BY MIKE McCARTHY | MIRROR EDITOR — A ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the revitalization of Maumee’s historic Towpath Trail was recently attended by approximately 50 area residents, who enjoyed a beautiful setting along the Maumee River and marveled at the improvements that have been made to Towpath Park over the course of the past year.
The ceremony, hosted by the city of Maumee and the Maumee Chamber of Commerce, was held under bright sunshine on Wednesday, September 14 in the area of the towpath located just east of the Ft. Meigs Memorial Bridge.
For the past 14 months, city officials and construction employees, backed by a hardworking corps of local volunteers, have transformed the towpath from near jungle-like conditions – with native trees and plants being choked out by invasive species blocking the view of the river – to a more pristine, natural state, which has been highlighted by beautiful unobstructed views of the Maumee River.
The whole project started almost on a whim back on July 3, 2021, when Maumee city administrator Patrick Burtch and Maumee City Council member Gabe Barrow were checking out the towpath area just prior to the start of the July 3 Independence Day celebration in uptown Maumee. Burtch, who grew up in Waterville, spent a lot of time exploring the towpath as a youth. “I had forgotten that at one time you were actually able to see the river,” Burtch said.
“Gabe and I came down here on July 3 and we couldn’t see the river and we couldn’t see the locks, so we decided to bring some loppers down here,” Butch remembered. The two men spent most of the day cutting down and removing invasive brush. When they were done, Burtch said they were both surprised and excited that they could finally see the river. They met with Mayor Rich Carr and decided that this would be a project worth pursuing.
Soon after, Carr, Burtch and Barrow presented their case before Maumee City Council and things began to take shape. A key aspect to the project taking off was the enthusiastic initial involvement of local neighbors and volunteers, including Mark Irmen, a resident of East Harrison Street, and his friend, Jeff Farthing, of nearby Elizabeth Street.
Those two men, along with Jon Fiscus, who had not yet been elected to Maumee City Council, formed the nucleus of the energetic volunteer movement. Fiscus proved to be very adept at promoting the project and enlisting the help of local volunteers who were interested in restoring the towpath for the good of their community.
Before long, the group had over a dozen volunteers showing up on a regular basis to perform the grueling work along the towpath. Many bumps and bruises were incurred along the way.
After months of hard work by the volunteers, only native trees and plants remained standing along the towpath. In recent months, their ranks have been reinforced with dozens of new native trees being planted by the city to help bolster and maintain the local heritage of the towpath.
Once the tree and plant issues were under control, Burtch determined that the actual pathway needed to be upgraded to improve its structural and ecological stability and to provide safe access for pedestrians, motor carts, runners and bicyclists, as well as for city vehicles that required access to the area for periodic sewer maintenance and floodplain control.
“We talked to Patrick about what kind of road to put in,” said Barrow. “The stone and lime (pathway) washed out on a regular basis. Satellite images show just how much has washed out. Asphalt is going to leach petroleum into the river,” he explained.
“Concrete, because of a lot of reasons, is very permanent,” Barrow continued. “It can hold the weight of the service trucks that need to come down here, and anybody can use it – anybody with any kind of disability. That’s huge if you have any type of walking challenges. Anybody can handle this pavement. It’s 10 to 12 feet wide, it’s going all the way down to White Street and it’s going to be maintained.”
Barrow added the city is working on a program for residents to “adopt a spot” on the towpath. Under that program, volunteers will agree to patrol a specific area on the towpath, picking up litter and keeping the area clean and inviting.
When explaining his decision to install concrete on the towpath, Burtch said, “With the EPA issues we realized we would have to pave the towpath. It would also be better for people who have issues in terms of mobility. I know it wasn’t very popular with some runners, but my daughter runs marathons and, at times, the runners have to run on the hard-paved streets.
“With the switch from asphalt to concrete, the idea was to make sure that the edges are stout, so that when you bring down a 7,000-pound Vactor truck, it doesn’t break off the edges. Asphalt would have done that,” Burtch explained. “With asphalt, it’s pliable for a few years. Then, after 15 years, it’s brittle, like concrete would be after 50 years. It degrades and breaks.”
When asked about certain areas of the towpath that veer very close to the river and could present a falling danger, Burtch said the city plans to add welded black rails in those areas next spring, and that is one reason why the edges of the pavement were made thicker at those points.
Burtch said the towpath project has benefited from the abundance of skilled workers employed in the city’s construction department. “We’ve got 15 people who know how to do this stuff,” he said. “I can’t say enough about how these guys have embraced this project and how good a job they have done. They’ve done a really great job.”
The city construction workers have been forging a steady ribbon of concrete along 1,300 feet of the towpath eastward from the Ft. Meigs Memorial Bridge and are quickly approaching White Street Park. Last month, the city awarded a $314,858 paving contract to Geddis Paving & Excavating Inc. to pave the entire White Street Park parking lot as well as the park’s approach drive from White Street.
The contractors are expected to complete that paving project by March 1 of next year, but Burtch said it’s possible that they may be able to fit the project onto their construction calendar sometime this fall.
Other improvements for White Street Park include the construction of a small craft boat launch near the lock and the installation of an ADA-compliant drinking fountain, jug filler and pet fountain.
Burtch said the city will meet with officials from Metroparks Toledo and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work out the plans for the boat launch. That portion of the project is scheduled to be completed next year.
Burtch also revealed that there will be a continuation of the concrete towpath from the Ft. Meigs Memorial Bridge to Side Cut Park, a stretch of about three-quarters of a mile.
At strategic places along the towpath will be 15 various benches or swings offering relaxing views of the Maumee River. The city is offering a commemorative bench program in which residents may donate $3,000 for an engraved plaque to remember a family member, friend or loved one. The donation and inscription will be in effect for 15 years with the option for renewal.
For details on that program, please contact the city administrator’s office at (419) 897-7100.
Editor’s Note: An accompanying story detailing the remarks made during the Maumee Towpath Park ribbon-cutting ceremony will appear in the September 29 issue of The Mirror.