A Midwestern “Gem” of National Parks
Many people don’t realize it, but there is a beautiful “gem” of a National Park in the heart of the Midwest, just south of Cleveland Ohio: Cuyahoga Valley National Park. From the Native Americans word for “crooked river”, it is pronounced “Ka-uh-ogh-ha”. It is a beautiful park with waterfalls, cliffs and valleys, and a rich history about life in the mid-western states. When people think of National Parks, they frequently think of the “classics”: Yellowstone, Acadia, the Grand Canyon. Yet this park in Ohio is a beautiful representation of our National Parks system: preservation of natural beauty and also a link to the past. Looking at timelines, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is very young as a member of the National Park service. It was established as a National Recreation Area in 1974, then became a National Park in 2000. The fact that it is a relatively young National Park is very evident as one drives through the park and sees many residential areas throughout the park that were “grandfathered” in and allowed to remain within the park boundaries. These private residences do not distract from the beauty of the park, however sometimes seem odd from what people consider a “National Park” should be like. There are so many roads that go in and out of the park, and of course the residents that live there have easy access in and out. It sometimes blurs the definition of the park boundaries.
The park itself preserves 33,000 acres along the Cuyahoga river valley between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. The natural beauty of the park includes deep gorges, waterfalls, cliffs and century old majestic trees that rise high in the skyline. Most of the trees are typical of the Midwest and the deciduous seem to outnumber the pines. With the abundance of Maples, I would imagine this would be a wonderful place to visit in the Fall to see all the changing colors. A diversity of beautiful wildflowers can be found throughout the park and more than 100 bird species nest in the valley. The many trails within the park are perfect for both hiking and biking. Many cyclists make use of the fantastic “towpath trails” that follow the canal paths throughout the park. Some of the canals have all but disappeared except for a low trench, but others still have water in them and still seem “usable”. The towpaths where the mules were used to tow boats along the canal, have all been resurfaced and make fantastic bike paths.
In additional to the natural features, the park has a fascinating history about the use of the canals. The “canal era” from roughly 1825 to 1913, was a period of time that Americans relied heavily on the use of the canal system for economical transportation of both products and passengers. The Ohio-Erie Canal was built in 1825 and served to connect Lake Erie all the way south to the Ohio River. It helped to provide transportation and increase commerce from 1827 to 1913. In 1913, a devastating flood occurred that did extensive damage to the canals. At this time the railroads were also expanding into a major form of transportation and beginning to replace the widespread use of canals. The railroads soon became the primary source of transportation and life on the canal boats became a distant memory. When visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park, be sure to visit the Canal Visitor Center, in the northern part of the park with some fascinating displays and some really interesting historical information about river commerce and lifestyles of the hardworking people who depended on the canals.
Another aspect of the park rich in history, but also providing an adventurous way to get back and forth throughout the park is the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The train ticket gives you an all day pass and you can get off at any stop and get back on to explore several areas within the park. The train also offers meals onboard and “tastings” of beer or wine. With your tasting, you receive a CVSR commemorative tasting glass! Cyclists can also board the train, with their bikes. They have the option to bike the towpath trail one direction then take the train the other. Considering how many lengthy trails there are in the park, this is a terrific option for cyclists if you just run out of steam. Bear in mind that the train does not run 7 days a week. Unfortunately when I was there it was not running. Generally they run Wednesday through Sunday, but be sure to check their web-site for more detailed information and ticket prices: http://www.cvsr.com
Like many National Parks, the park rangers are so interesting to talk with and have a wealth of information about the attributes of their park and also the area of the country they live in. I would like to give a “shout out” to Ranger Jan at Cuyahoga Valley National Park~ she was a delight to talk with and shared so much information and history with us. We ran into her at two different Visitors Centers; so much fun chatting with her! So Hi Jan! We will have to go back again one day, and maybe that time we can catch the train! Put your traveling shoes on. JES