Only finishing touches remain for a new and imposing gateway that has been years in the works on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail between Stark and Tuscarawas counties.
The $1.2 million Aqueduct Bridge — described as a critical link for the trail — spans the Tuscarawas River, west of Bolivar and east of Shepler Church Road. It connects Tuscarawas County with the bulk of the trail in Summit, Cuyahoga and Stark counties.
The three-span bridge is 213 feet long and 14 feet wide. It weighs 96 tons.
Sitting north of state Route 212 and south of a railroad trestle on the county line, it was built on the same site as a now-gone wooden aqueduct that carried canal boats over the Tuscarawas River in the 1800s. In fact, old stone abutments still stand on the two river banks.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the now-open bridge was held in May, and a small ribbon-tying ceremony for bridge partners occurred last week. A public dedication will be scheduled for sometime in the spring, said Jared Shive, a spokesman for the Stark County Park District.
Black Horse Construction Inc. of Norton built the bridge under the direction of the park district.
The project required the relocation of Drummond’s aster, a state-threatened plant. About 500 of the plants were moved a year ago to locations along the trail in Stark County.
About 75 percent of the money for the span came from a federal transportation grant arranged years ago by then-U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Navarre. Stark parks and the Tuscarawas County commissioners each provided $76,000 in matching funds.
Discussion already has begun about developing a new trailhead parking lot on the Tuscarawas County side of the bridge. The nearest parking is a small lot at state Route 212 and Riverland Road in Stark County’s Bethlehem Township or in the village of Bolivar.
Completing the new bridge “is another milestone in developing the Towpath Trail,” said Dan Rice, president and chief executive officer of the Akron-based Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition.
It represents the last county-to-county link necessary for trail completion and means hikers and bicyclists from Akron and Cleveland can reach Tuscarawas County, he said.
Rice said the new bridge should boost trail development in Tuscarawas County.
A 2.9-mile trail section runs from Fort Laurens State Memorial in Bolivar to Canal Lands Park near Zoar. Earlier this year, Tuscarawas County opened a 2.7-mile extension from Zoar to Zoarville and state Route 800.
About 200 volunteers helped build wooden boardwalks on that section. The extension was funded by state funds and local contributions. Just under a mile of trail was added in Bolivar.
Work is continuing on running the trail west from Bolivar to the new bridge and into Dover and New Philadelphia.
Portions of trail also remain under construction in Cleveland.
Stark park officials are trying to solve a trail problem on the Tuscarawas River levee in Massillon where a detour is needed.
To date, 85 miles of the 101 miles of the Towpath Trail are complete.
Rice said the goal is to complete the trail by 2020, if possible. It gets more than 2.5 million visitors annually.
To view a video of bridge construction, go to www.youtube.com/StarkParks.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.