BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — The Maumee River has always been a focal point for the city, with officials, workers and residents dedicating their time to conserve and beautify the space over several decades.
In September of 2022, the revitalization of Towpath Park, which makes the Maumee riverfront more accessible for all, was recognized during a ribbon-cutting ceremony, but the recognition – and the work – isn’t done yet.
For their efforts with the Towpath Park project, Jon Fiscus, Gabe Barrow, Jeff Farthing and Mark Irmen will receive the Hometown Hero Award at this year’s awards banquet on Thursday, March 2.
“I am very honored to be awarded the Hometown Hero Award alongside Mark, Jon and Gabe. They are all three hardworking people who have a real desire to make the river a great place to visit,” Farthing said.
Farthing, who was born and raised in Maumee, has seen the importance of the Maumee River to his family, friends and neighbors, and making sure the riverfront remained clean and accessible was likewise important to him.
He was joined by current city councilman and longtime resident Jon Fiscus in those beliefs. After hearing about the interest in cleaning up the area, Fiscus said he was ready to get involved.
“The first weekend that we started down there, there were about 12 of us down there and Mark and Jeff both live right there, so after we met with them, Mark said he would talk to all the neighbors,” Fiscus said.
The group of volunteers continued to grow with several city officials, workers and residents showing up, even on holiday weekends, to put in the work.
“Young kids, teenagers, older people, they were pulling branches, picking up sticks. It was a really nice community project,” Barrow said. “The community did it.”
The city officials impressed Farthing with how much of their own time they were willing to put into the project, and the neighbors were always right there to help out, Fiscus said.
“I do want to give a shoutout to the service crew,” Fiscus added. “Maumee’s Service Department did a lot. We did a lot of the beginning work, and they came and finished everything up.”
Mark Irmen credited Patrick Burtch, the city administrator, for helping coordinate so many people and secure future plans for Towpath Park.
“None of this would have happened without his leadership and vision,” Irmen said.
Several people in the community, though, wanted to make sure these four specific individuals received recognition for their work on the towpath, said Maumee City Council president Jim MacDonald.
MacDonald said the group took the time to make sure everything was done properly and benefited the entire community. Professionals were brought in to return the space to its former glory and be sure only invasive species were removed.
“It was just neglected for so long and then somebody took ownership of it. That’s what’s so great,” MacDonald said. “I would just hope that maybe more of that could resonate with the community, that we start to take ownership of our community and try to better it. I think if we all work together, we’re going to get a lot more done.”
That’s exactly what Farthing took away from the project – that with the right support, residents can accomplish almost anything.
“I want people to know getting involved can make a difference,” Farthing said.
Barrow hopes people will learn from everyone else and choose to take ownership of the space, too.
“If you see a piece of trash, pick it up, throw it in the garbage cans,” Barrow encouraged. “It will be as nice as you want it to be.”
Allison Fiscus wanted to make sure all four members received recognition for the difference they made and sent in a Hometown Hero nomination highlighting the intensive labor involved.
“There was no win for them at the end of this. It was just a group of people that their only purpose doing this work was to beautify this city that they love. To me, that just feels very selfless. It was such a monumental undertaking,” Allison said.
While the award will be presented specifically to the four men during the Hometown Hero Awards ceremony, they know the revitalization of the towpath is not possible without the dedication of many people who have also volunteered their time and spent many workdays down on the riverfront.
Irmen was impressed by all the people who showed up, day after day, hoping to improve their community and he said meeting new people was his favorite part of the project.
“They’re all great people and we come from all different walks of life. Everybody who came down there was just all about making it a great community spot,” Fiscus added.
Residents who live along the towpath have expressed gratitude for the revitalization, along with the people who find themselves using the towpath who might not have been able to access it a year ago.
“What I didn’t realize was something that (Mayor) Rich (Carr) said, that it is going to be there for generations. Generations will enjoy it,” Barrow said of realizing the magnitude of the project.
The four are starting to realize that each day, more people are enjoying the path and will continue to do so for years to come, which makes the long hours, poison ivy and intense labor worth it, they said. For that reason, their nominators were happy to take the time themselves to send in a nomination.