The OHIO AND ERIE CANAL RESERVATION, opened by the CLEVELAND METROPARKS in 1999, follows a 4.3-mile stretch of the former OHIO AND ERIE CANAL between contemporary Harvard Avenue and Rockside Road, which includes parts of Cleveland, CUYAHOGA HEIGHTS and VALLEY VIEW. The Metroparks began the project of renovating the canal segment and 325 acres of surrounding property in 1993 after obtaining the reservation grounds on lease from landholders AMERICAN STEEL & WIRE (now Birmingham Steel and Wire), ALUMINUM COMPANY OF AMERICA, BP AMERICA, and CLEVELAND ELECTRIC ILLUMINATING COMPANY. The NORTHEAST OHIO REGIONAL SEWER DISTRICT also contributed a part of its landholdings in the area. Ohio's Department of Natural Resources granted rights to the canal itself.
These accessions provided the Metroparks with a remarkably intact segment of the original canal, which the neighboring companies had maintained in return for water rights under a longstanding arrangement with the State of Ohio. At the same time, the new park's industrial surroundings also brought environmental problems: sewer overflow and contaminated runoff from paved surfaces; legal and illegal dumping; pollution in the canal and adjoining CUYAHOGA RIVER; invasive species; and air pollution. Metroparks management found that the level of water contamination, much improved since the region's nadir in the 1960s, still limited the possibilities for activities such as canoeing or kayaking.
The Metroparks chose to highlight this layered industrial and natural history in designing the reservation, using trails and interpretive signs to point visitors toward technological artifacts such as a former ALCOA aluminum forge. The Leonard Krieger CanalWay Center, located in the reservation off East 49th Street, was also established to offer exhibits related to "Nature at Work."
Upon completion, the reservation was incorporated into the Ohio and Erie Canal National Historic Corridor, a federal landmark designated by Congress in 1996. As of 2006, it also represented the northernmost terminus of the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. The trail, a statewide project begun by the National Park Service in the mid-1970s, will eventually provide a 110-mile footpath and bikeway along the canal from its Cleveland origin to an ending point in southern Tuscarawas County.
A second phase of the Ohio and Erie Canal Reservation project, completed in early 2007, extended the towpath northward from the park to Old Harvard Road in Cuyahoga Heights, linking into another trail section under construction as part of the Steelyard Commons development. A third phase of canal reservation project, still unfinished as of March 2007, included improvements in landscaping, drainage, parking, and the boardwalk system.