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Towpath Trail Expansion, Summit Lake Improvements to Continue in 2020

photo of paddlers on Summit Lake
The Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition is working to revitalize Summit Lake.

In 2019, the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition and its partners made steady progress in efforts to connect the Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail, border to border, across Summit, Stark, Tuscarawas and Cuyahoga counties.

Nearly 50 miles of the bike, hike and walk trail have been strung together so far, with about 14 miles to go. 

But it’s not all easy going.

The coalition was awarded $500,000 in 2019 for a key quarter-mile stretch connecting Stark and Tuscarawas counties. That segment, which will be built in 2020, meant working with five individual property owners.

Work will continue in 2020 on many smaller trails as well, said Executive Director Dan Rice.

“We’re working on about 500 miles of connector trails whether it’s the Freedom Trail, the Rubber City Heritage Trail or the Veterans Trail,” he said. “There are a lot of regional trails going throughout Northeast Ohio and every year progress continues to be made on these trail projects.”

The organization also plans to work on a segment of the trail between Dover and Zoar in 2020.

In addition to the trail and canalway, Rice’s organization works to improve civic spaces.

In 2016, the coalition was awarded $5 million to revitalize and connect three neighborhoods along the Towpath Trail - downtown Akron, Park East and Summit Lake.

The grant came through a national initiative Reimagining the Civic Commons, which is a partnership between the JPB Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Summit Lake, once known as the city’s “waterfront playground,” drastically declined over several decades after being cut off from the city by the Innerbelt Freeway.

With the Civic Commons grant, the coalition worked closely with the city of Akron, Knight Foundation  and other partners to find out what kinds of amenities Summit Lake residents wanted there. Residents asked for safe water recreation for families, a place to gather outdoors and walking and picnicking areas.

A series of temporary improvements were made to test their effectiveness, Rice said. Now, looking ahead to 2020, Phase 2 of the Akron Civic Commons project will make many of those  improvements permanent, including a trail around the lake.

“We believe very strongly that everyone regardless of age, race, gender, education or experience deserves access to outstanding, accessible, equitable and welcoming public spaces,”  Rice said.  

Rice says the goal is to make the lake a major destination once again, benefiting both Summit Lake residents and users of the Towpath Trail.

Even so, Rice says the Towpath Trail offers more than weekend recreation.

“On an annual basis the Ohio & Erie Canal generates about $409 million in community and economic impact,” he said.

That includes everything from canoe and bike liveries to restaurants and bed and breakfasts. According to Rice, even housing developments located along the Towpath Trail increase in value as improvements are made.