Beginning Oct. 2, downtown Akron gained a greater connection to the world class amenity running through its backyard – the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Through support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Akron Community Foundation, Downtown Akron Partnership (DAP) has improved the Towpath experience while building a stronger connection to dining, shopping and recreation destinations in downtown Akron. Towpath cyclists, walkers and joggers will find welcome signage, maps and wayfinding throughout the downtown corridor to encourage the exploration of the neighborhood.
The completion of the Towpath Trail in Summit County in 2012 was an excellent start to developing a more walkable, cycle-friendly community. DAP involvement and interest in the project began more than a year ago when DAP Clean and Safe Ambassadors
frequently assisted disoriented Towpath users who had lost their way on the trail. As the trail crosses through downtown, it intersects numerous streets, includes connector trails to parking and amenities, and looks and feels differently from the relatively closed, natural environment of the trail to the north.
Recognizing the value of inviting the Towpath community to downtown and the value of encouraging downtowners to use the trail, the team went to work facilitating focus groups with stakeholders to determine how to best make the downtown/Towpath connection. The Akron Community Foundation kick started the effort through a grant to DAP for two entryway signs and the creation of a Towpath map. (PDF of map)
Following the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation-inspired Jane’s Walk walking audits in May, and DAP participation in the Knight-supported 8-80 Doable Cities forum in June; the project gained a greater sense of urgency in order to push walkability and cycling environments as key indicators of healthy, vibrant cities.
Through further support from the Knight Foundation, an additional four welcome signs and 85 concrete adhesives with the Ohio & Erie Canalway logo and arrows will mark the trail, particularly at intersections.
“The Towpath Trail is a world class amenity, and this effort is a great step in further positioning downtown Akron as the pinnacle destination along the trail,” said Josh McManus, Akron program director for the Knight Foundation. “Inviting the millions of visitors to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to stay and play in Downtown Akron supports small businesses, attractions and local events.”
The partnership collaborated with the city of Akron, AMATS and the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition in the design, location selection and installation of the project. Each brought to the project their own areas of expertise and perspectives.
“We are very excited to partner with Downtown Akron Partnership, the city of Akron, Akron Community Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on this important signage and wayfinding for the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in Downtown Akron,” said Dan Rice, president and CEO of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition. “More than 2.5 million hikers and bicyclists utilize the Towpath Trail and the signage and welcome signs will enable residents to patronize our shops and visit attractions. Nowhere else along the trail are so many opportunities available so near to the trail.”
The city of Akron partnered on the project for the installation of the signage. Signs were built by local sculptor John Comunale of Akron and Prospect Ornamental of Silver Lake.
“The new directional and destination signage will let our Towpath hikers, bikers and walkers know where the downtown amenities are should they want to veer off the path and take advantage of the numerous dining, recreation, and entertainment venues in our vibrant Downtown,” said Mayor Don Plusquellic. “These markers serve as reassurance that the user is on the right path, and that there are many family-friendly and fun places to visit (Canal Park, Akron Civic Theatre, Lock 3, Library, Art Museum, and more), and even more places to eat, just a short walk from the path.”
But the work is not finished. DAP and project partners want to push downtown Towpath development forward into the future to encourage greater use of the Towpath Trail by dog walkers, innovative strategies to deter Canada goose nesting behaviors, public art, programming the waterway as an asset in downtown and tying in the downtown connection to the Freedom Trail.
The signage is intended as a two-way invitation. While it introduces trail users to downtown, it also acquaints downtown workers, residents and visitors to the Towpath and its proximity to nature. In less than 10 minutes, an amateur cyclist can hear the roar of 7,500 visitors at a RubberDucks game at Canal Park Stadium and the howl of coyote just north of the Mustill Store.
“We are so pleased to be part of this effort. We hope the new maps and signage will encourage downtowners to run, bike and hike, while connecting those who already take advantage of our incredible park system to enjoy the vibrancy and economic activity of downtown Akron,” said John T. Petures, Jr., president and CEO of Akron Community Foundation.