Published October 25, 2022
By Abigail Bottar, Ideastream Public Media
Summit County officials, Akron officials and Summit Lake residents celebrated the groundbreaking of the new Summit Lake Trail. [Abigail Bottar / Ideastream Public Media]
Akron’s Summit Lake community broke ground on a new trail today. The resident-led project is intended to bring equity in public spaces to a historically underserved community.
The Ohio and Erie Canal Summit Lake Trail will go around Summit Lake and connect to the Towpath Trail. In the early 1900s, Summit Lake was a recreation hub, but the community had become underserved in recent decades, said Ohio and Erie Canalway Coalition President and CEO Dan Rice.
"Eight years ago, there was only one bench at this lake. There was one bench at this lake, and it didn't even face the lake," Rice said. "And usually there's that nervous comment, there's that nervous laughter, but think about that for a second. It didn't even face the lake. What does that say about how we care about this lake and how we care about each other?"
Summit Beach Amusement Park was a destination from the late 1910s until it closed in 1958, but the park, like Akron, was segregated. Mayor Dan Horrigan said he wants the area to be open to everyone.
"All residents regardless of their income, race, education or experience deserve outstanding parks, and none of us probably really remember Summit Lake in its heyday in the 30s, 40s and 50s," Horrigan said. "But it's going to have a heyday again, and that's because of the investment from all of our key partners."
Akron Civic Commons Donor Committee Co-Chair Bill Considine hopes the trail is the beginning of revitalizing the area.
"We're going to shine a jewel that has been ignored for several years," Considine said, "and that jewel is going to be very bright and be welcoming to all the residents here in this neighborhood as well as all the visitors who want to come to this neighborhood."
This is another step to bringing equity to this community, said Rice.
“Because any place else in this country, and there are wealthier communities. I’m just being very honest here, and they have assets," Rice said. "They have beautifully designed public spaces but not here. Today we change that.”
The project was spearheaded by the resident-led Akron Civic Commons. The project centered the voices of the people who live in the community, said Summit Lake resident Grace Hudson.
“It’s not somebody coming in and saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do, and this is what you want, and this is what you need,'" Hudson said. "No. It’s stepping back and actually listening to the residents, and I think that is very important, and it’s very empowering for somebody to come along and actually listen to us.”
Hudson said the trail is also vital to connecting the community.
"I can't tell you how many times I've been out walking my dog and say, 'Good morning,' to somebody passing by and next thing I know I'm having a 10, 15-minute conversation with somebody I've never met," Hudson said. "But by the time the conversation finishes, it's like, 'Okay, well it was a pleasure to meet you, and maybe I'll see you out here again.'"
Toqa Hassan is also a resident of Summit Lake and served as a volunteer for the project. She said accessibility was an integral part of it.
"When I attend the Summit Lake steering committee meetings, there are people that are not at the table, and their perspectives are still heard," Hassan said. "So when we say that we want individuals who need a wheelchair accessibility ramp to access the north shore - there was no one in the room with a wheelchair. No one in the room had crutches, but their perspective was heard. And I think that's the community coming together."
The new trail and revitalization of public spaces in the Summit Lake community could spread to all of Akron, Knight Foundation Akron Program Director Kyle Kutuchief said.
"We believe that to build a more equitable Akron, our city needs more places that intentionally invite and connect people of all backgrounds, fostering much needed empathy and understanding," Kutuchief said.
Rice hopes the new trail can be healing to a community that's dealt with racism, dividedness and underdevelopment.
"This multiuse recreational trail is more than a physical connection since it will provide a beautifully designed healing space and refuge for neighborhood residents to enjoy nature, exercise and spend time with their family and friends," Rice said.
The trail is expected to be completed by 2023.
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