BARBERTON: Work on a pedestrian bridge that connects the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail to downtown Barberton is officially underway.

Barberton officials Friday were joined by several county leaders to break ground at the worksite, in the shadow of the arching Wooster Road bridge.

The project — which will give 300,000 towpath trail users access to several city amenities — “adds to and improves the quality of life for our residents and towpath users,” Mayor William Judge said.

Summit County Executive Russ Pry said Summit County was the first in the state to complete its part of the statewide north-south towpath, and since has made it a goal to connect various central business districts to the popular path.

In some places — like Akron and Peninsula — the trail already goes through the heart of town. But in other areas, waterways, busy streets or challenging landscapes stop hikers and bikers from slipping off the trail to grab a bite or visit other attractions.

Barberton’s section of towpath follows a narrow strip of land between the canal and Tuscarawas River. The connector bridge will cross the Tuscarawas and bring trail users to the southeast corner of downtown and a quick walk to restaurants, retail stores, two theaters, the library and the city’s crown jewel, Lake Anna Park, which hosts concerts, festivals and other activities throughout the summer.

“These types of communities are what towpath users are looking for,” said Dan Rice, president of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, which chipped in $80,000 toward the building of the bridge.

The city will put $225,000 toward the cost of the $550,000 bridge. The rest is being picked up by local groups, civic donations and other non-federal grants.

Keith Shy, director secretary of Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, said his organization’s role has been to encourage communities to take the step Barberton is taking.

“There aren’t a lot of communities right on the trail, but there isn’t a community in Summit that doesn’t want to be connected to the trail,” Shy said.

Summit County has contributed $1.5 million toward building the towpath through Summit, and their clout has attracted an additional $19 million from various funding sources, the coalition’s Rice said.

“Summit is the only county in Ohio that provides this kind of leadership,” he said.

Barberton resident Josh Gordon brought his 6-year-old son, Luke, to Friday’s ceremony.

They aren’t towpath users yet, “but we will be now,” Gordon said.

“I can see us walking the towpath, coming downtown to eat, then getting back on the towpath,” he said. “It’s going to be excellent for Barberton.

“People have always told me about how great Barberton was as a community,” said Gordon, who moved to town 10 years ago. Things like the connector bridge “are bringing that back. The city is doing great things.”

The Gordons were among about 80 people gathered for the groundbreaking.

Mayor William Judge invited them back in May for an expected dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.