Sunday, August 30, 2015

Taking in the Treasures on the Towpath Trail

Last week, I was blessed with the opportunity to pack a lunch, load up my bicycle, and drive to the John Glenn Grove trailhead just south of the City of Massillon, in Stark Co., Ohio.  This nicely landscaped park is the staging area where motorists become cyclists or pedestrians and enter a sort of time portal afforded by the Ohio-Erie Towpath Trail.    

The Ohio and Erie Canal, and Towpath (Early 1800's)
The Towpath Trail follows the portion of the historic Ohio and Erie Canal that once extended from Cleveland to New Philadelphia.   The entire Ohio and Erie Canal provided a continuous inland commercial waterway connecting locations between Lake Erie and the Ohio River at Portsmouth.  The canal was constructed during the 1820’s and carried freight from 1828 to 1861 at which time railroads began to offer a more economical alternative.

"Reach for the Stars" memorial to Senator John Glenn
Soon after I had unloaded my bike and positioned my water bottle and snack provisions, I realized that the John Glenn Grove was designed to inspire its visitors.  My inspiration began as I walked my bike past a statue titled “Reach for the Stars”  in honor of Glenn, one of Ohio’s sons who served his country as a war pilot, astronaut, and  U.S. Senator.  As I studied the likeness of John Glenn with his outstretched arm reaching for the stars, I remembered the news of his heroic feat as the first astronaut to orbit planet Earth, in 1962, while I was a freshman in high school.   As I left the Glenn statue and entered the towpath of the Ohio and Erie Canal, I realized the awesomeness of the “time portal” I had just stepped through.  Only one century separated the era of a man orbiting the Earth from the era of the Ohio-Erie Canal.

Ohio-Erie Towpath Trail near Massillon, Ohio
As I mounted my bike and rode down the shady canal towpath toward Navarre, Ohio, I was drawn by the historical significance of this unusual bike trail.  Following me on the left was a remnant of the Ohio-Erie canal, sometimes containing standing water, sometimes appearing swampy or even dry.  On my right was the Tuscarawas River which originates near Hartville, in Stark County, flows westward into Summit County and then southward through cities and towns like Massillon, Navarre, Bolivar, Dover, New Philadelphia, and finally, Coshocton where it joins the Walhonding River.   I felt the canal and the river guiding me southward toward the place of my birth, in Dover, Ohio.  I also remembered the place of my growing-up days as a farm boy on the banks of a tributary, the Sugar Creek (South Fork) which was just downstream from the town of Sugarcreek, location of my graduation from Garaway High School.

The Ohio-Erie Canal with Bottomland Deciduous Trees
The Tuscarawas Valley was not only my home during my early years, but it was the subject of a memorable field trip during one semester at Malone College led by my botany professor, Dr. Charles C. King.  We studied not only the flora of the valley but also its geologic history, and how the glaciers had scoured the landscape and rerouted the paths of the Tuscarawas and its tributary, the Sugar Creek.   As I bicycled around a bend in the towpath, with both the canal and river following in roughly a parallel fashion on either side, I reflected on God’s goodness in affording me an opportunity to study under “Charlie” King who loved the excitement of “interpreting the landscape” through knowledge of the geologic history and its influence on the current native plant communities.

Pale Impatiens (I. palida), Jewelweed (I capensis),
and Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia)

Tall Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)
prefers wet soil of riparian areas

I decided to concentrate for the next few miles on native wildflowers and trees of the canalway.  I was not disappointed.  Much of the roughly 10-mile towpath trail from Massillon through Navarre to Bolivar is shaded by bottomland tree species like Silver Maple and American Elm.  Often the canal water was covered by a bright green layer of Duckweed (Lemna) or another related genus of these tiny aquatic flowering plants.  But most of my attention was drawn to the wildflowers growing along the banks of the canal and on slopes down to the river.  It was intriguing for me to imagine a canal boat in tow by horses or mules making its way up the canal amid a variety of summer wildflowers decorating the banks and slopes above.  I  photographed a few of the more notable ones (click on photos). 

Nichols Bakery, Navarre, Ohio
Scene from three eras:  Canal, Railroad,
and Bikeway; note Purple Loosestrife
 As I passed through Navarre, I was treated by the fragrance of baking bread at the Nichols Bakery.   Crossing busy U.S. 62 and cycling beside an active railroad, I was again impressed with the variety of forms of transportation bustling all around the towpath and canal corridor.   Readers of Oikonomia might recall that I have elsewhere written of an instance, now very common, where even the railroad has been deemed obsolete and, in many cases, has been replaced by bicycle trails (See “Fundamentals of Conservation, Part 2 "Serving with" Creation – Article #1: History is Important. 

Memorial plaque for Rep. Ralph Regula
Trail crossing at Ohio Rt. 21, Navarre, OH
At the Ohio Route 21 intersection, at Navarre, I paused to read a plaque in memory of former U.S. Congressman, Ralph Regula, another son of Ohio who was highly respected in the Tuscarawas valley.  The portion of the towpath trail on which I was riding was named the Congressman Ralph Regula Towpath Trail Park in his honor.

During the approximately five miles of towpath trail from Navarre to Bolivar, many scenic views greeted me along the trail, and glimpses of the agricultural landscape beyond the river corridor became more frequent.   At the Stark-Tuscarawas Co. line near Bolivar, the Tuscarawas makes a sharp, 180-degree bend and heads back northward for a mile or so before bending again sharply southward to resume its flow toward Dover-New Philadelphia.  But, my destination was the Dolphin Street/Rt. 212 trailhead.  Near the trailhead is where I would realize the greatest treasure of today’s bicycle trip:  the opportunity to share words of Truth from the Scriptures with an 89-year-old man.  I had known him indirectly in my early years through a dear friend from my school days at Dundee Elementary and Garaway High School.  

The years have changed our modes of transportation, our heroes, our ways of earning a living, and even our friendships; but, the answers to life’s greatest questions, “How do you find meaning and purpose in this life?” and “Where will you spend eternity?” remain the same.  The answers are found in God’s Word.  I pray that this man, and perhaps others in his family through him, will heed the words of Life I shared.  Words that God allowed me to bring to him on a bicycle on that August afternoon, along the obsolete canal and the ever-flowing river.

How about it?  What has been your most memorable bicycling experience?   Have you used an historic bikeway?   Most importantly, do you know where your path is leading in this life and into eternity?  The Bible leaves no doubt that God loves you and has an amazing plan for your life.  The following are just a few of the passages that emphasize the “path to eternal life” through faith, and also the importance of God’s redeemed children SHARING their faith with those who may not know:

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
By this the love of God was manifested in us,
that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world
so that we might live through Him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us
and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

                                                        1 John 4: 8-10

But what does it say?
--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,
that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord,
and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead,
you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes,
resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses,
resulting in salvation.   For the Scripture says,

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;
for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?
And how will they hear without a preacher?
How will they preach unless they are sent?
Just as it is written
                     Romans 10: 8-11 (Uppercase words from Old Testament)

Related Articles:
Our Stewardship Is About God, Not Us  Oikonomia, October 31, 2011
What Are the Four Spiritual Laws?  Outline of the Gospel, a “sinner’s prayer”, and assurance of salvation.

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