Monday, June 22, 2009

Walking the towpath by Summit Lake

At long last, city and county leaders have decided to take a look at the Summit Lake area, no doubt due to the recent extension of the towpath corridor along the eastern edge of the lake. A Beacon Journal article announced a public gathering and walk along the towpath from Wilbeth Rd to the Summit Lake Community Center. An impressive collection of politicians and community leaders from the city and the county were there to see first hand what towpath walkers and bikers will be viewing as the towpath nears completion.

The walk attracted a large crowd of people from both sides of the lake. We met in a room in the center, where we were given impressive packets of research submitted by Cazzell M Smith of the East Akron Community House and a Summit County Council member. Entitled "Reclaiming Vacant Properties, Building Leadership to Restore Communities: Transforming distressed neighborhoods into healthy communities of choice and opportunity -- good places to work, do business and raise children," it provides examples of ways other communities have tackled the problems of unstable and grossly neglected neighborhoods.

I have blogged about the problems associated with living next to a toxic lake before. In today's ABJ, Mark Price gives a history of how swimming in the lake was banned in the early decades of the 20th century. (Here and here, for example.) A dumping ground for the rubber factories and an outlet for city sewers, the lake is still a place that nobody swims in.

So what will the passing hiker or biker see as they travel along this section of the towpath trail? Here are some photos from today's walk, with a few comments:

The walk from Wilbeth Rd to Kenmore Blvd was rather like traveling along a narrow strip of scenic pathway with glimpses of a Mordor-like industrial landscape hidden beyond tall fencing and other strategically placed screening.

We are walking through an area framed by industries still belching smoke and who knows what kinds of pollutants.

Who knew that another kind of landscape existed underneath the Kenmore Blvd Bridge? The towpath gives a splendid view of this obviously much-used area, a place for kids to create art, and perhaps a dwelling place for homeless folks. It had a kind of museum-exhibit feeling to it -- it just needed a placard detailing the history of graffiti art of the 20th century and some wax figures dressed in raggedy clothes sitting around a fire.

Trash could be seen everywhere along the walk. Beautiful water lilies and liquor bottles float above a sea of lily pads. I counted exactly one trash bin along the walk, which is one more than can be found on the western shore of the lake.

The lake attracts a large number of ducks, geese and blue heron. Swans usually swim on this lake, but I haven't seen any this year. It is an odd situation, living next to a toxic lake that has been ignored for so long. We can walk along it and observe the wild life, the plant life, and the ripples of the waves bearing plastic detritus to the shoreline, but we dare not participate by swimming in the lake. An occasional boater takes a risk and can be seen out on the lake, and many people fish along the shores. I wouldn't eat a fish from this lake, but there are some people taking buckets full of fish home for family dinners.

Perhaps they are the people who live along the lake. The eastern side is a mix of public housing, decaying cottages from Summit Lake's glory days, and other rotting buildings.

Heading north up the east side of the Lake, the hiker/biker can observe the wonders of nature to her left and with glimpses of a decaying urban neighborhood
to the right. A mighty mullein plant sends its yellow spike toward the sun:

The towpath trail itself is beautifully constructed. The floating dock-like section is wide enough to hold bikers and hikers traveling in opposite directions. Here we see a section of the towpath that edges right along the lake leading toward the community center to the north:

The group arrived back at the center, but there was no formal sit down and respond to what we saw session afterward. More meetings will take place. Stimulus money will be sought and discussion about the quality of neighborhood life issues must take place. This is a high crime area, naturally. To be honest, I have been a bit nervous about testing out the new trail. Today's gathering was my first look at life on the eastern edge of the lake.

The main problem remains the lake itself. It was polluted by people long since dead, and abandoned by city, county and state officials. The state has no money to clean it up properly. Everybody is afraid of stirring up the sediment on the lake's bottom. Meanwhile, it is no surprise that the communities to the east and west of the lake house the city's poorest white and black neighborhoods. The opening of this new section of towpath is an opportunity to reclaim and rebuild. I was very pleased to find other people thinking this way as well. Let's hope today's inspires the pols and the community leaders to take some positive actions. Hell, if we can get some trash cans on both shores out of this, I'll count it a victory!


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