January 20, 2022

Take A Hike Into History

It started as a trail for mules pulling boats and immigrants traveling to new homes.  Today it’s the home to bicycles, strollers and cross country teams.  The towpath of the Miami and Erie Canal has, for more than 175 years, been a path for people on the move, whether they’re traveling the length of western Ohio or just out for a quiet, Sunday stroll.   

After being neglected for decades the canal and its towpath have been rediscovered and have since become an integral part of numerous communities in western Ohio.  The current canal towpath stretches 36 miles, beginning in Fort Loramie and traveling north to Delphos where it travels through town and ends near the Jennings Creek Aqueduct on the city’s north edge.  This stretch is connected to even more improved trails to the south in Piqua, Troy and Tipp city.  And all of these trails are part of several other, much larger, systems of trails including the Buckeye Trail and the North Country Trail.  The Buckeye Trail loops more than 1,400 miles around Ohio while the North Country Trail winds 4,600 miles through nine states from Vermont to North Dakota. 

Our local section of trail started in 1999 in the city of St. Marys in association with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Water.  From there the trail headed north in partnership with the Heritage Park District, Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District and the village of Spencerville.  The trail also headed south to the villages of Lock II, New Bremen and Minster. The trails are constructed of packed stone, asphalt or maintained turf and include signage, benches and parking.  During the construction of these trails the canal towpath was improved and stabilized, at times widened, woody vegetation removed and the canal banks stabilized with rip rap where needed.  The trails accommodate biking, hiking, jogging, wheelchairs, baby strollers and easy walking. 

Communities with these improved trails utilize them for community events and an impetus for downtown and community development.  St. Marys holds several nature hikes on the trail including the extremely popular Walk With Nature, in its 51st year, which annually draws up to 2,000 hikers.  The city park includes a replica of a canal boat in a restored section of the canal.  St. Marys has also rebuilt Lock 13 downtown and has recently renovated the adjacent ca. 1847 Reservoir Mill as a museum/educational facility and a rental space.  New Bremen has rebuilt Lock 1 and built a new Lock Keepers house adjacent to the canal.  The village holds its two festivals, Bremenfest and Pumpkinfest, in Lock One Park, adjacent to the canal and holds a winter hike sponsored by the Miami and Erie Canal Corridor Association.  The trails just south of Delphos are utilized by local runners, cross country teams and those just out for a quiet, afternoon stroll.  Former St. John’s cross country coach Steve Hellman comments that the path was a safe place for his team to train.  There was no worry about cars, the stone base was easy on runners’ bodies and it was quiet and peaceful, surrounded by nature and the occasional wildlife experience.  Living near the trail, Hellman says it’s rare for him to be on the trail without seeing fellow runners, bikers and walkers.  Hiker Kelly North enjoys the quiet and peacefulness of the path, using it to walk and reflect after a busy day.  The new Robert Antibus Trail Access at Zion Church Road offers a safe and easy opportunity to access the trail.  The location currently contains a parking lot and a small park with a shelter and interpretive historical signs planned.  

Opportunities abound from continuing the towpath trail through Delphos.  Constructing the trail would repair and improve the canal and the towpath through the entire city.   The towpath trail would provide a safe and easily accessible route from one end of town to the other.  In this era of increased emphasis on physical fitness a towpath trail would provide a safe and easily accessible space for families to safely walk or bike or hike together.  And it would give us an improved connection to two long, much utilized state and national trails traveled by hundreds if not thousands annually.  An improved trail could be part of a historic walking tour in Delphos, taking visitors to our two, wonderful Museums, a restored Lock 23, Veterans Memorial, a restored Lock 24 and a rebuilt Jennings Creek Aqueduct.    

Delphos is also part of two Historic Scenic Byways, the Miami and Erie Canal Scenic Byway and the Lincoln Highway Scenic Byway.  The Miami and Erie Canal Scenic Byway runs from the Johnston Farm Historical Area near Piqua to Delphos, following the historic path of the canal for 53 miles through four counties.  The Lincoln Highway Scenic Byway begins in East Liverpool, on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, and runs 379 miles to the Ohio-Indiana border.  Add in a new Federal bicycle path from Canton to the Indiana border running through our city and Delphos would be a hub of historic and recreational transportation.  Those features add to the quality of life that is so important to those looking to open a business or relocate their family. 

So, Delphos, are you ready to Take A Hike Into History?   Okay, let’s go!

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