Heather Englander and her two kids are taking to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail for a new adventure: riding the entire length of the trail in 2020.
Much like in summers past, the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail has served as an outdoor destination for people across northeast Ohio this year, though perhaps for different reasons. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left folks looking for safe spaces to take in fresh air, exercise their bodies and clear their minds. This means an increase in visitors, both new and returning, flocking to the Towpath for walking, running, or cycling.
It’s certainly easy to see why. With more than 90 contiguous miles developed, nearly 50 trailheads across four counties, and numerous connector trails, the Towpath Trail is an easily accessible adventure located close to home. And as we say around the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area, “there’s always more to explore.”
This is why Heather Englander and her sons, Quinton and Miles, have decided to take on the task of traveling all sections of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail this summer.
Heather said the inspiration came from Quinton while the family were out biking near the Canal Exploration Center in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. They were looking at a map of the entire Towpath Trail when Quinton made the recommendation.
Though not a native to Cleveland, Heather has lived in the city since 2006, and has never really traveled south of the Botzum trailhead.
“When he saw the map and said we should do the whole thing, I was like, yeah, we should!” Heather said. “It’s not only great for them to see all the other parts of the Towpath, but I’m excited for it, too, as a grown up.”
Heather and her family have been traveling the northern sections of the Towpath Trail together since her boys were in pull-behind trailers. The Towpath offers easy access for the family, given the number of trailheads throughout the region, and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad provides opportunity for additional support in traveling between destinations. Now, the multiple access points are allowing the family to break their journey along the trail into manageable segments for the children, who are now 5 and 8 years old.
These trips offer more than just the opportunity to get outside. Stopping at interpretive displays along the trail offer educational information regarding the Ohio & Erie Canalway’s rich history and heritage. Whether it’s visiting the locks or interacting with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s new wayside displays, these opportunities are what Heather says make this journey more of an experience.
“That’s the joy of the trail, is that it’s not just biking. There are places to stop, and see, and explore.”
It also offers the opportunity to connect with family. The children’s grandmother, who lives in Tallmadge, has joined in the journey for a couple of short segments. Joining Heather and the kids has actually inspired her to take up cycling again on her own, and Heather suspects she’ll be joining them as they cycle along additional sections of the Towpath Trail.
“Through the enjoyment of doing it with her grandkids, she is now finally experiencing the Towpath,” Heather said.
For those parents who may be looking to the trail as an asset and are new to biking with kids, Heather says the Towpath Trail provides a safe and fun atmosphere for giving children freedom, while teaching responsibility. Heather has bought bells for all their bikes and taught her children to announce to other trail users when passing, which are key tips for bicycle safety and trail etiquette.
“It has been such a positive experience with the kids, that if we can encourage more people to realize what a gem it is, and thus support [the Towpath Trail], I’m happy to advocate for that.”
To begin planning your journey along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, visit the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area website here.