Bob Downing

BRECKSVILLE: Two Summit County trail projects were hailed as gold-medal winners on Thursday by the Greater Cleveland Trails and Greenways Conference.

The Freedom Trail being developed by Summit Metro Parks and Barberton’s Magic Mile/connector trail to the Towpath Trail were chosen among the top trail and greenway projects in Northeast Ohio.

The first phase of the Freedom Trail extends 4¼ miles from Southeast Avenue in Tallmadge to Middlebury Road in Kent along an old rail corridor. It cost $1.1 million.

The trail has been extended two miles to the west to Eastwood Avenue in North Akron. That cost about $750,000.

The trail is being extended two miles to the University of Akron campus. That extension will cost an additional $2.7 million. The plan is to connect the trail to the Towpath Trail at the southern edge of downtown Akron when the fourth leg is completed.

In 2015, Barberton unveiled its Magic Mile, a one-mile designated path that guides Towpath Trail visitors through downtown Barberton to Lake Anna and back to the trail.

It was an initiative of the Barberton Community Foundation and was sponsored by Medical Mutual, which contributed $75,000 for signs. It is marked by an arch, utility pole banners and Magic Mile arrows painted in purple on the sidewalks. The total cost with landscaping and other improvements could be $2 million.

Earlier, Barberton had built a $550,000 120-foot pedestrian bridge that allows Towpath Trail users to cross the Tuscarawas River and reach the Robinson Avenue bridge, as the first step to getting trail users into the downtown area.

Before that project was completed, Towpath Trail users could not easily access downtown Barberton because the trail was tucked between the Tuscarawas River and the old Ohio & Erie Canal with active rail lines nearby.

Both projects will help boost access to the Towpath Trail and that’s important, said Dan Rice, president and CEO of the Akron-based Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition. “It is a great honor to be recognized,” he said of the two projects.

The other winning projects were the Cleveland Foundation’s Centennial Trail that will connect the Towpath Trail to Lake Erie in the Flats area of Cleveland; the Black River Bikeway in Lorain County; the city of Lakewood’s Promenade and Solstice Steps on Lake Erie; a family bicycle program at Canterbury Elementary School in Cleveland Heights; and the trail-building volunteers of Cleveland Metroparks.

The Centennial Trail was selected as the top trail project by a panel of judges.

Local projects that won silver awards are:

• The Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s East Rim Trail that is open to mountain bikers (a first in Summit County).

• Two special underground grated crossings on Summit Metro Parks’ Bike & Hike Trail. The crossings in Boston Heights are designed for migrating salamanders to safely cross the trail without being killed or injured. They cost $18,000 to install.

• The 1.3-mile hike-bike trail at Nimisila Reservoir in the city of Green.

• The Towpath Trilogy running series including the Towpath Marathon in the Cuyahoga Valley park.

• The Burning River Endurance Run and Relay staged by Western Reserve Racing. It has raised more than $10,000 for trails in the Cuyahoga Valley and Summit and Cleveland metro parks.

A total of 36 trail and greenway projects in Summit, Medina, Cuyahoga, Lorain, Geauga, Tuscarawas and Trumbull counties were nominated for the biennial awards.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.