The Living Canal
Tucked away along Ohio's historic canalway is a wealth of noteworthy destinations waiting to be discovered.
Contact the following organizations for more information on the hundreds of destinations and events throughout the Ohio & Erie Canalway.
Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, 330/434-5657, www.ohioeriecanal.org
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 440/546-5991, www.nps.gov/cuva
Ohio Canal Corridor, 216/520-1825, www.ohiocanal.org
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park in northeast Ohio is known for attracting nature lovers from throughout the region. Lesser known is the web of trails, parks and unique destinations that surround it, stretching north to the Cleveland lakefront and south to New Philadelphia in Tuscarawas County. This is the Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canalway, one of only 27 locations in the country designated by Congress as a National Heritage area, and rightly so.
The Ohio & Erie Canal was one of the main catalysts for a growing state - and a growing country - in the 1800s. This inland waterway once connected Lake Erie with the Gulf of Mexico, via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, making Ohio crucial to people and products that shaped a nation.
Now, the Ohio & Erie Canalway exists as a guide that traces the route used by canal boats, revealing a unique landscape and story along the way. Working in partnership with park districts, local government, corporations, nonprofit organizations and service organizations, the Ohio & Erie Canalway seeks to encourage resource conservation and celebrate the canal legacy while stimulating community and economic development. The project is coordinated by three nonprofit organizations: the management entity, Ohio & Erie Canalway Association; the Akron-based Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition; and the Cleveland-based Ohio Canal Corridor. They've come together to restore and maintain this scenic and historically significant part of the state for future generations.
Museums and visitor centers - including the Heritage Museum in Canal Fulton, the Canal Visitor Center in Peninsula and Fort Laurens State Memorial in Bolivar - offer in-depth looks at topics such as the lifespan of the canal and Revolutionary War history. Some of the projects in development include creating marketing materials, interpretive programs and events; and expanding a network of signs to make the region more accessible and user friendly and to identify historically significant locations.
There are three main ways for visitors to experience the canalway: driving the National Scenic Byway, riding aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, or hiking (or biking or running) the Towpath Trail.
The original 20 miles of the trail, within Cuyahoga Valley National Park, first opened in 1993. These miles quickly filled with outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. In 1996, a plan was formed to expand the trails as far as possible, encompassing 101 miles when complete. So far, 71 of these miles have been brought back to life by the many organizations and partnerships that have formed with one goal in mind: getting the word out about these resources in our own backyards.
More than simply a means to enjoy scenic settings and recreational opportunities, the Towpath Trail runs through the heart of the Ohio & Erie Canalway's rich past. Winding through historically vital and culturally diverse parts of northeast Ohio, it provides visitors with a closer look at the American Indian civilizations, pioneer settlements, and the rise of the industrial era and railroad history that all have a presence in the Ohio & Erie Canal National Heritage Canalway.
The Industrial City
The northern section of the canalway runs through what was once an industrial center. In 1826, before cross-country railroads and interstate highways existed, the Ohio & Erie Canal began as a means to support Western expansion. In downtown Cleveland, the Cuyahoga River - and the story of the canalway - begins. So much of the industrial boom of the 1800s is evident in the bridges, buildings, factories and neighborhoods of Cleveland.
The mixture of urban landscapes, parks and scenic cemeteries is evidence of the variety of influences that shaped the city's development.
The canalway continues through parts of the new Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation, located in the villages of Cuyahoga Heights and Valley View. Here, visitors will find wildlife management areas and opportunities for fishing, picnicking and hiking along a 7.2-mile all-purpose trail.
The Leonard Krieger Canalway Visitors Center in Cuyahoga Heights offers more information about the 320 acres that make up the newest addition to the Cleveland MetroParks' Emerald Necklace. The area includes trails that make their way past industrial relics and through natural meadows, and tell the story of how nature, industry and immigration coincided.
The Cuyahoga Valley
Endless outdoor activities can be enjoyed throughout the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and the cultural and historical sites that dot the landscape add to the enriching experience of exploring this region.
Locks were once a necessity along the canal to raise and lower the water level as much as 8 feet to lift and lower boats. The Canal Visitor Center in the Cuyahoga Valley resides next to one of only two operating locks left on the canal today. Lock 38 still runs on weekends in the summer and fall, and the visitor center holds historical exhibits within the walls of a Greek Revival-style home from the canal era.
The settlement of the Western Reserve still has a place in the character of many of Ohio's northern communities. Settlers from Connecticut made their mark on this part of the state, where many structures have been restored to their former glory. The Frazee House in Valley View, just south of the Canal Visitor Center, was built in 1826, the same year the northern part of the canal was being built. As one of the oldest houses in Cuyahoga Valley, it's an excellent example of Federal-style architecture and features exhibits on Western Reserve History.
As one of the convenient ways to travel through the Ohio & Erie Canalway, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad lets passengers experience an old-fashioned form of transportation that will also take them to a number of destinations. Autumn is an idyllic time to sit back and view the foliage on the way to Hale Farm and Village - a living-history farm in Bath - or to Quaker Square in Akron for an old-fashioned shopping trip.
The Portage Path and Summit
Boating, swimming and fishing are popular summer activities along the Portage Path. Year-round, visitors can hike the trails that were, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the focus of many significant moments in Ohio's past.
The Portage Path follows the route that American Indians used to carry goods between the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas Rivers. The area became a trading post and a rendezvous point for American troops in the War of 1812. Today, just east of the Valley Railway, the path is commemorated with a life-sized bronze statue designed by an American Indian sculptor.
On the way to Akron, stop at the Mustill Store and House, open weekends April through October. These charming structures have been restored to reflect their heyday, when the canal was booming and stores of this kind thrived along its banks. This is just one of many remaining pieces of Portage Path and Summit County's connection to the canal.
The settlement of the city of Akron began as a result of the Ohio & Erie Canal. Today, the Towpath Trail is continuously being developed and is a great way to explore the locks, parks and cultural institutions - including the Akron Art Museum, Civic Theatre and the National Inventors Hall of Fame - of this multifaceted city.
The Canal Villages
Opportunities for fishing, canoeing, biking, shopping, dining and much more abound along the southern part of the canalway and among the Canal Villages.
Experience the canal as previous generations once did by boarding the St. Helena III. Operated by the Canal Fulton Heritage Society, the 67-foot-long canal-era replica is pulled along by horses and is an example of the kinds of freight barges that once traversed these very waterways. Operating May through October, the tour heads from downtown Canal Fulton to Lock 4 Park and back.
Take in another unique feature of northeast Ohio at Jackson Bog State Nature Preserve, where endangered plants are protected by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Stroll along the boardwalk to explore this natural setting created by glaciers.
Following Massillon's Discovery Trail is an easy way for hikers and bikers to make their way through the abundant historical and cultural highlights of this quaint town. See the 30 period homes in the 4th Street Historic District or view the rich history of the town at the Massillon Museum. Be sure not to miss the Ohio & Erie Canal Mural, which depicts the canal as it was in the 1800s.
Even before the canal was built, Fort Laurens State Memorial, south of Bolivar, stood as an important outpost of the Revolutionary War Continental Army. Here, the Ohio Historical Society offers a museum filled with costumes, weapons and other military equipment. There's more history to discover a little farther south in the Village of Zoar, yet another site along the Ohio & Erie Canalway that was settled before the canal was built. In 1817, German Separatists formed a unique and picturesque community, where 10 restored buildings and an impressive garden are now available for tours.