The Big Idea: Knight Cities Challenge winner Explore-A-Foot

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Names: Brian and Tracy Davis
Occupation/s: Brian, Biomedical Engineer and Chairman, Department of Biomedical Engineering at UA; Tracy, Teacher in Euclid
Hometown: Cape Town, South Africa
Home Now: Moreland Hills
Contact info: explore.afoot@gmail.com and exploreafoot.com 

What’s your big idea?
Imagine going on walkabout in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park for three days. Are you up for a challenge? Do you think you can walk 26.1 miles along the towpath from Rockside Road in Independence, to the village of Peninsula and then on to Akron? Explore-A-Foot, a Knight Cities Challenge Winner wants you to try. They are ready to help you book an overnight or extended walking holiday in and around our city.

Leave your car at the railroad station in Independence and make your way down to Peninsula along the towpath. After 12.8 miles of walking, you’ll reach the Silver Fern Bed and Breakfast. You rest up and then down to the village for dinner. The next morning after a delicious home cooked breakfast, you take a deep breath and put on those walking shoes again. You have 13.3 miles to go before you rest in Akron. When you arrive in Akron, you will be refreshed, rejuvenated and will have experienced true beauty along the trails and paths of the CVNP.

You have some choices, either stay in Akron overnight, or head back to Independence on the train. Staying in the city would afford you a night on the town, which could include enjoying Pizza at Luigis, visiting the Blues Jazz Club, taking in an Indie movie or perhaps visiting one of the Brew pubs. You have many choices in accommodation on the towpath in the city: the beautifully renovated Cascade Lofts right next to the Mustill Store or the brand new Courtyard by Marriot a few minutes walk away. The next morning you’ll find yourself investigating the art stores, taking an Uber to the Stan Hywett Gardens, or visiting your Alma Mater. Later that afternoon, you make your way back to Independence on the Scenic railroad.

Oh – you live in Akron? No problem, in fact, even better! Begin your trip in Akron and walk to Peninsula. On day 2, if you prefer to spend some time at the quaint stores in Peninsula and rather do a circle hike to the Brandywine Falls and the Ledges that would a great way to spend your day before heading back to Akron on the train. Did I mention that long distance hikers now pay $3 to ride the train?

Why pursue it?
It is a way to bring locals into the National Park, a different way to showcase Akron to out of towners and people from other states. We may even be able to attract hikers from Germany. Did you know that Akron has a sister city in Germany – Chemnitz? It would be wonderful to see international hikers walking in our valley. Akron is an international destination. Once The Knight Foundation saw merit in our idea, it gave us the confidence and activation energy to begin our hiking company, Explore-A-Foot.

When did you know your big idea was a good idea?
We knew it was a good idea because we walked the towpath and stayed at the bed and breakfasts. We convinced friends of ours to walk with us and they were enthralled with the experience. However, there was one problem. We needed two cars or even three cars to transport our luggage or to allow us to return to original destination. Once we had decided to model it after a seven-day walking trip in Germany, in which they offered “cartage”, we knew it work. Hikers can opt to have luggage transported from one accommodation to the other. We had one more test, and that was could we get our sons, (millenials) to complete an overnight walk with us. They were the true test case. It was the ultimate family time experience. We would walk in twos and regroup every few hours, the time was there to talk about anything and everything. Yes, they had their phones out, using googlemaps to locate and suggest cutting across every river or golf course to reduce the walk by a mile or two, or look up information on the canal system, but that was a small price to pay for the experience of walking with them.

How do you hope your big idea helps Akron grow?
We love to walk, we hope to attract people who only have time for a short stay holiday, to do the same. We’d like to invite them to get off the interstate rather than “fly by”. The area offers a unique experience, a combination of trails passing through a national park, small villages and a large city. The added feature of the railroad through the park is the final piece in the puzzle. Who knows where the trails will lead, we plan to walk from Cleveland to New Philadelphia this summer, over 70 miles of trials right here in our back yard! Anyone interested in joining us?

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