This year, news outlets have spotlighted the Cuyahoga River as we celebrated 50 years of recovery since the last river fire. Now it is time to become more acquainted with the river. You can do so by exploring it from vantage points along the Towpath Trail.
Why does the towpath offer good places for river viewing? Historically, the towpath provided a path for mules and horses to pull boats along the Ohio & Erie Canal. Between Akron and Cleveland, the canal ran next to the river and drew water from it.
Today, the Towpath Trail is the central feature of the Ohio & Erie Canalway, a national heritage area. It is a relatively flat trail with a firm surface for walking and bicycling. From south to north, Summit Metro Parks, the National Park Service, and Cleveland Metroparks manage sections of the trail along the Cuyahoga.
The Little Cuyahoga River and canal come together at Lock 15 in Akron. Mustill Store, a historic grocery operated as a museum, sits adjacent to the lock. Continuing north, the towpath and canal follow the Little Cuyahoga until they join the main stem of the river in Cascade Valley Metro Park.
A major project for the recovery of the Cuyahoga River creates a short, but steep detour just north of Lock 15. Akron Waterways Renewed! is constructing the Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel to add capacity to the sewer system.
During heavy rains, runoff mixes with sewage in old sewer pipes. This mix spills into the river without being treated. The tunnel will store the mix, releasing it slowly to the treatment plant.
Continuing north, the Towpath Trail passes the Akron Water Reclamation Facility where sewage is treated. It then enters Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The National Park Service has new exhibits along the 20 miles of towpath in the park. In addition to featuring the canal, they explore the Cuyahoga River, wildlife, farming and people who have influenced the valley.
Lock 29 in Peninsula and Station Road Bridge trailhead are two stops where exhibits aid river viewing. A model in Peninsula shows how boats traveled over the river in an aqueduct.
An exhibit near the trailhead restrooms describes the relationship between the river and community. It shares how the Valley Railway changed the course of the river and erased the peninsula that gave the town its name.
Exhibits at Station Road Bridge trailhead highlight the fire and river recovery. Bald eagles have nested nearby since 2006, an indicator of recovery. Over the next few years, significant projects between Peninsula and Station Road will continue recovery.
One project expected to start in late summer will remove the Brecksville dam to restore natural water flow.
This dam feeds river water into the canal. In the future, a pump will fill this role. North of the national park, six miles of Towpath Trail follow the canal and river through Cleveland Metropark’s Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation. At Harvard Avenue in Cleveland, the trail shifts away from the canal to avoid heavy industry.
The northernmost section of Towpath Trail will rejoin the canal and river at Canal Basin Park, the historic terminus of the canal in Cleveland’s flats. Construction of this section is just getting underway.
Planning and constructing the Towpath Trail between Harvard Avenue and Canal Basin Park has been incredibly challenging. As of this summer, all sections are either built or under construction. They provide some wonderful river-viewing opportunities. Here are three highlights:
• The trail between Steelyard Commons and Literary Avenue in Tremont is expected to open later this month. It runs along the western rim of the valley and includes an overlook of industry along the river.
• ODOT constructed a short section of trail when it replaced the I-90 Innerbelt Bridge. It includes a river overlook and parking near Sokolowski’s University Inn. The trail follows the river’s edge on Scranton Peninsula. It was built as part of a project to improve river fish habitat.
• Whether you pick a short or long route, you will have opportunities to view the Cuyahoga River. To help you plan your visit, each park agency that manages the Towpath Trail provides online information.
The Ohio & Erie Canalway website — www.ohioanderiecanalway.com — provides comprehensive information. Before visiting the trail, check for construction alerts and remind yourself about trail courtesy.
Vasarhelyi is chief of interpretation, education and visitor services for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.