words and photos by Anthony Boarman
This is a two-part Outdoor Gems series on the Towpath Trail, one of Northeast Ohio’s most prized recreational trails. The focus of Part I is on the less traveled portion of the Towpath from the Mustill Store to Wilbeth Road in Akron.
Biking season is officially here, which means means pumping up those winter-flattened tires, greasing up your chain and setting out for a ride on our beloved Towpath Trail. The Towpath is one of the unique outdoor features of Northeast Ohio. With the vision of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition and the partnership of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Summit, Cleveland, Stark, and Tuscarawas Metro Park systems, the Towpath provides more than 80 miles (which will soon be more than 100 miles) of trail for us to enjoy. The preservation and creation of the Towpath has been a massive undertaking, but it is the premier outdoor gem of Northeast Ohio’s park systems.
For those not familiar with our local history, this trail follows along the historic path that countless mules used to pull canal boats along the Ohio & Erie Canal from 1827 to 1913. The current trail that we walk, run and bike is almost identical to the trail that was used to pull boats full of goods along the canal. But according to the Ohio & Erie Canalway’s website, “the trail leaves the historic route where time has erased the old path.”
As I set out on my first bike ride of the season, I was met with the usual Towpath conflict, “Which way do I go?!” If you know anything about the trail, there are portions where you seem to be in a 5 pm Los Angeles traffic jam and then there are parts that are akin to driving on the innerbelt in Akron. So, I chose to take the path less traveled going south from the Mustill Store to Wilbeth Road. What I love about this route is not only the lack of human congestion, but also the diversity of scenery. You get a little bit of everything: myriad trees, footbridges with local art hanging on them, downtown Akron landscapes, rustbelt-era industrial buildings and the butt of most Akron jokes, Summit Lake.
Of all of the places that I stopped and enjoyed along my ride, Summit Lake was my favorite. Yes, Summit Lake has an iffy past, but I was impressed with the attention it has been given lately. In 2017, a beachfront area was created with picnic tables, umbrellas, fire pits,and chairs to enjoy the view that the lake provides. Along the trail around Summit Lake, Akron-based photographer Shane Wynn took photos of local residents that have been blown up and positioned along the path to give visitors a more personal look into the eyes of the people who call this area home.
There is so much more that I experienced along this 10-mile round trip ride. Consider giving this portion of the Towpath a chance next time you hop on your bike. Many passionate people have poured their hearts and creativity into this part of the trail and I cherish and appreciate those efforts.
Do you love biking? Do you love the Towpath? The Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition will be hosting “Towpath 50” on Saturday, September 15, 2018. This is a bicycling event to raise funds for the continued development, maintenance and activation of the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area, Towpath Trail and connector trails. Learn more at www.towpath50.com.
Anthony Boarman is a social studies teacher and coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He lives in Wallhaven with his wife Emily, daughter Sadie and his dog Ava. He is a lover of all things Akron. To check out more of his work, follow Anthony on Instagram at @aboarman.