Perhaps the sign just south of the Canal Lands Park trail head off Dover-Zoar Road should have been a clue, indicating that the section of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail proceeding toward New Philadelphia is suitable for hiking only.
But our group of four had already hauled bicycles all the way from Akron, taken them off the rack, checked the tires, filled water bottles and put on gloves, helmets and other gear. By mid-morning Sunday, we had ridden past the sign, one rider remarking in an offhand sort of way, “Did anybody read what it said back there?”
Perhaps the approaching storm clouds and rumbles of thunder should have been another clue as the trail deteriorated, roots and rocks requiring intense concentration on the path ahead. Mercifully, the trail detoured onto state Route 800, but we were soon routed to another unfinished section, this time an old railroad right of way that had been cleared of ties and ballast, leaving packed dirt.
Then it rained. After about four muddy miles or so on the railroad right of way, passing Dover Dam, we took paved roads into New Philadelphia, stopping at the Tuscarawas River before turning around. The strong consensus was to take Route 800 back toward the Zoar and the trail head.
The round trip of about 20 miles enabled me to say that I have now traveled the entire Towpath Trail, including sections under construction and routes approximating sections yet to be built, from downtown Cleveland to New Philadelphia.
Over the years, some rides have been easier than others. I’m looking forward to the day, probably in 2020, when the trail south from Zoar is completed, expected to be the final link. The other major project is to extend the trail through the Flats in Cleveland to Canal Basin Park, a $45 million project that will require land acquisition and dealing with environmental problems left by years of industrialization. In that section, the old canal bed has been obliterated.
Summit County’s 41-mile section of the trail, completed this spring, was the first to traverse an entire county, an accomplishment that shows what planning, engineering and teamwork can achieve. When the entire 101 miles are finished in 2020, total costs are expected to have reached about $141 million.
But it will be quite a ride. Already, the federally designated Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canalway, with the Towpath Trail as its spine, attracts 2.5 million visitors a year and has triggered some $300 million in public and private investment.
Personally, I’m looking forward to the day when the “hikers only” signs are taken down, indicating a smooth ride ahead.
— STEVE HOFFMAN