How improvements to Akron’s Towpath Trail will better connect residents with the city

Above: A simulated view of the northern entrance into downtown Akron via the Towpath Trail.  Photo Credit: Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition.

Katelyn Freil is communication coordinator for the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, which has received Knight Foundation support to improve public spaces in northeast Ohio with the goal of helping attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of civic engagement in Akron. Today Knight Foundation is announcing $510,200 in new support.

When people first experience Akron, many are surprised by the passion of those who live and work here. Passion for growth. Passion for arts and culture. Passion for community. This passion has led to a vision for Akron as a destination for talented young people and a connected community for residents of all backgrounds.

Above: The first connection made through iTowpath connects the Towpath Trail to the Akron Zoo. Signage, animal prints, and a new crosswalk were installed to create a safe and accessible connection. Photo Credit: Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition. 

The Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition helps build communities such as Akron, which is located in the heart of the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area. Since its establishment in 1989, the coalition has helped leverage more than $300 million of investment in communities throughout the National Heritage Area in Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark and Tuscarawas counties. Along with developing communities, the coalition develops the Towpath Trail, the centerpiece of the National Heritage Area which, when complete, will span 101 miles from Cleveland to New Philadelphia.

Akron and Summit County were the first city and county to complete the entire length of the Towpath Trail within their boundaries in 2012. With the Towpath Trail now complete, we are faced with questions about how the Towpath Trail can better serve the more than 2.5 million community members and visitors who use it each year. What connections and enhancements can we make to improve living throughout the neighborhoods?

With support from Knight Foundation, we launched a project called iTowpath to address these questions, developing the trail even further between the Northside District, downtown and Summit Lake, while advancing community and economic development in Akron. Initial funding in 2015 supported the collection of public feedback on the Towpath Trail and the implementation of projects. With the help of numerous community partners including Downtown Akron Partnership and the city of Akron, we completed multiple early projects, including connections to local attractions such as the Akron Zoo, bicycle service stations and enhancements to attractions along the Towpath Trail.

While incredibly important, those projects are just part of the plan. Our work is far from done. Knight Foundation will continue supporting iTowpath in 2016, allowing our organization and partners to complete more than 20 projects total. Projects for 2016 include wayfinding signage, more connections throughout Akron to destinations such as the Akron Art Museum, aesthetic improvements to the Towpath Trail underpasses, and the development of the northern gateway to downtown.

More than just the individual projects, iTowpath aims to bring people together, creating a more connected and active city for current and future residents. Whether working with talented young professionals to create a plan for an underpass, local artists to create inspiring murals, or organizations to create a better wayfinding system, we consider it an extreme honor to continue working with our passion-fueled partners on iTowpath with the support of Knight Foundation. We look forward to seeing how Akron continues to attract talented people, connect neighbors from the Northside District, downtown and Summit Lake, and transform the Towpath Trail into a beacon for civic engagement.

Contact Katelyn Freil via [email protected].

A young cyclist checks out a bicycle service station located in northern Akron, one of six stations installed in the first round of iTowpath projects. More bicycle locations are planned for the city. Photo Credit: Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition.