Welcome to the Ohio & Erie Canalway!
A National Heritage Area ... and a National Treasure
The Ohio & Erie Canalway is a National Heritage Area — designated by Congress in 1996 — to help preserve and celebrate the rails, trails, landscapes, towns and sites that grew up along the first 110 miles of the canal that helped Ohio and our nation grow.
Annually, more than 2.5 million Americans find their way to the iconic 81+ mile Towpath Trail running through the heart of the Canalway. The historic Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and the nationally designated America’s Byway offer alternate Canalway travel options through the National Heritage Area.
Whether birding, hiking, bicycling or traveling by horseback, trail, rail or Byway — the cultural, historic, recreational and natural resources of the Ohio & Erie Canalway add quite a bit to the quality of life in the counties of Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark and Tuscarawas in Northeastern Ohio.
Working Together & Making a Difference
Within our borders — stretching 110 miles from Cleveland to New Philadelphia — you’ll find the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, the County Park Districts of Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark and Tuscarawas Counties all working together with communities and organizations to restore, build and replenish the cultural, historical, natural and recreational resources of the region that collectively tell our story.
It’s been a source of economic strength for Ohio as well. Since receiving its National Heritage Area designation in 1996, the Ohio & Erie Canalway has leveraged upwards of $350 million in Federal, State, Local and Private investments throughout the region. Of that total, $85 million in leveraged investments have taken place along the Towpath Trail itself. In many respects, it’s an historic return on the $12 million in National Park Service funding that the Ohio & Erie Canalway Association has been awarded and is distributing through a combination of grants and technical assistance to regional partners.
The collaborative community spirit at the heart of every National Heritage Area remains the hallmark of Ohio & Erie Canalway programs and projects that continue to help Ohio and our nation grow.
What is a National Heritage Area?
National Heritage Areas preserve and share important aspects of our country’s heritage. The Ohio & Erie Canalway is one of just 49 to receive this designation. It is not a traditional park where land is owned by one organization. Instead, it is a lived-in region where the cultural, historic, recreational and natural resources combine to form a nationally significant landscape.
At its core, the Ohio & Erie Canalway celebrates the significance of the Ohio & Erie Canal and its legacy to the region and nation. It offers opportunities to discover our canal history as well as a myriad of interconnected places and stories. However, the Canalway is not just about the past. It also is about the present sense of place of our communities and a source of inspiration and economic development for envisioning our future.
How National Heritage Areas Work
The Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area is part of a movement that began in 1984 to preserve important facets of the American experience. For an area to be considered for this permanent designation, it must be nationally unique and contain layers of sites and activities that, when taken together, tell an important story about our country.
While the federal government designates National Heritage Areas, each one is independently managed and operated through grassroots partnerships and collaborations between residents, local businesses, local governments and non-profit organizations. Each National Heritage Area has its own specialized strategic Management Plan, approved by the Secretary of the Interior, that outlines its goals, mission and vision. The Ohio & Erie Canalway Association was established specifically by its two Founding Organizations, and core partners in the community, to oversee this process.
Each National Heritage Area also receives technical assistance from the National Park Service — in our case, Cuyahoga Valley National Park takes that role. While not specifically part of the National Park System, we like NPS Director Jon Jarvis’ statement that “we’re part of the family.”
To learn more about National Heritage Areas, and their role in preserving important stories in our country’s history visit:
Where It All Began - Our Canal-Era History
At the beginning of the 19th century, Ohio was geographically isolated from the mainstream of economic vitality. Our state was rich in natural resources, but inaccessible to the established eastern markets. The Ohio & Erie Canal changed that fact. Built in the 1820s and 1830s, the canal was carved from the wilderness to provide an invaluable link — from Lake Erie to the Ohio River — in the nation’s transportation system, completing an inland water route between the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
By connecting the Ohio frontier to New York and New Orleans, the Ohio & Erie Canal helped people and products flow across America — fueling westward expansion, a national market economy and burgeoning regional industrial might. It also nurtured Ohio’s economy, transforming a wild frontier into a booming and populous state — taking Ohio from near bankruptcy to the third most economically prosperous State in the Union in just 20 years.
The canal defined the settlement of numerous towns, villages and cities along its course — many of our cities can trace their roots to canal days. It attracted businesses to its flanks and provided a viable transportation route for emerging industries. It also nurtured a cultural philanthropy that led to many of our treasured museums and historic spaces. Today, communities from Cleveland to Dover and New Philadelphia celebrate the contributions of the canal.
Helping the Country Grow
The canal played an important role in the country's economy at a time when the United States was establishing itself as a new nation. The canal allowed Ohio to become an economic resource for the nation. Raw materials and products from Ohio could be shipped to the East Coast and supply its growing cities and industries. In this way, the United States could rely on its own resources, rather than turning to colonial trade routes with Europe.
Interested in learning more about canal days? See books referenced in the “About Our Contributors” section as well as the Canal Society of Ohio canalsocietyohio.org — a group dedicated to preserving canal history.