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  • Mikah Meyer

Suburban National Park Paradise

Unit #17 / 412 - Cuyahoga Valley National Park

"What can't you do here?" Andy asked as we crossed over a glade of grass filled with weddings, runners, dogs, bikers, and--after hiking a one mile loop that includes two ecosystems--caves and a scenic overlook. ...and we drove past a golf course inside the National Park on the way to this diverse Shangri-La.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as was explained to me by Ranger Paige at the Boston Store Visitor Center, started out as a National Recreation Area in 1974, then became a National Park in 2000.

At the beginning of my day in the Park, after doing two hikes to popular Brandywine Falls and Blue Hen Falls, I wondered why this area had earned such an esteemed distinction as one of the most recognized 59 "National Parks." Sure it was beautiful, but its landscapes weren't unlike places I'd seen before: it was green, had waterfalls, had tree covered hiking paths.

Only as the day went on did Ranger Paige's words really start to sink in:

"The area residents fought really hard for this nature to be protected. When they first rallied together it was because local industry had turned the river so dirty it was essentially unusable. They wanted to restore it to its original state, and they've done so by getting it protected. Now the valley is back to its normal quality you see today."

While the efforts to return the area to its natural state are noble, what really struck me was how Ranger Paige described the area residents coming together to make it happen. As is clearly evident with even a short drive through the park, these people had a gorgeous living area full of recreation opportunities and wanted to keep it that way.

Houses, churches, schools and businesses (including a golf course) sprinkled within this National Park hearken to what America looked like before urbanization. Everything that is charming about old-timey living, or at least what I imagine it to be, is preserved. Including generously spaced out little farms and clusters of houses, and miles of well-maintained nature leading to towns with one intersection.

It's Americana paradise.

Though this space is worthy of some Stepford Wives inclusion for those lucky enough to live within its borders, it also provides a similar haven for the 3-million residents in the nearby urban agglomeration literally surrounding the park. Scott and Jaime, residents of Akron approx. 7 miles from the park's southern entrance, come here often with their 3 young kids and 2 dogs as an escape from this urbanity. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, surrounded by the greater Cleveland-Akron-Canton MSA, even served as the place of their first meeting: at Blue Hen Falls, the finale to one of Cuyahoga's many short, moderately difficult hikes.

They now return here as often as possible with their kids, so both of their interests in nature will be instilled in the next generation.

And perhaps that's the greatest asset of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It doesn't smack you in the face with glaciers, a canyon or coastline: it just subtly inserts itself as a spectacular part of people's normal lives.

Like a parent creating a love of nature in their children simply by putting them into it, Cuyahoga puts itself in the heart of a city, making sure it stays in the souls of its residents.

5 Cuyahoga Valley National Park Highlights (You Can Do)

Andy and I had a great introduction to the park by Ranger Paige at the Boston Store Visitor Center. These are the 5 Highlights she recommended and we did during our time in CVNP.

1. Ledges Trail - Top Recommendation!

I said "This is SO COOL!" at least 3 times on this trail.

After going to the Overlook, which is likely better at sunset or in the fall, Andy and I were amazed at the way our light green path suddenly switched to dark evergreens, then gave way to massive boulders, moss, trees that looked like those in ancient Asian temples, and a bat cave that provides a burst of "natural air conditioning" for hot hikers.

2. Brandywine Falls

"Go early in the morning!" Ranger Paige said, before the crowds get too crazy. Even when we arrived at 11 AM it was decently packed, and when telling a group of tourists this was the lighter period, they all said they'd hate to see it later.

The hike from Boston Store Visitor Center was really lovely and under an hour. I recommend doing the same instead of driving to the parking lot near Brandywine Falls.

3. Hike to Blue Hen Falls (then unmarked Buttermilk Falls)

​​Andy and I did the hike from Boston Store and it was filled with tons of sharp ascents and descents. If doing this hike after a day already filled with walking, I recommend driving to the nearby parking lot and doing the short hike to Blue Hen Falls.

Then take locals Scott and Jaime's tip and go beyond where the sign says "Trail Ends Here" to Buttermilk Falls (seen here). It's completely legal and there were lots of people who did this (though far less than were at Blue Hen).

4. Beaver Marsh

Dawn and dusk provide your best chance to see an actual beaver in this -- yet another -- new ecosystem in CVNP.

5. Ranger Paige's Secret Hideout - Oak Hill

"When it's really crowded and I just want some quiet or time away from the crowds, this is where I retreat."

Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations please! What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)

(Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota)

-Isle Royale National Park

-Keweenaw National Historical Park

-Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

-River Raisin National Battlefield Park

-Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

-Grand Portage National Monument

-Mississippi National River & Recreation Area

-Pipestone National Monument

-Voyageurs National Park

-Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

-Theodore Roosevelt National Park

-Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

-Apostle Island National Lakeshore

-Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway

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