Cuyahoga Valley National Park is what I would call a “different” kind of park. I think most people imagine National Parks as wilderness areas away from the hustle and bustle of normal life. At many, the scenery is often grand and inspires awe. Parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone and Glacier have unique and dramatic features that can be seen in few other places. Cuyahoga is more of an urban or suburban park as it is surrounded by towns and a freeway runs close by. In addition, it is located between two major cities, Cleveland and Akron. I like to read reviews on the places I visit and it was interesting to read reactions of people that visited here. Some complained that wherever they went they could hear road noise. A few others complained there wasn’t enough to warrant it being a National Park. But for the most part, the reviews were positive. The Park was developed to preserve its centerpiece, the Cuyahoga River Valley. This area is full of history, with the Ohio and Erie Canal as well as farms and mills once dotting the land. Some farms continue to operate within the Park. As towns and cities began to encroach upon the area, there was fear that this beautiful valley and all its heritage would be lost, so preservation efforts began with National Park status granted in the year 2000.
At the first activity I attended a ranger asked our group to think about when was the last time we did something special or unique that stood out for us. We had met at Everett Covered Bridge after finishing an evening walk where we strolled by a creek looking at wildflowers and listening to bird calls. He reminded us that we were in the only National Park in Ohio and also standing under a full moon, but not just any full moon, a “blue” moon that only happens once every year or two. He told us we were experiencing a special event that night we might not have thought about. I appreciated his enthusiasm and also his encouragement to think about those special moments in our lives. For those of you that remember my article about the full moon event at Saguaro National Park, I also appreciated that this time we could actually see the full moon!
Today there are a number of ways to enjoy Cuyahoga NP with walking, hiking and biking on trails some of the major highlights. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad runs through the Park and on to the city of Akron, connecting with several towns and providing passengers views of the Park. With a variety of attractions, I found ways to keep busy here for several days. One activity I did not want to miss was the Saturday farmers’ market located in a lovely meadow. I love farmers’ markets and how often does one get to visit a market in a national park? This one was very nicely done with not only a great location, but also plenty of vendors with lots of goodies.
In addition, there was a great band playing and singing throughout the morning, worth coming just for the music. Since I can’t remember the last time I had pierogies I tried some and they were delicious! There were tables scattered around for sitting, eating and relaxing which was nice. I had to try a few other goodies, indulging in some homemade bienenstich “bee sting” cake (one of the best desserts I have eaten in a long time) and baklava. It was definitely a multicultural eating experience but I also got some healthy foods to take back such as greens and veggies.
Down the road from the market was Beaver Marsh which ended up being an interesting site. One of the most beautiful marshes I have seen in my travels, I was surprised to learn that an auto repair shop with old cars and worn out parts covered this area before the National Park Service (NPS) purchased the land. Many, many years before it had been a wetland. The site was cleaned up by the Sierra Club and working together with the NPS they hauled all the trash away. The NPS wasn’t quite sure what to do with this piece of land but beavers were returning to the Valley and built a system of dams that flooded the area, creating the marsh. The marsh is very large, full of blooming water lilies and a rich variety of plant and animal species. It is a wonderful story of restoration with both humans and animals working together to create something special.
A nicely constructed boardwalk has been placed through the marsh for easy viewing. Although I didn’t see any beavers I did see some birds including these adorable wood ducklings and their mother. As she sat patiently on a log, her babies swam and splashed around the lily pads until they joined her to dry out their feathers.
Another day Mark and I traveled around the Park hitting some of the main attractions with Brandywine Falls perhaps the most popular. I have to confess that I have a mental block about these falls as I can never remember their name! I always have to look it up as the name doesn’t seem to stick for some reason. The falls drop 65 feet over a rock face and into a gorge. You can see them from several different viewpoints; the lowest requires a stairway with many steps. I like to judge how I would rate a falls by the wow factor I feel when I see it. These falls are quite nice and large, but I wasn’t feeling the “wow” that I have felt at other waterfalls.
Ritchie Ledges is an interesting geological spot with a hiking trail that goes by dramatic and tall sandstone cliffs. Some of the cliffs have broken off in areas creating a rock garden of huge boulders with interesting colors of orange, yellow and brown. There are narrow openings to walk through into rooms or enclosed areas. I found it to be a mysterious and fun place to explore. Since I love seeing rock formations, it was one of my favorite places to visit in the Park.
Cuyahoga Valley NP Visitor Center is located in the former mill town of Boston. Built in 1836, the building had been a warehouse and boarding house. It was here that we got our passport book stamped and saw exhibits about the Ohio & Erie Canal including part of an old canal boat. In 1825, construction began on this Canal as a transportation system that would connect Lake Erie with the Ohio River and be routed through the Cuyahoga Valley. It took two years to hand dig the canal section from Cleveland to Akron with Irish and German immigrants providing most of the labor.
We also visited another canal site, the Canal Exploration Center. The historic building here was once a tavern, general store and residence. We got to see Lock 38 which is one of the few restored working locks along the historic Ohio and Erie Canal. A signboard described the locks acting as elevators by raising and lowering boats between levels with 44 locks between Cleveland and Akron. Heavy wooden gates seal the stone chamber and water is added to raise a boat headed upstream. For a boat headed downstream, the water could be drained out to lower it.
In the photo below, I am trying my best to close the gate for an incoming vessel. Well no, not really, hee, hee. They wouldn’t let me do that without supervision as the Center wasn’t open when we visited. No boat was actually coming through either. But I tested my strength on it for a little while and tried to get it to move.
We found Cuyahoga to be a very nice park to visit and also enjoyed the nearby towns. There weren’t quite as many attractions as some National Parks but it was a clear example of quality versus quantity. I appreciated that the Cuyahoga Valley has been saved from destruction by urban development.
In my next blog I write about my favorite activity at Cuyahoga – biking!