Dan Rice, Curator at the Summit County Historical Society, discusses his role promoting the Ohio and Erie Canalway project and working with developers seeking to mesh their projects with the canal. Rice discusses the roles of congressmen John Seiberling and Ralph Regula in building public support for the Canalway initiative. He also discusses the use of the canal in educational programming and efforts to teach about sustainability. Throughout the interview, Rice emphasizes his faith in the interlinking potential of history, environment, and economic development.


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Rice, Dan (interviewee)


Johanssen, Andreas (interviewer); Loman, Nate (facilitator)


Rivers Roads and Rails 2008



Document Type

Oral History


51 minutes


Transcription sponsored by Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Andreas Johannsen [00:00:01] Are we ready?

Nate Loman [00:00:01] We got levels going. Check.

Andreas Johannsen [00:00:04] Alright. Today is June 24th. My name is Andreas Johanssen and we have Nate Loman, facilitator, and we're interviewing Dan Rice. So first off, I guess, tell us about some basic information, your background information. Where were you born? What's your family like? Background?

Dan Rice [00:00:24] I was born in Springfield, Ohio, which is down in southwest Ohio. And I was... I'm the middle child of... I have an older brother and a younger sister, and we all live in Ohio. My sister lives in Columbus. My brother lives in Cincinnati. And I went to school at the College of Wooster up here in Northeast Ohio, in Wooster, Ohio, received my undergraduate degree in history, American history, modern American history, and then went to work for the Summit County Historical Society as a curator. And while I... Actually prior to that, working at Summit County Historical Society, I received my master's degree in American history at the University of Akron. And so I've been up here in Northeast Ohio ever since then.

Andreas Johannsen [00:01:12] What made you go into history?

Dan Rice [00:01:16] I've always enjoyed history. I've always found it fascinating. One of my core beliefs is that how do you know where you're going to go if you don't know where you've been? And I know that some people maybe don't find history interesting. They find it may be boring, but I just find it very, very fascinating. And growing up in southwest Ohio, I didn't necessarily have a great appreciation for the history. Now I do, now that I've actually left, but what I really enjoyed when I was actually an undergraduate is I didn't necessarily want to teach history, and I even at one point in time contemplated getting my Ph.D. and going into academic history, even went so far as I was actually accepted to the University of Virginia, which is many of you folks know is a pretty prestigious institute, but I just... It just wasn't the right fit. And what I really like about public history and really what the opportunity that I have to do is to make history relevant for everyday people, business people, park people, planning people, people who maybe would not normally, you know, care about history. History through the Ohio and Erie Canal Heritage Project comes alive for them. And I look at the millions of people who are out there on the Towpath Trail or visit Cascade Locks Park. It's a really unique opportunity that we have because we're looking at a resource that has been utilized for over 180 years. And what's really cool, what I feel blessed and fortunate about what I have my small part in is if we do it right, it'll be here 180 years from now. And not many people have an opportunity to say that they have a part of a legacy project like that. That's a long answer to a short question.

Andreas Johannsen [00:02:54] How do you how do you go from from history down to Towpath? How you come to, you know, is that what interested you in the beginning of studying history, or how did you get narrowed down and eventually end up with Towpath and Canal history?

Dan Rice [00:03:11] It's kind of a combination. My background, my family background is sales. My folks had an insurance business and I actually sold insurance. I sold steel at one time, Ryerson Steel up in Cleveland, and I like sales and I like history. And to be honest with you, I kind of consider what we do is we're selling history. And in some ways I think, you know what, my occupation, at least on a daily basis, is, it's probably a cross between a used car salesman and a preacher. I'm selling an intangible concept to people who don't know they need it, but they need it and they want to have it. And so that's where I kind of see the combination there's. That's what we're trying to do is make it relevant and really through the history of the Ohio and Erie Canalway project is really, quite frankly, very easily. The way I go about approaching it is that the Ohio and Erie Canal at one time was the economic development engine that drove Ohio. As you folks are very well familiar, it literally catapulted Ohio from a rural, isolated frontier settlement to the third most populous state in the nation. By about the 1850s, though, it had reached its peak, and by 1913 with the 1913 flood, it was, you know, pretty much done, but it lingered from 1913 to the 1960s. And then thanks to the vision and wisdom of people like Congressman John Seiberling and Congressman Ralph Regula, they had the dream and vision to save the canal. So from the 1960s really to 2008, it's been an ongoing resource conservation project, which... The whole goal was to make the project relevant to everyday individuals' lives and also really point out the economic development impact. In some small way, we are trying to recreate the impact of economic development that the Ohio and Erie Canal had. Instead of maybe canal boat, you have hikers and bikers or canoeists and kayakers. Instead of canal warehouses, you have a bed and breakfast operations, buildings like the Advanced Elastomer Systems building right here downtown Akron. Canal Park, there's no mistake why it's called Canal Park. It's right on the Ohio and Erie Canal. On the old O'Neill's Building is another good example. About 150 million hours of public private investment. So really, it's an easy sell from our perspective that whether you're out there on the Towpath Trail, you go out there, maybe you're a runner, you like to recreate, you're looking for a safe place to do that. Maybe you're a historian, you really like to know how deep the lock is. Maybe you're a birder or you like to watch turtles or maybe quite honestly, you're just looking for a peace of mind to relieve stress from your daily life. That's I think one of the beauties of this project is that there's something in it for everybody. I've kind of somewhat said somewhat tongue in cheek that you've got a pulse in Northeast Ohio, we want to talk to you because we believe you have a stake in the system. And part of what we really try to do is build stewardship, let people take ownership of this project. And to be honest with you, that's really where the Cascade Locks Park Association has done a fantastic job through the vision and leadership of Virginia Wojno many years ago, probably 20-plus years ago, gathered together a group of dedicated individuals who saw, again, an opportunity, a vision. And now we have this incredible jewel on the north edge of downtown Akron. And when you're down there, you would not know you're in an urban setting. And that really is in a nutshell what this project is all about, is getting local people to take ownership of the project so it becomes their project. They have a stake in the system.

Andreas Johannsen [00:06:33] And that's by the Mustill Store?

Dan Rice [00:06:35] Yeah, the Mustill Store.

Andreas Johannsen [00:06:37] Alright, so talk to us about history. When, or back in history, when you began or when you were involved, became involved with, when did you enter this project?

Dan Rice [00:06:47] When I was at the Summit County Historical Society as a curator, I was a volunteer for this organization, the Ohio and Erie Canalway Coalition, and also a volunteer for the Cascade Locks Park Association. That would have been in 1990 or 1991. So even though it's been about 20 plus years, I started when I was really young, so that's why I look so young actually. But that's how I got involved with the project as a volunteer and actually started out by helping down there with the canal cleanups. I remember blazing a trail through the wilderness at one time when there was nothing down there. Actually, our original office of the Ohio and Erie Canalway Coalition was actually down there at the, I think it's maybe the lock tender's house right next to the Mustill Store. So that was our office for about two years. And eventually we moved down to Canal Place and we shared that with the Cascade Locks Park Association. And my role as a volunteer was I headed up the education committee and eventually became vice president of the organization. And then, like a lot of nonprofit organizations, when they've reached the point where volunteers can only take a project so far, they decide to hire staff. And they asked me if I would be interested and willing to do that at five hundred dollars a month for compensation. That was 1994. We had about 7,000 dollars in the bank, so that was almost fifteen years ago. And today our organization has an annual budget of about 480,000 dollars and five staff people for staff people, actually.

Andreas Johannsen [00:08:16] And that's all raised through fundraising or how?

Dan Rice [00:08:19] Through a variety of sources, fundraisers, corporate membership, individual memberships, programs and services, grants, foundations and some government funding. So a variety of sources.

Andreas Johannsen [00:08:29] So you're busy... So mainly the staff works on fundraising or do they market and...

Dan Rice [00:08:36] Really a variety. Our core mission and goal is education and promoting the Ohio and Erie Canal and the natural and historical and recreational resources. So we do a lot of educational programs. We do fishing derbies, canoeing events, hiking events, bicycling events. We do publications about the Towpath Trail. We also provide a lot of technical assistance. We work with over 150 local community public private partnerships, providing all sorts of technical assistance, including organizational development, fundraising development, government relations, project management. We really try to serve as a community convener and facilitator. We facilitate the Summit County Trail and Greenway Project and Plan in which the Towpath Trail is a key component of that. We're very active in Stark County helping to build the top natural there. We own property in a number of different counties. In Summit County we own the Limbach buildings and the village of Clinton, which we're trying to turn into an economic development project. We own the Buckhorn Creek Trail down on Tuscarawas County, an eight-mile rail trail that's part of the extension of Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. And we also will hopefully be owning the Richard Howe House very soon here, which was the home of the resident engineer of the Ohio and Erie Canal, the gentleman responsible for building the canal from Massillon to Cleveland. And so we really provide a wide variety of services to our partners and customers throughout Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark, and Tuscarawas counties.

Andreas Johannsen [00:09:58] How do you, how does your organization work with local developers to mix green space, greenway park with development? We visited Hickory yesterday. Guess you're probably aware of that development. How does that play in with your organization?

Dan Rice [00:10:14] That's an excellent question. We're a firm believer that what we're doing is community and economic development. As I said previously, the Ohio and Erie Canal originally was built primarily for economic development reasons. And so we actively partner with housing developers, with corporations, the healthcare industry, Akron General Health System, FirstEnergy, National City Bank, KeyBank. You name the corporation out there, and we seek to find a way to partner with them. The difference is we're not trying to change the way, you know, Goodyear makes tires or FirstEnergy provides electric or power. What we are trying to do, though, is incorporate our mission of resource conservation into their everyday way of doing business. And a good example would be the maybe the Hickory development project or the Paul Testa condominium development project. It's no mistake that those folks are looking to develop along the Towpath Trail or the Ohio and Erie Canalway. They have a vested interest in making money. And quite frankly, we want to see that they make as much money as they can. But at the same time, what we hope that they do is they develop that in a sensitive and compatible manner. Matter of fact, Todd Ederer is one of our board members, one of the developers working on that project. We're also working with Crockett Homes down in Stark County, where they're actually building again housing along the Sippo Valley Trail, which is another spur of the Towpath Trail. And so what we try to do is work with them to provide them some information about the best way in which they can make their project successful, but also construct it in a manner in which it's compatible with our mission and goals. Do we win all the time? Absolutely not. But we also don't look at as kind of a win-lose situation. It's a relationship. And like all relationships, it takes time, energy, and a commitment to that bigger vision. And so that's what we try to do is just cultivate those relationships. And that's really, probably in a nutshell, what this project is all about, too, is just developing relationships and partnerships, ongoing relationships and partnerships, because we need the help of Todd Ederer and Tony Troppe to make this project successful. They in turn, quite frankly, you know, there's no mistake that they use in their marketing brochures along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. We think that's great. It's a great partnership. So it works for them and it works for us.

Andreas Johannsen [00:12:28] Talk to us a little bit about the history of, what, you said in the 1960s Regula and Seiberling started realizing that it was an important asset for Ohio. Can you speak to that history a little bit, the development, what maybe led them to realize that and move forward?

Dan Rice [00:12:44] Sure. Well, Congressman Seiberling obviously was very instrumental in the creation of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which was designated in 1974. And he had the dream and vision of saving this green space in between these urban areas of Cleveland and Akron. And Mr. Regula just kind of took that one step further. And true, they worked in partnership. And if there's any heroes, I really feel of what is a legacy project in Northeast Ohio it really is Congressman John Seiberling and Congressman Ralph Regula. And they've also been great mentors to me. I've been very blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to know them and work with them. But Mr. Regula had the idea of saving the Ohio and Erie Canal and actually got it, believe it or not, from the Chief Justice William O. Douglas, who was instrumental in saving the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal that ran from Cumberland, Maryland, to Washington, D.C. At that time, Chief Justice William O. Douglas went to The Washington Post and got a group of reporters and they literally walked all 180 miles from downtown Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland, because at that time the plan was to pave over the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and turn it into a highway. Actually, I think Highway 68. And because of that effort, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was saved and actually now, believe it or not, hopefully one day we're going to be able to get our bicycles or walk right outside our door here on the Towpath Trail, go down to Tuscarawas County, connect over to Pittsburgh and get on what they call the Great Allegheny Passage, which connects Pittsburgh with Cumberland, Maryland, and go all the way to Washington, D.C. So thanks to the vision of Chief Justice William O. Douglas, we have a really wonderful regional trail legacy that we will benefit from. Well, Mr. Regula took that one step further. He went to the Canton Repository, and as the story goes, the reporter that he asked to go walking with him for all 16 miles of the Canalway lands in Stark County [cell phone vibrates on table] was Alan Simpson. And Alan Simpson... He was supposedly selected because he was the only man who could actually walk 16 miles. And that happened in the 1960s. And it literally rained the entire time that they were out there walking. And so the headlines the next day were 16 miles and 16 million raindrops. And it what's really neat is Alan Simpson is actually celebrating his 90th birthday this week. He actually went on to work for Congressman Regula in Washington, D.C.—he's still alive, lives down in Virginia; I talk to him on a regular basis—and those two struck up a partnership in which for the next probably 10 to 15 years, they kept pushing and pushing this idea of saving the Ohio and Erie Canal. And our organization came along much later, actually, in 1989. But they were the ones who had this dream and vision of let's save the canal. And part of the challenge, I would suggest, probably early on is a lot of the people who initially were saving the canal were mainly just canal historians, if you will. And it was really kind of a singular, focused organization and group. And really, I think once we started to get some momentum to really build momentum to save the entire project is when you got the corporations involved, when you got the park agencies, the planners, and the small business people, the Convention Business Bureau, the county engineers, the elected officials. When we started to get those folks involved in the project, that's when it really started to have a broad base of support. And people started to view it more than just a tree-hugging project or maybe just a trying to save history project. When you, and again I come back to when we start to make the project tangible and relevant into everyday people's lives. But I have to be honest with you, it's been most humbling to know those two gentlemen, Mr. Simpson and Mr. Regula, because if they hadn't done it, we wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation.

Andreas Johannsen [00:16:22] How about some of the efforts that you are doing today? Like you said, you had the canoe event and some fishing events. And talk to us about those and what they are and why specifically you chose to have them and if they're effective or not,

Dan Rice [00:16:37] We're a big believer that the best way for this project to have long serving sustainability is to get kids involved, educate them about the importance of our natural, historic, and recreational resources. And probably the best way to illustrate that is with our fishing derbies. We've been doing this for ten years in downtown Akron, right behind the old B. F. Goodrich complex. And early on, we had to put nets up and actually stock the canal, put about five hundred thousand dollars worth of fish. And what's really cool is we target inner-city schoolchildren, and most of these kids have either, A., Never had opportunity to fish, they've never seen a canal, and they certainly never had an opportunity to walk on the Towpath Trail. And so what we... Our main goal with this project was if one of these kids walks away with one or two things, either learns a new hobby or learns a little bit about the ecology of the canal or how to fish, then we've really achieved what our goal is. And after ten years, I have to be honest with you, it's actually been... It's not what we started out to be, but it's actually been a pretty good environmental restoration project because now people actively fish in the Ohio and Erie Canal in downtown Akron, so much so that now we actually see blue heron flying in downtown Akron. They used to sit on our nets and those little wiley blue herons, they were literally right... The day after we put our fish in that Saturday morning, they'd be sitting on those nets eating my thousand dollars worth of fish. But in a roundabout way, it was again a great way to illustrate the success of the project. Who would have thought, you know, in the year 2005 that you see blue heron in downtown Akron right next to the old rubber factories? And that really is part of the success of what the project is all about is educating children, giving inner-city schoolchildren a unique opportunity that [they] would never have. And quite frankly, hopefully maybe they grow up and maybe they care a little bit more about the canal. Maybe they care a little bit more about saving an old building. We're doing the same project with the Richard Howe House restoration. We're involving the Akron City schoolchildren and getting them involved in the actual planning of the restoration of the Richard Howe House. And again, it's the same philosophy and approach. If you can get kids interested in taking a stake in the history of their community, making it relevant to them—and I'll be honest with you, one of our main goals with that project of partnering with the Akron Public School children with the Richard Howe House is that maybe one of those kids decides to become an engineer, maybe one of them decides to become an architect, you know, 10, 15 years from now—they bring their kids back or their their families back and show them the Richard Howe House and say, I had a role in this. I helped make this project successful. And that's what we really try to do with these educational programs is to cultivate stewardship, particularly in young people, so that they become investors, if you will, in what we're doing.

Andreas Johannsen [00:19:19] How about some of the struggles then? It seems like you have all these programs, but what did it take to get to that point that you are today? Did you have a lot of crash and burns, kind of like let's try this and it wasn't working and people weren't receptive, and those kind of...

Dan Rice [00:19:34] I always characterize my experience with this project now so much as struggles, as challenges and opportunities. We have all sorts of challenges. But our challenge, to be honest with you, is to turn those challenges into opportunities. I don't believe that we have problems. And another example is some people would say, well has funding been a problem? Not really. The biggest challenge I think we have sometimes is vision, is people seeing the opportunity that's out there in the landscape. We've yet to have one single project fail because of lack of money. The money's there. We just need to sell the project and make the project relevant, make it meaningful to individuals. So probably the single biggest challenge probably would be vision and maintaining momentum of the project, keeping this project a priority within the community. It's... We've been very blessed and fortunate to have the support of our elected officials, our units of government. I always am a big believer that we have a pretty good job security, to be honest with you, because people are always maybe retiring or being promoted or moving to different locations. Some people are moving into the area. Our opportunity in those particular situations is to cultivate them and get them to become supporters of the project. So those are what I would probably characterize as our main challenges.

Andreas Johannsen [00:20:52] Do you think it's going to change nationwide or maybe even globally to bring green space back into the community? It seems like when cities first developed, it was kind of, you know, shut the green space out, and now the Valley and green [space], it's coming back in through man, but it's still kind of coming back in blue herons in the canal. Do you think there's a nationwide issue? Like do you see that in other places? Do you work with other people in other cities?

Dan Rice [00:21:23] We do. I've really been blessed and fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in about twenty different states across the country on type of resource conservation projects. And we get calls all the time asking, you know, how do you do it? How do you get different people involved, and you know one thing that I haven't touched upon and probably should and that is that the day... And it used to be, really to get to the heart of your question, where there was one agency who did a project like this, they would pay for all, they'd do at all, they'd take care of everything. But those days are long gone. One agency can't do it all. And so what that requires is for all of us to work together as partners. And to be honest with you, to get a county engineer, a planning agency, a park agency, a convention visitors bureau, environmental organization to get together and agree on anything is a challenge. And to be honest with you, partnerships are a pain in the behind because everybody has a different vision. They all maybe want to know where they want to go but maybe have different ways about going about getting there. And our job is to kind of create that collaborative vision. And through projects like, for instance, the Summit County and Greenway, in which you have outstanding leadership with Metroparks serving Summit County under the leadership of Keith Shy and Fran Buchholzer or Summit County executive russ Pry. These are people you would not normally consider to be strong advocates of trail and green space, but they are. And one reason I would suggest to you why they are is because they recognize the community and economic development impact of that. No longer is resource conservation viewed as well, it's a nice to have; now it's viewed as it's part of the package. It's just as important as infrastructure. It's just as important as clean water or good, safe roads or clean drinking water. And I think that's what we've come to realize locally as well as nationally, that it's no longer a choice between just having trails and green space and economic development. Trails and green space is community and economic development. It's no mistake. The facts and figures are out there. We were talking about it earlier with Hickory Station. Why do Tony Troppe and Todd Ederer want to develop there? The statistics bear out. People will pay more for homes that are adjacent to trails anywhere from six to ten percent higher. The quality of life, lower healthcare costs, that's why we partner with Akron General Health System and many folks in the healthcare community. They're in the business of having people have lead healthier lifestyles. We're in the business of getting people out to use the resource. If they happen to go and exercise on the Towpath Trail, that's where we have overlapping missions and visions. So I do. I think our community leaders, particularly elected officials, particularly the enlightened ones, have come to recognize that this is an essential part of building sustainable communities. Resource conservation truly is part of the future of a viable economic development and viable, sustainable communities. And I use the term resource conservation as opposed to preservation, because sometimes when you... Some people, if use your word preservation, they kind of perceive you're going to put a glass dome over it and you're not going to touch it, you're not going to do anything with it. That's why I like resource conservation, because that implies it's going to have some use to it. It's really like the Towpath Trail. You know, there are some people, there's some purists out there who would say, you know, you just leave it the way it is. Well, that may be their perspective. And I certainly respect that. I don't disparage that. But the reality is, if we want to make it relevant to people, we have to make it, you know, useful to people. And the same thing with the Richard Howe House restoration. The house is being relocated because in order to save the building again, some preservationists would say that that's a sin, you can't do that. Well, I was... My grandpa always told me, he said, sometimes, Dan, you can be right but be very ineffective. He said oftentimes it's better to be effective than it is to be right. And sometimes in order to to save something, sometimes you have to compromise. Some folks necessarily may criticize us for that, but that's okay. I'd rather in the end get something done to be honest with you. And when we get that Howe House fully restored and it's located right on the banks of the Ohio and Erie Canal, and it's a real jewel for people to utilize five years from now, hopefully people will recognize that was a great opportunity. So that's part of the... Again, another long answer to a short question, but I think it's a matter of making it relevant. People now recognize that it really is part of the whole mix for successful, sustainable communities.

Andreas Johannsen [00:25:39] It sounds like your grandfather had a little bit of impact on you in the way you have a vision. Can you speak about that at all? Was he involved at all in the park system or what did he do?

Dan Rice [00:25:49] Not, not really. My dad and grandfather, like I said, were involved in the insurance industry. And what I really... What they've taught me the most, and a lot of other people as well in terms of being just good mentors, and that is, always look for the good in people, always try to have a positive attitude, and always try to give back to your community. They weren't actually as actively involved in the community as, you know, as I am, but I think what I learned from them was that you can always make a contribution to the community. They were very involved in the church. As a matter of fact, my dad still is very involved in the church. But I think part of their secret to their success in business was just try to help people as much as you can. And you know that old aspect of trying to be effective, not necessarily worrying about being right. And I've been really blessed and fortunate to have folks who guide me in that process. Mr. Regula has been a great mentor, Mr. Seiberling, and Allan Krulak and Frank Buchholzer. And I just don't take people's support for granted because one of the things that they also taught me was that people can choose how they want to spend their dollars, their time, their energy, their resources, but they choose to spend their time on this project. And I think the moment that we ever take that for granted, I think, is when our project will not be successful and that it's just always being respectful of people's time and really just showing that how much you appreciate for what they're do for you and what they do for the community. And that's why I feel, like I said, blessed and fortunate to be able to be a part of a project like this. I get up every day and I love what I do. And I and I feel lucky to be able to do that. And that our daughter, Rachel, who's four years old, you know, someday, hopefully she'll be able to get be able to use that resource. And that's really humbling.

Andreas Johannsen [00:27:35] Have you seen a shift in attitudes from when you first started or maybe even when you first were in college? Attitudes of, you know, city people, administration to, until now, like a shift in attitude of, well, we don't really care about green space too much and then now, in 2008, it's something that's okay with everyone and we're kind of moving forward and almost moving into a new era. Is that something that you've experienced?

Dan Rice [00:28:01] Yeah, there was a moment, probably about ten years or so ago, and it was actually at... It was a debate prior to the mayoral election in one of our communities along the Ohio and Erie Canal in Stark County. And it was really a seminal moment, if you will, because ironically enough, the one issue that the candidates were debating was the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Towpath Trail. And it wasn't a matter of what some people might think, pro versus con, where somebody was really in favor of it, somebody was against it. It was actually which candidate was going to get out ahead of the other one, who was going to do more for the project. And one of our partners actually commented on that. He said, you know, that's actually when you know you've reached a level of success is when actually the elected officials are starting to take credit for the project and really want to demonstrate a leadership role. And I think that was a mo

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