The Ohio & Erie Canalway was renewed as a National Heritage Area in 2014, what does this mean?

The legislation extends a prior authorization sunset date for the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area for an additional 7 years.

Many programs have such sunset dates.

Here’s how it works for us. Our original authorizing legislation (1996) included both a sunset date and a funding cap. Its passage opened the opportunity to compete with other designated national heritage areas for federal funding on an annual basis.

For us, the original sunset date was federal fiscal year 2012; the funding cap was $10 million. Other considerations included an obligation to match any awarded funds with a minimum $1 local match for every federal dollar. We could not request more than $1 million in any one year. All spending was restricted to meet the mission/goals of the heritage area as annunciated in the legislation and expressed in a Management Plan.

Basically, the sunset date restricts federal spending. Programs are prohibited to seek federal funds past any sunset date. The funding cap was previously extended to $15 million. Since 2012, we have faced an annual challenge of having our elected Congressional Representatives and/or Senators include short extension language into legislation so that we could continue to seek portions of the federal funding still available within our extended cap.

There are other consequences which accompany “sunsetting.” Congress determined that any national heritage area that faced an imminent sunset date would require an independent evaluation to ensure that the federal investment was meeting the goals of the legislation, including the obligation of local match funding. This evaluation would include a recommendation for future National Park Service involvement. In addition, sunsetting heritage areas were required to close out any awarded funds within 1 year of their official sunset date. Prior to this policy, all federal funds were treated as “5 year money” – in other words, we had 5 years to spend the funds. This change in operations placed a strain on our grantees to close their projects.

As we continue to move forward in the build-out of the Ohio & Erie Canalway, we will face the next challenge – extending the funding cap. The good news for us is that we have undergone the independent evaluation and the results are all positive. We have met and exceeded our requirements.


 

Does the Towpath Trail follow the original alignment of the Ohio & Erie Canal?

Yes.  And No.. The goal of the Towpath Trail is to follow the historic alignment whenever possible and practical.  There are some situations that require modifying its route to provide a safe visitor experience.

In Summit County, the Towpath veers from the original alignment as it exits the Cuyahoga Valley National Park heading south towards Akron.  The historic alignment in this section currently hosts a large sewer that feeds their treatment plant.  Given the cost considerations and other logistic hurdles, the practical option threaded a course through the treatment facility and along the Cuyahoga River.  Finding a way through downtown Akron provided another challenge; the Towpath Trail is not absolutely faithful to its history here, but provides a practical solution that opens a direct interface with their downtown. In Barberton, parts of the historic canal had been compromised; the solution there uses an easement on PPG property along the Tuscarawas River. To its credit, the floating Towpath through Summit Lake is an outstanding example of replicating that historic experience.

In Stark County, the historic canal route has been used for the building of Route 21 in the Massillon area.  Therefore, the Towpath Trail used the nearby levee.  In the same area, Stark Parks was unable to convince Norfolk Southern Railroad to allow for a crossing of an active track; therefore, the Towpath Trail diverts from the levee onto neighborhood streets (Fourth and Fifth) for a short distance into Oak Knoll Park to Walnut Road onto its bridge to connect to the original Towpath alignment.

In Tuscarawas County, I-77 was built atop a portion of the historic alignment in Bolivar. Today, the Towpath Trail uses an enhanced sidewalk treatment along Park Avenue to connect the Towpath from Fort Laurens through Bolivar.  It travels along the designated America’s Byway for a short stint, crossing Rt.  212 onto Canal Street,Bolivar’s historic main street.  Planning to connect the Towpath Trail into New Philadelphia continues. As the Towpath will not be able to follow the historic footprint; it will seek a route along the Tuscarawas River.

In Cuyahoga County, the Towpath’s original alignment north of Lower Harvard Avenue was located on the east side of the river.  This area has been monopolized with active industrial uses since the 1900s.  The ArcelorMittal Steel Mill occupies most of the eastern river valley between Harvard and Dille Road. Another active user in the area is Norfolk Southern.  Following the historic alignment in this section would lead users to an area alongside a blast furnace where hot molten ore is dumped into submarine cars.  The safety factors cannot be underestimated.  The practical remedy moved the Towpath to the west side of the river valley.

So, for practical reasons, the Towpath Trail is unable to follow the pure historic routing between Cleveland and New Philadelphia.  It is noteworthy that the current trail is aligned along the two major rivers that fed the water supply of the canal.