The last leg: Crews resume work on the final stage of Towpath Trail extension

The countdown to the completion of the Towpath Trail Extension Project has begun. Independence Excavating broke ground in Tremont on the final stage of the four-phase project last summer, and resumed work again in March after a winter break.

“We were keeping a pretty low profile through the winter, we were doing some embankment work, then this spring came with a lot of increased activity and visibility,” says Darwin Merdes, area engineer for Cuyahoga County.

Crews on the current $8.95 million stage are now digging up University Road by Sokolowski’s University Inn, as well as areas in the Flats, under the RTA viaducts, and the future Canal Basin Park to create a multipurpose path and utility corridor.

<span class="content-image-text">Towpath Trail Connectivity Plan</span>Towpath Trail Connectivity Plan

The entire project is a joint effort between Canalway Partners, the Cleveland Metroparks, the City of Cleveland, and Cuyahoga County.

Sean McDermott, chief planning and design officer for the Metroparks, describes this last leg of the project as “the spine” on the regional trail system in Northeast Ohio. “With stage four done, we can finally stand up,” he says. “On the heels of stage four completion many other trails will connect almost immediately—The Redline Greenway, Whiskey Island Connector, the Wendy Park Bridge, and smaller connector trails that link to the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail.”

Ata Adeel, project manager for Cleveland’s real estate division, also sees new potential with the upcoming completion. “The Towpath Trail is the spine of a network of existing and future trails that will connect the city's various neighborhoods and business districts to each other and to the region's natural assets,” he says. “That is pretty exciting.”

Stage Four features some interesting and historical points of interest as this segment makes its way toward the lake. An elevated pedestrian bridge will span over Literary Road, continue parallel to University Road and end at University and West 5th Street, says Jessica French, senior project manager for Cuyahoga County’s Public Works department.

The bridge was designed to ensure that users can safely cross Literary, due to the steep slope at the west end of University,” she explains. “The bridge itself will look similar to the bridge already constructed over West 7th [Street] near Clark Field.”

The historic Camp Cleveland site at West 7th and West 10th Streets in Tremont will be a pitstop along the trail—providing spectacular views of downtown Cleveland. In 1862, Camp Cleveland was the city’s largest of six Civil War training sites.

More than 15,000 troops­—5% of Ohio's Civil War troops—trained at the 35.5-acre Camp Cleveland throughout the war, according to Cleveland Historical, and offered a flat location with plenty of drinking water and wooden structures (as opposed to tents).

“We tried to bring in elements to show bunkers and things like that in a very abstract way,” says French, “to give note to that history.”

Nearby at the Literary Road Overlook, at Literary and University Roads, is another interpretive node that pays tribute to Cleveland’s railroad industry.

Through a grant from Rails to Trails Conservancy and Coca Cola, and working with Midwest Rail Preservation Society, the group is building a node that highlights the rail history.

<span class="content-image-text">Roundhouse Trail Feature - Stage 3</span>Roundhouse Trail Feature - Stage 3“We were able to do some really unique designs and come up with this interpretive rail car that literally greets you as a user on the Towpath,” explains McDermott. “The whole area itself is set up like a small roundhouse, in circular fashion, with rails embedded into the concrete and a series of custom benches that are built between the old rail car axles,”

McDermott says the hubs and nodes along the trail add thoughtful stops. “It’s these touches that bring what would be a long ribbon of asphalt more into a human scale,” he says. “The team has been really good at having these certain waypoints, and places, and stops along the way. It’s not just a transportation hub, it’s not just a place to be. It’s an experience.”

When Stage Four is completed by summer 2021, officials with all organizations involved will finally be able to call the extension project complete.

“Everyone said it took too long, but it’s a really good project, it’s complicated,” says Jamie DeRosa, commissioner of real estate for the City of Cleveland. “One of the big lessons we learned is I’m not sure any of us could have gotten this done on our own—it really took all four of us partners.”

Adeel is also excited that completion is finally near. It is exciting to be so close to the finish line for the project that took many years of planning, advocating and consensus building,” he says. “In addition to the completion of the project being in sight, the opportunities to make those further connections to provide alternative modes of transportation and recreation to residents is an exciting prospect for all of us.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.