During my Ohio adventures of 2011 and 2013 I did some rides on the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath in and around Akron. I’ll present them stitched together as one ride, starting south of the city and heading north to Peninsula, and written as a guide rather than an account of my experiences.
The official guidebook for the canal towpath called the area to the south of Akron “Mesopotamia” because it’s between bodies of water. But it’s also fairly barren, with no services until the Portage Lakes area. The scenery along the canal is pretty but the towpath itself is exposed, so don’t expect shade.
The trail becomes paved as you enter Akron, rubber capital of the world and crystal meth capital of Ohio. When the towpath trail reaches Summit Lake, tribute is paid to the canal builders. Faced with a swampy body of water to cross, the canal built a wooden, floating towpath for the mules. So the present day trail crosses the lake surrounded by water. Its an impressive view, and there are observation areas along the floating trail. I spent several minutes here one afternoon soaking in the scenery.
The trail rises from the river as it enters downtown Akron. At the time I rode it the north and south sections of the towpath hadn’t been connected. I understand the missing link is now in place. In 2011 I had to got up some nosebleed climbs onto city streets. The detour wasn’t well marked. I got lost a couple of times, but I eventually found the towpath again. The trail is an urban park as it passes through the downtown, and at times the detour used sidewalks.
The name Akron comes from the Greek words meaning “high place”, which explains the trail bridge leading out of the downtown and down a 5 per cent grade for a mile. The reason for the 5 per cent grade is the steep ascent the canal had to make. You get an idea of what the canal builders faced just north of the downtown in the area called “Cascade Locks.” The canal needed 15 locks in little more than a mile to get boats up and down from Summit Lake. Once past this area, you are back on gravel and amid nature, following the Cuyahoga.
On my 2011 trip I hung out a few minutes at the small park at the bottom of the 5 per cent grade. This park celebrates the flour and oat mills that Akron was famous for in the 19th century.
Heading north, the trail follows the river. The scenery is wooded, aside from a brief stretch snaking through a suburb of Akron. I tried to see things off the towpath as well, for the trail has a lot of connecting paths, for walking and riding, that are worth taking. There’s a small heron nesting site a few hundred feet off the trail at Bath Road. One trip I rode partway up the mile climb to the Hale Farm, a 19th century ‘living museum.’ The climb was too much, so I turned around and stopped at Indigo Lake for a couple of minutes.
A highlight on the trail is the beaver marsh. The mammals helped reclaim an old auto dumping area, and the towpath, like at Summit Lake, floats over the marsh. There’s a observation area with seating, and on various trips I’ve seen turtles, fish, heron, and yes, a beaver. On a future trip I’d love to get here at dawn, simply to experience the place at daybreak.
If you feel thirsty or hungry as you approach Peninsula, there is a nice farmer’s market that provides fluid and fuel on a hot day. Its only a block from the trail, but be careful, as its busy with cars and bikes coming in and out of the lot.
Riverview Road is flat for much of its length, and it makes a nice change of pace from the towpath if you’ve done the trail more than once. Drivers seemed to respect bikes even though the shoulders are narrow. Just past the farmer’s market is a road leading to the Everett Covered Bridge. The short trail bans bikes, but I didn’t realize it. I dismounted when I saw the horses and no trouble was caused. Anyway, its a short walk from the connecting road.
Turning around here on Riverview Road might be a good idea. While its rideable into Peninsula, the climbs are tough. Better to take the flat and scenic towpath, passing by, and sometimes through, canal locks. Soon enough you are in Peninsula. Take some time to see the small town, the locks, the river, the train, Century Cycles, and the main eatery in town, the Winking Lizard.
Mention of the Winking Lizard reminds me of my rides with my friend Aaron. We explored the towpath together, riding from Akron to Cleveland in segments, and our rides always ended with a trip to the Lizard. Those were among the happiest days I’ve spent on a bike. Aaron also rode with me on the brutal day to Mosquito Lake State Park, and he was coughing up blood the next morning. If our friendship can survive that, I think it can survive anything.
When I was very down after my knee replacement, my weight was ballooning and my activity level was at zero. When other ‘friends’ were abandoning me, Aaron told me “I believe in you” and stuck with me. So my memories of the towpath are always happy ones, knowing that my buddy was there…. and was there for me when I needed him. I hope everyone who reads this blog has such a friend.