The Ohio & Erie Canal was a technological marvel. The inland waterway incorporated a series of sandstone locks that enabled boats to climb differences in elevation along the Continental Divide. The steepest section of the canal was between Akron and the Little Cuyahoga River. In a single mile, 15 locks, or "steps," were necessary. Canal boats, which were pulled by mules on the towpath, made it possible to ship goods from the Great Lakes (Lake Erie) to the Gulf of Mexico (via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers). Locally, the canal, which opened between Cleveland and Akron in 1827, can be directly credited with the growth of Akron. The city's population swelled thanks to the bustling activity surrounding the tight bundle of canal locks.
By 1880 the canal's significance was in decline due to the introduction of railroads. After the flood of 1913 the canal was abandoned – less than 100 years after it opened, and for decades the canal was largely forgotten about or ignored. The concept of restoring the towpath for use as a multipurpose trail began to emerge in the 1980s, and the first section of the Towpath Trail opened in 1993.
Northern Summit County: Discover the beauty of
Cuyahoga Valley National
Park (CVNP) along the
Towpath Trail in northern Summit
County. From the trail, you can make
connections to natural and historic
sites as well as to the Cuyahoga Valley
Scenic Railroad at boarding stations along the way.
Be sure to stop by NPS visitor centers in Boston, Peninsula and Hunt Farm. In Boston, one of Summit County's oldest settlements, you can take a hike over
to the magnificent 65-foot Brandywine Falls, located just about a mile west of
the Towpath Trail, or spend a night in the National Park at the Stanford House. Continue your journey south to the charming village of Peninsula, an original canal "seaport town" and a popular trailhead stop.
Wander through history in Deep Lock Quarry Metro Park. Then, the towpath becomes a boardwalk over Beaver Marsh, a State Watchable Wildlife location, just north of the Ira Road Trailhead. Birdlife here is abundant and showy, and helps demonstrate why Outdoor Photographer named CVNP one of the Top 25 places in the world for nature photography. As you head towards Botzum—and the southern boundaries of the National Park—you'll find a natural gateway to the city of Akron.
Central Summit County (City of Akron): North of the Big Bend Trailhead,
a bronze statue of an ancient
traveler marks the terminus of
the trail used to carry canoes from the
Cuyahoga across the Continental Divide
to the Tuscarawas River, which in 1785
was the boundary reserving to native
people in perpetuity the territory west of the Portage.
The Little Cuyahoga River provides a habitat for aquatic wildlife and birds. Frogs and salamanders mate and lay eggs in the pools that collect in the flood plains. Native trees include cottonwood, sycamore, elm and silver maple. Wildflowers abound along the trail.
New residences creep into sight at Memorial Parkway, as the trail parallels the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which has a station at Northside on Ridge Street. One of Akron's earliest buildings is the Mustill Store (1850), home of Cascade Locks Park Association. On weekends April through October, enjoy the exhibits of canal life in early Akron.
The Northside Arts District is east of the trail between North Street and Quaker. The Ramada Hotel is at old Lock 5. In Downtown, the towpath splits at Bowery, near the 1929 Akron Civic Theatre. Water rushes through newly reconstructed Lock 4. The city's Lock 3 hosts 200,000 concertgoers annually. At Lock 2, Canal Park is home to the Akron Aeros. The Richard Howe House, home of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, is at Lock 1. Downtown abounds with restaurants and clubs.
South of Exchange is a distinctly industrial environment, including the buildings of Canal Place—the former B.F. Goodrich factory complex—the largest such assembly of factory buildings in the U.S. during World War II, when synthetic rubber was developed here.
Summit Lake, once part of the Indian portage, has a "floating towpath," a throwback to the original when mules pulling canal boats had to step into the lake
to get boats to the other shore. Near the southern terminus of the Portage Path, also marked by a statue, was Young's Hotel, built on Nesmith Lake in 1850. It operated until recent decades.
Southern Summit County: Though somewhat less traveled than sections to the north, the Towpath Trail is no less beautiful, historic or enjoyable as
it passes through Barberton, New Franklin and Clinton before reaching the Stark County line.
In Barberton, showy shrubs and wildflowers flourish. The Tuscarawas River and water-filled canal provide habitat for beavers, muskrats, several varieties of turtles and frogs, and great blue herons, which may be seen stalking fish.
The last completed stretch of the trail in Summit County—between Snyder Avenue and Eastern Road in Barberton—was dedicated in May 2012. The newest section includes the longest bridge managed by Metro Parks, Serving Summit County. It spans the Tuscarawas River and the old canal.
From Barberton into New Franklin, between Eastern and Center roads, the trail is built on land leased by Metro Parks from PPG Industries. Over the last 30 years, PPG has worked to restore the natural environment here, first welcoming back wildlife and now hikers, runners and cyclists.
In Clinton, the rich, saturated soil of the river floodplain supports wildflowers from spring to fall, luring a variety of insects including many butterflies. Trees that thrive in wet areas—hackberry, elm, silver maple and swamp white oak—are abundant here, too.