Phases of Change: The Freedom Trail

By Megan Delong

Editor’s note: Sonia Potter, Digital Manager at The Devil Strip, is Nick Moskos’s stepdaughter. Potter was not involved in the commissioning, reporting or editing of this story and did not see it before publication.

Nick Moskos describes trails as “hallways with moments of tastiness.” Moskos is the Chief of Planning and Development for Summit Metro Parks (SMP). On the Freedom Trail, these tasty moments include wildlife, cyclists and the next phase of the Towpath Connection project. 

Spanning from the Summit County Line to Portage County, the Freedom Trail offers a diagonal route that, when connected to the Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail, would allow visitors over a hundred miles of car-free transportation. Being in the business of creating “super highways for bikes,” Summit Metro Parks wants to offer multiple public input opportunities throughout 2021 to help with the design of Phase Four of the construction. 

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Construction on the Freedom Trail has been in progress for over a decade and will continue over the next few years. Although funding and land ownership issues have caused the shifted timeline for the Freedom Trail, SMP has completed phases one and two and are currently working on Phase three.

While walking along the trail, visitors have the unique experience of hearing trains in the distance, a chance to stop and view the scenery or to appreciate the trail being separated from traffic. Being mixed use, the Freedom Trail can mean different things for different visitors: cyclists might enjoy the smooth pavement while residents in the neighborhood might value being able to take a short walk during their lunch break. Moskos and Lindsay Smith, the Marketing and Public Relations Manager for SMP, both believe that the Freedom Trail is something extraordinary. Moskos says that the trail is ultimately going to be a hallway through downtown Akron.  

“There are so many opportunities to celebrate history and so many opportunities to take people to places they’ve never been in Akron,” says Moskos.  Lindsay loves “that you can be in a rather populated area and yet when you’re on the trail, you feel like you’re kind of in the middle of nature for a lot of it.”

To prepare for the fourth and final phase, a feasibility study was conducted in 2015 to see if the Freedom Trail could even be connected to the Towpath. The Towpath and Freedom Trail connection that is planned for the final phase presented unique challenges like the rugged terrain of the Valley, the rail corridor and the neighboring community that the organization had to plan around. 

Along with making sure the trail was able to be continued through the neighborhood grid system, Summit Metro Parks focused on being American Disability Act (ADA) compliant every step of the way. Nick said that the organization completed a computer study to determine the slope of the future trail, since a certain grade would be too steep to comply. When it comes to being ADA accessible, a wheelchair’s limits are a good measure for getting accessible slopes on the trail.  

While planning any trail, Summit Metro Parks learns about population density for the proposed area and tries to understand resident needs.  

“How can we better serve that community,” Moskos asks. “Summit Metro Parks is, at its core, a conservation organization with the mission to provide safe, clean parks.” Whether residents walk or ride the trail, having the trail follow the rail corridor and enter into metropolitan areas can be a huge advantage for everyone involved. Smith is hoping that once the Portage County side of the Freedom Trail is completed, visitors will utilize the trail to travel between Kent State University and the University of Akron. She believes there are great opportunities for community connection between students, faculty and residents of the two areas. 

The Covid-19 pandemic caused a delay in the planning process for the Freedom Trail and is one of the reasons that the trail won’t be connected to the Towpath for a few years. But with outdoor activities being some of the only chances to get out of the house during quarantine, Summit Metro Parks has seen a significant increase in visitors to the parks, especially on the Freedom Trail. The parks had seen five million visitors in 2019, increasing that number to six million in 2020. They are already reaching those numbers in the first four months of 2021. With the pandemic, the organization is looking into future changes that visitors want to see on trails. According to Moskos, when SMP goes into planning they’re always asked for more trails and more connections to more places.  That’s what they need Akron’s help with. 

In 2021, the public will have multiple opportunities to have input on the Freedom trail while SMP is doing the design process for Phase Four. The first public comment period will begin May 3rd and run for two weeks. Check out summitmetroparks.org to provide feedback to the designers and construction professionals working on the final phase of the Freedom Trail by using the Project Updates page. 

Photos provided by Lindsay Smith, Marketing and Public Relations Manager for SMP. Used with permission. 

Megan Delong (she/her) is a resident of the Middlebury neighborhood, an avid painter, a feminist, an 80s movie watcher, and a go-to person for Akron resources.

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