The Ohio & Erie Canalway is a National Heritage Area designated by Congress in 1996 to preserve and celebrate the rails, trails, landscapes, towns and sites that grew up along the first 110 miles of the canal that helped America grow.
Annually, more than 2.5 million Americans find their way to the iconic 101-mile Towpath Trail running through the heart of the Ohio & Erie Canalway.
Congress authorized the designation of the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area thanks to the incredible dedication and leadership of Congressman Ralph Regula from the Navarre area.
Congressman Regula was familiar with the history of the Ohio & Erie Canalway and its impact on communities in Northeast Ohio and recognized the opportunity to celebrate and interpret this legacy for future generations.
Working in partnership with Allan Simpson, a reporter with The Canton Repository, Congressman Regula advocated for the conservation, interpretation and development of the Ohio & Erie Canalway with local elected officials and service organizations. Through their hard work and dedication, Congressman Regula and Mr. Simpson convinced the state of Ohio to deed over the canal lands in Stark County to the Stark County government in the 1960s.
Building on the early advocacy efforts of Congressman Regula and Mr. Simpson, Canalway Partners was founded in Cleveland to focus on the project in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, and the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition was founded in Canal Fulton to focus on Summit, Stark, and Tuscarawas counties.
Working together, Canalway Partners and Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition advocated for the congressional designation of the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area.
Since then, top accomplishments of the area include:
Ohio & Erie Canalway State and National Scenic Byway designation by the Ohio Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration
Development of over 90 miles of the multi-use Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, creating a framework that spurred the planning of over 500 miles of regional connector trails
Designation of the Cuyahoga River as an American Heritage River
Working together, we are creating a legacy for future generations in the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area. Since 1986, we have celebrated the natural, historical, and recreational resources along the historic Ohio & Erie Canalway from Cleveland to New Philadelphia.
In partnership and collaboration with our neighbors, community organizations, elected officials, units of government, and funders, we are developing the 101-mile Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and over 500 miles of connector trails, preserving historic buildings and conserving natural areas, and creating programming that enhances enjoyment of the area.
Looking to the future, we are eager to move forward with strategic plans that include:
Completing the 101-mile Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail from Cleveland to New Philadelphia.
The development of 500 miles of regional connector trails, including the Zoar Connection Trail, Rubber City Heritage Trail, Freedom Trail, and New Philadelphia Bicycle and Connectivity Plan.
Completion of Canal Basin Park in Cleveland.
Implementation of the Akron Civic Commons, Lock 3, and Summit Lake Parks in Akron along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.
Promotion of the natural, historical, and recreational resources along the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area.
For more information on the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area, please visit ohioanderiecanalway.com.
Dan Rice and Mera Cardenas are co-executive directors of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Association.
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Ohio & Erie Canalway celebrates 25 years of national heritage