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Friday, January 1, 2010

Inquisitive Visitor's Guide to the Ohio & Erie Canal and Towpath Trail

Welcome to the Inquisitive Visitor's Guide to the Ohio & Erie Canal and Towpath Trail. I started this site when I became interested in the history of the canal by virtue of my discovery of one of Northeast Ohio's greatest recreational assets - the Towpath Trail. I was amazed that the remnants of the most important transportation route in Ohio's early history had been left abandoned throughout the state for so long. As I craved more information, I became frustrated that there wasn't a site on the internet that contained all of the information I was looking for. So I took matters into my own hands and created this web site.
In 1827, the first canal boat was pulled along the Ohio & Erie Canal from Akron to Cleveland. By 1832, the canal was completed from Cleveland to Portsmouth, connecting Lake Erie to the Ohio River and providing the first water transportation route through the young United States from the North and East to the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, most of the canal no longer exists. In 1974, largely through the efforts of John F. Seiberling (D- Akron), the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area was established, protecting a large number of canal structures from the threat of urban progress. Even earlier, Ralph S. Regula (R- Navarre) realized the potential of the Towpath Trail through his Congressional district and set about preserving it for future use. His work led to the creation of the Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor (now called the Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canalway) in 1996 to protect what remains of the old canal and its structures through 4 counties in Northeast Ohio.
The most recognizable aspect of this project is the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which will ultimately run over 100 miles from Cleveland to New Philadelphia following the route of the original canal. In the summer of 2004, I discovered the Towpath and it became somewhat of an obsession with me. At first, I thought it was just a scenic, well maintained hiking/biking trail in Northeast Ohio. But I soon discovered it was so much more.
The Canal itself hasn't been used for travel since 1913 and most of it is dried up with only a large ditch marking its path. But the trail, originally used by mules to tow the canal boats along the canal, allows visitors to experience the rich history of the canal. Visitors can read informational waysides along the trail that tell the story of the canal and the areas it passed through. Many canal structures still exist and can be seen from the trail.
Ohio's history almost comes to life around you as you travel the route the early "canawlers" used to transport their goods. The trail meanders through scenic countryside like the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, cities like Akron and Massillon that were once major ports along the canal, and small towns like Canal Fulton and Peninsula whose size today belies their importance in the early days of the canal and who owe their very existence to the canal.
There are many ways to enjoy the Canal Corridor. The Towpath Trail is a multi-use route accessible to hikers, bikers, joggers, and horse riders. If you're the kind of person who doesn't like walking or riding bikes, then try traveling on the CanalWay Ohio National Scenic Byway - a road path that also follows closely the path of the Canal from Cleveland to Canal Dover. Or take a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad which runs from Cleveland to Canton with a number of depots on the way.
Once you've reached the end of the Canal Corridor, you're far from done discovering the canal. Many of the small towns south of New Philadelphia embrace their canal heritage through parks around prominent canal structures. Other remnants of the canal are not so easily spotted, but are out there nonetheless and can be found with a little exploring.
This site is my personal experience with the canal and Towpath Trail. I hope it will provide people with information about the historical and current aspects of the canal and possibly even interest people in getting out and enjoying it for themselves. I have explored the canal from Cleveland to Portsmouth and plan to post as much history and information on this site as I can. It's a work in progress and I welcome input from other fellow fans of the canal.
Please contact me with any information or questions you may have as well as any comments on the site by sending an email to dave@ohioanderiecanal.com. I'm not an expert, but I will help all I can. I'm Dave. Thanks for coming by.

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