In the early nineteenth century, politicians and businessmen in Ohio lobbied for a canal to connect the state with the vital economy of the East Coast. Completed in 1832, the 308-mile Ohio & Erie Canal formed a link between Lake Erie and the Ohio River, becoming the first inland waterway in the United States to connect the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico. The canal prospered from the 1830s until the 1860s, when railroads began to assume the role of freight and passenger transportation in the region. In 1913, the Great Dayton Flood severely damaged the canal’s functionality and led to its abandonment. Today, disconnected watered portions of the canal still exist, providing scenic value, storm water detention, and water supply to local industries.
In the mid-1980s, two local non-profits led a campaign to adapt the former industrial waterway for recreational use, while preserving the canal’s cultural and natural resources. The Ohio & Erie Canalway encompasses three transportation routes loosely following the path of the original canal. These include a 110-mile designated scenic byway extending south from Cleveland to New Philadelphia, a 51-mile scenic historic railway traveling from the outskirts of Cleveland to Akron, and the Towpath Trail, an over 90-mile footpath traveling from Cleveland to Zoar that closely follows the original towpath used by mules to pull canal barges. The routes pass through a variety of settings, including Cuyahoga River industrial sites in Cleveland, Cuyahoga National Parklands, and the vegetated banks of the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas rivers. The richly interpreted Towpath Trail varies in surface materials (e.g., asphalt, crushed limestone, boardwalk) and offers pedestrians and cyclists access to birding and wildlife viewing. It is intended to eventually connect with a network of nearby pedestrian trails.
A four-mile stretch located in Valley View was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and in 1996, the National Park Service designated The Ohio & Erie Canalway as a National Heritage Area.