is also very popular with runners as well since it is a softer surface for them,” Barnes said.

The trail is also open all year-round and the park service does not clear the snow since that makes it more attractive for those who want to do some cross-country skiing on it.

There are many places for visitors to
see along the towpath to include the
Boston Store, which can be seen in
the background.

In warmer weather, when cyclists and others come to the Cuyahoga National Park, there is no shortage of things for them to check out and see while they are there.

“Our newest attraction in the park is the
Canal Exploration Center.  It is right next to Lock 38 along the towpath and it contains hands-on exhibits that tell the story of the canals in Ohio.  Outside, Lock 38 is a working lock and on weekends in the summer, costumed staff and volunteers demonstrate the operation of the lock,” Barnes said.

Cyclists and others on the towpath will see the remnants
of the Ohio & Erie Canal with markers that provide
details and historical information for those who are
interested in learning more about them.

Those who wish to learn more about the history of the towpath, can visit: 
http://www.ohioanderiecanalway.com/Main/Home.aspx and https://www.nps.gov/cuva/index.htm.

“Visitors to the towpath will find remnants of other locks, wetlands, wildlife views, the
Hale Farm and Village, the Hunt House, the Blossom Music Center, the Porthouse Theater, and the Boston Visitor Center.  They can also purchase refreshments and souvenirs at Trail Mix Boston and Trail Mix Peninsula, which are stores that are operated by our partner – the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park,” Barnes said.

Remnants of the Ohio & Erie Canal can be found
along the towpath and throughout the Cuyahoga
Valley National Park.  This is one of the locks
located near the Boston Store.

“There is also, the
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad which operates an extremely popular ‘Bike Aboard’ program.  For $3, cyclists can ride the towpath in one direction, put their bicycle on the train and then ride the train back to their car from there.  It runs Wednesday through Sunday.” Barnes added.

Conservation efforts to restore the natural beauty surrounding the towpath trails, and to protect against the encroachment of development, began over 40 years ago when individuals united together with state and local governments to save the precious greenspace and to preserve the area’s history.

Visitors to the towpath are rarely far from the Cuyahoga
River, which was an essential part of the Ohio & Erie
Canal system.  Most of the towpath is flat and it is
either paved or has crushed limestone on it.

“The 33,000-acre national park was established in 1974, and we worked to restore our section of the trail, which opened in 1993.  The designation of National Heritage Area makes funding available for restoration of other sections.  Local Metropark systems have taken on restoring and maintaining the sections within their own jurisdictions,” Barnes said.

“There are a lot of wonderful trails in Ohio, the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail is a great example of how groups working together can help to maintain an asset and accomplish something that can promote the health and wellness of the people of northeast Ohio,” she added.

A concerted effort by citizens, local, and
state government over 40 years ago
helped to save the greenspace and the
history that visitors can now
appreciate and enjoy today.

Cyclists who ride the towpath should find it to be a very pleasant and enjoyable experience, but Barnes recommends that there are a few things that they should keep in mind that will make it a safer experience for them and others.

“Cyclists should always wear a helmet, stay to the right and warn others that they are passing.  They should also yield to horses since there are a few places that intersect with horse trails, and they should slow down in congested areas where there may be people walking, who have strollers, and young children with them,” Barnes said.

The towpath is one of the longest and most popular trails in
Ohio.  Visitors can easily get on to it from numerous access
points along the way.

“Also, if cyclists are listening to music, they should keep one ear open to hear what is going on around them and they should be careful when coming up to wooden bridges or boardwalks since they can be slippery when wet,” she added.

In addition to dozens of things to see and do in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, there are some current and future amenities that should be of great interest to cyclists who want to have an extended visit there.

The towpath is especially enticing to cyclists, along with
those who would prefer to run or walk on it throughout
the year, but it is particularly popular on weekends and
holidays in the warmer weather months.

“There are plans for more infrastructure for those who would like to take multi-day trips.  We already have 6 back-country campsites that cyclists can use for this purpose, which are located just north of the Boston Store Visitor Center.  They are accessed by a short connector trail from the towpath.  They can be reserved through the
Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park,” Barnes said.

Whether it is for a short or long visit, cyclists who come and ride the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath trail will likely not leave without wanting to come back again in the future and it should definitely be on the 'must do' list for those who have never been there and experienced it for themselves.

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