Go With the Towpath


Now that I’ve achieved two of my fall hiking goals — the SMP Spree and the County Line Trail — it’s time to finish my last goal for the year: to finish hiking the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The Towpath is over 85 miles long, stretching from the flats in Cleveland south to Tuscarawas County, about 5 miles south of Fort Laurens State Memorial. The portion found within the CVNP covers about a quarter of the route, just about 21 miles that I have hiked in 9 segments over the years. Well, only 8 segments so far, as today’s hike left me with only one section left to explore.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Anyway, at this point of the year, when I have a full day open for hiking, the Towpath goes straight to the top of my list for trails to tackle for the day. So this morning I drove to the Canal Exploration Center, parked in the empty lot, and started walking south as the sun rose.

This has been the first Towpath section that has been lacking in peace, since morning rush hour traffic streamed past on Canal Road, with only the open canal and no buffering tree line between us. The other side of the Towpath bordered fields, wetlands, and occasional views of the river, which helped, but I still felt the stress of that mad flow of busy-ness going by.


I did learn a little more about canal engineering on this part of the Towpath, though. In one spot, both the Towpath footbridge and the canal crossed a local stream, Tinkers Creek. How did the canal pass over another body of water? Easy: an aqueduct (the layer under the footbridge above)! OK, it’s not the classic Roman aqueduct design with arches and beautiful stonework. It doesn’t span a great river, and it doesn’t need to be fancy. But yes, it is deep enough (3 feet or so) for actual canal boats to use it (if they still were being used).


Further along the trail, I found Alexander’s Mill, an old grist mill constructed in 1855 that still used water power to grind wheat until 1969. It has many of the classic mill features: a mill pond with a lock into the canal, a side channel where a horizontal turbine harnessed the water’s power to turn the millstone, a tailrace to feed the water back into the canal, and a sluice gate that opens to a short passage to the Cuyahoga for overflow. As a baker, I enjoyed getting a technical glimpse of how wheat and other grains used to be processed.

By the time I turned around to head back to the car, the rush hour traffic had started to fade, and I eventually encountered a couple other people on the trail. (It had been deserted on the journey out.) And once I reached the car and had a scone break (need to refuel!), I was ready to hit more trails.

But that’s another story…



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