BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — Two years ago, when a small group of Maumee residents and city officials began clearing the towpath along the Maumee River, they were preparing a more inclusive space that could welcome individuals from across the area to enjoy the outdoors and the river’s edge. On June 21, they had the chance to celebrate that idea becoming reality.
Maumee Mayor Rich Carr, city council president Jim MacDonald and city councilman Gabe Barrow personally provided the ingredients for a dinner and invited representatives of The Ability Center of Greater Toledo down to the Towpath Trail and the newly paved White Street parking lot to show off the area.
“We just wanted to invite The Ability Center, their board and some of the people they serve, so that they would know where the park is at. They’ll know how to get to the parking lot, they can get onto the path and it’s all accessible,” Carr said.
The evening allowed The Ability Center staff, their families and the people they serve the chance to explore the paved, quarter-mile path along the river’s edge and the White Street parking lot.
The parking lot is necessary for the towpath, explained Barrow. There are people using the path for evening strolls, fishing, biking and more, so the large, paved lot allows everyone to get down to the path and take advantage of the natural resources.
“We just wanted to be able to build something that was going to be enjoyed, have a health component to it, allow people to interact and we also wanted to expose our city to this resource,” added MacDonald.
Two years ago, city officials and Maumee residents had gotten together to start clearing the old pathway when it became apparent more work could be done to meet the full potential of the towpath.
It took dozens of volunteers, including a core group of five people who spent their weekends dodging poison ivy and inclement weather to be able to clear the path enough for it to finally be paved.
“When we were down here, we saw many people who couldn’t use it. The river would wash out the low area and left big rocks,” said city administrator Dr. Patrick Burtch.
The city, he stated, does not just represent able-bodied people, so it was imperative that all Maumee residents be able to enjoy life along the Maumee River.
“We’re clearing even further west. We own all the way to Ford Street. We’re doing the same concrete path,” Burtch added. “Our guys just did a pour and they’ll be pouring all summer, all the way to Ford Street.”
Burtch explained that the lower portion of the towpath will be paved, while the upper towpath, west of Conant Street, will remain in its natural state.
Creating a pathway that’s inclusive for everyone is important, emphasized Stuart James, executive director of The Ability Center.
“Ultimately, it’s important for people to get outside of their houses and to have places where it’s easy to go regardless of what your ability is, and this is one of them,” James said. “This is a great place if you’re looking for a place to start, you can start here. It’s really accessible. From the parking lot to the path, the views are beautiful.”
Getting outside and enjoying the views and fresh air offered along the bike path is great for everyone’s health, James added.
“It’s really cool to see the last few months now,” Barrow said. “People in their wheelchair, they’ve gone out on the path, and they can actually go up to the river’s edge in a wheelchair and can fish. It’s just meant for everybody.”
For Tom Dussel, a longtime Maumee resident and former board member for The Ability Center, the last few months have allowed him to get down to the water’s edge with his scooter, which he hadn’t been able to do on the old, overgrown path.
“It’s been an amazing thing watching all the people that worked – the city workers, contractors – to make this happen. Frankly, it’s so nice that people with disabilities can use this more,” Dussel said. “I’ve noticed more people that have a cane or wheelchair or have a scooter.”
He said he has also seen more families enjoying the path, with small children walking or biking alongside their parents and families pushing strollers with their babies, enjoying the time outside.
He and his wife, Sherry, and his assistance dog, Ginny, come down to the path nearly every day, where they meet their Maumee neighbors and visitors along the path.
“I’ve walked down here often, and every time you see people, they say hello to each other when they pass. It’s become a very friendly, relaxed area,” Carr said. “I think that’s important for a community to become a welcoming place where people feel good.”
A place that makes everyone feel welcome is important, Burtch echoed. That’s part of the reason why several Maumee officials wanted to invite The Ability Center out, to make sure they could spread the word about the accessible pathway and bring in people from across Northwest Ohio to enjoy riverfront activities.
“This is really a celebration of people with disabilities and people who have been marginalized in our society for many, many years. It’s about celebrating something for them that’s not just for able-bodied people,” Burtch added. “We’re here to celebrate what that means and how the council has embraced this project and helping people who have been typically marginalized. I think that’s a great move in the right direction.”
It’s a good first step, James added, and one he’s glad the city even thought of, let alone implemented. He’s ready to see what else the city has to offer for residents and what plans are on the horizon to rejuvenate the area and be more welcoming to everyone.
Up on Conant Street, Carr noted, the revitalization project is allowing for wider sidewalks that will accommodate families and individuals using scooters, wheelchairs or other assistance devices to navigate the uptown space. Individuals can even walk from the towpath to uptown to take advantage of the area.
According to Mac-Donald, several plans are still underway down at the towpath, including a kayak and canoe launch planned for the old canal space.
“We’re a community that wants people to live here and move here and bring their businesses here, and we’re open and welcoming,” MacDonald said.
Councilmen Scott Noonan added he was excited to see the project continue to grow and become a well-utilized area for all individuals.
“It’s so nice here, and I think people are going to enjoy it,” Dussel added. “I’m just really happy.”