The Towpath Trail tag was introduced in late 1996 in what was then the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area.
The $5 plastic tag with a red canalboat was touted as a way to raise as much as $100,000 a year to maintain the popular 19.7-mile Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.
With designs and colors that changed yearly, the pin-on tags were sold at visitor centers. There was no arm-twisting or high-pressure sales, park officials said.
Sales never came close to the goal, however, and the dollar total the tags raised has been dropping precipitously in recent years.
Now the Towpath Tag is on its way out for good, ending Sept. 30.
It already has been replaced by a new tag, called Trails Forever, that is free. Officials are asking for donations in place of a set cost, and so far patrons are responding favorably.
The message on the new tag reads: I Love Trails 2012, Trails Forever.
A tag with a new design will come out next spring.
People making donations for the tag are contributing to the Trails Forever endowment fund that the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park will manage. The nonprofit friends-of-the-park group will use interest from the fund for trail improvements and maintenance.
The conservancy already has raised more than $1 million, with $170,000 coming from its recent Topography fundraising event, said Deb Yandala, the group’s president and chief executive.
The goal is to raise $10 million for the trail endowment fund by 2016, she said.
The new tag program includes all trails in the 33,000-acre federal park between Akron and Cleveland, not just the Towpath Trail, Yandala said.
The average tag donation to date is about $34, far more than what had been raised in sales with the old $5 tags, she said.
In its first year, the Towpath Tag raised nearly $45,000. The program was adopted at a time when other national parks were establishing or increasing their fees.
It was the first time public donations had been sought for park maintenance and operations in the Cuyahoga Valley. Officials had hoped the voluntary Towpath Tags would provide a new source of income and thought it was a better option than the fees other parks proposed.
At the time, Cuyahoga Valley said it was spending $200,000 a year on Towpath Trail maintenance and $100,000 on ranger patrols.
Last year, the Towpath Tags brought in less than $10,000, officials said.
In late 2000, the tags also went on sale with local park districts — Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, the Stark County Park District and the Cleveland Metroparks — that kept proceeds for their own use along the Towpath Trail. That income was never significant.
Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, got $1,900 in Towpath Tag sales from January 2009 through mid 2012, spokesman Nate Eppink said.
In 2006, Towpath Trail canine tags also were made available for $5.
The Towpath Trail gets about 1.6 million visitors a year in the national park.
In a related development, the conservancy has suspended the Cuyahoga Challenge hiking series this year because of declining participation. Fewer than 100 people completed the program a year ago, Yandala said.
The series might resume next summer, she said.
For information about the conservancy, go to www. conservancyforcvnp.org or call 330-657-2909.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or email@example.com.