The Miami-Erie Canal is no longer in use, but towns from Miami to Henry counties soon will be connected via trails along its towpath.
Each community is realizing the importance of their history and the canal, said Neal Brady, executive director of the Miami-Erie Canal Corridor Association (MECCA), during a St. Marys Rotary meeting Wednesday. MECCA is working with each community to raise funds for the trails.
"What we’re working on is uniting individuals and entities to create a valuable legacy that honors the past, enriches the present and provides a precious gift for the future," Brady said.
St. Marys, New Bremen and Minster communities are making improvements to their portions of the waterway.
Minster is working with the county to clear out the canal and line it with gravel. An alley beside the canal serves as a trail to the edge of town. A gravel trail continues north to New Bremen.
In New Bremen, about $1.8 million has been spent landscaping along the canal, rebuilding the lock and spillway and building the lockkeeper’s house as a visitor’s center. MECCA continues to gather funding for displays in the center.
"How do we build a visitors’ center that’s best for the region?" said Brady, who lives in New Bremen. "We want to provide information, not only from the New Bremen, Minster area, but from St. Marys, Spencerville, Piqua and Delphos."
Brady hopes the information will attract visitors to other towns.
"The canal has become a real asset to places where it previously sat forgotten for many years," he said.
Also in New Bremen, MECCA is working with the village to create "bicycle flow," a continuous trail so bicyclists won’t have to cross major traffic. The canal and tow path are interrupted at the intersection of state routes 66 and 274.
The towpath continues north into St. Marys where the city has been working to revitalize its historic downtown. Much of the canal trail through the city is paver bricks, and Lock 13 has been uncovered and reconstructed. North of the city, the gravel trail continues to 40-Acre Pond and beyond.
The city is working to dredge the canal through town, hoping to open it up for canoeing. It also is beginning construction on a shelter house just north of High Street.
Brady said MECCA has participated in seven trail dedications, most recently at the newly-upgraded trail from Deep Cut to Spencerville.
The next hiking path will connect Fort Loramie and Minster, Brady said. MECCA is working with Shelby County to get the project started.
"In a few years, we will connect Miami County with Henry County," Brady said. "This will then attract long distance hikers and bicyclists who are not from the area."
Once the connection is complete, Brady hopes to create "trail towns," areas between established towns where the hikers and bicyclists can eat, sleep and use the restroom.
MECCA is funded through private donations and government funding.
By Amy Kronenberger, The Daily Standard