Saturday, 11 June 2022, Cuyahoga Valley NP
Remember the fire of '69?
That was the last time the Cuyahoga River caught fire (though far from the only time). This time, that toxic event spurred environmental changes, such as the passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the EPA - and the creation of the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area.
In 2000, the feds promoted this NRA - a textbook example of what people and government can accomplish through restoring nature - to National Park status. I had passed through here twice before on bicycle tours (pedaling Chicago-to-Rhode Island in 2004 and Cleveland-to-Charlotte in 2015). This time I would take it slower, to sample this reclaimed landscape.
The railroads played a major role in the early days of National Parks, taking people out west to the parks. Today, however, only one park has a train that runs through it - Cuyahoga Valley (CVNP). (Yes, the Grand Canyon railroad can take you to the rim, but it doesn't tour the park.)
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway offers many special events - dinner or breakfast on the train, Ales on Rails, Murder Mystery Tour, and more. I reserved a spot on the on the 10:00 National Park Flyer, which rolls south for 45 minutes, then returns north. The dome car cost a couple bucks more, but the ticket agent told me it offers the best views.
I arrived early to find the train steaming as it waited for its audience. Family groups milled about on the Saturday morning, looking for their assigned train car, a festive mood stirring the the crowd. I found my dome car with a few folks already on board, and settled into my seat.
As 10:00 approached, a group of ten people came up the steps, with two women sitting at my table. "Are you by yourself?" the older woman asked. "Well, then, I'll adopt you for the ride. We're celebrating my 95th birthday! All my kids are here, and my younger sister." She pointed to the lady next to her. "Joan's a youg'un, only 80."
As the train took off, slowly rolling down the tracks - the conductor told us it maxes out at 9 mph -
we looked at the passing greenery, catching glimpses of the healed river. Conversation with my tablemates flowed. "My name is Effie! Ever met an Effie before?"
"You adopted me, so now your name is Mom!" I replied. She laughed.
I went back and forth between the scenery - "Look there! An eagle's next!" - and my company. Her kids came by from the other tables, and she introduced them to their new step-brother. "This son and his wife live in Newtown PA - is that close to your home?" (Yes, it is.) Effie asked if I planned on writing a book - and when she heard that I had written one about walking coast-to-coast, she asked for a copy.
The conductor kept mingling with the riders, and when he heard Effie was local, he asked what town she hailed from. "Lyndhurst," came her answer.
That caught me by surprise. "Lyndhurst! Then you must know my brother!! He lived there for several years!"
She laughed. "Well, I don't know EVERYBODY there."
As she turned to talk to her sister, I pulled out my cell phone and started typing. When done, I showed Effie the text I'd just sent my brother: " Hey Dirk, your friend Effie from Lyndhurst says 'Hi!' She's turning 95!" That got a big laugh from Effie and Joan.
[A few days later, I took it one step further. A few phone calls got my siblings on board, casting us a group package - you adopt one of us, you adopt us all. So she will now get birthday cards from all of her new foster-children - surely a birthday she will never forget!]
We'd started the day as strangers, and ended the ride as friends. After getting her picture with the conductor,
I set off for the rest of my day, a smile stretching across my face.
Time to stretch the legs. I strolled up the towpath, following the canal, catching glimpses of the river. Above me, the sun danced among the clouds. Joggers and bikers shared the path, getting their Saturday exercise.
The Canal Exploration Center caught my eye, and I spent a few minutes inside looking at the exhibits. When I wandered over to ask the ranger a question, she read the words on my tee shirt ("Slip on a pack, Jack/Go visit a park, Clark"), beamed me a grin, and said, "The park recorded your song!"
"Your song! 50 Ways! In 2019, to celebrate 50 years since the river caught fire, we recorded 50 Ways to Love Your River! Here, let me pull it up for you on YouTube." [You can find it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT9cgJv08hc .]
I love it! She sent me the link, and I forwarded her the URL of my version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-Yd0W3lrsc , for those who haven't seen it). Before she could finish watching it, her supervisor texted her to hurry to another park location - must need her to handle a Cuyahoga crisis - so I didn't get to chat with her further. Still, I left the center with my mood further lifted.
After returning on the towpath I headed to a strip mall filled with eateries for lunch, fancying a sandwich until I saw the pho café. I hadn't eaten Vietnamese food for a year, so I settled in to treat my tummy. Could the day keep getting better?
Next stop: the Visitor Center to get the must-see recommendations and pick up items for tomorrow. She recommended a few stops, piquing my interest with the Ledges. "It's a unique landscape in the park," she said. "Quite unusual."
At the Ledges shelter, a wedding was underway, but you could still take the access road to get to the trail. After a short spur, I found myself on the Ledges Loop, part of a network of trails in the area.
I confirmed her description of 'unique'. The trail hugged a stone cliff towering 20'-50' above me. Lichens colored the rocks green. On the other side, a forest covered a gentle downslope. In portions of the woods, evergreens dominated, blocking most of the light, embracing darkness. In the rest, the deciduous trees held sway, welcoming the light, with greenery covering the forest floor.
At the overlook, you could sit on the bare rocks topping the ledge, but the profuse greenery limited any vistas. I moved on, quickly missing a trail sign, and found myself on the Piney Loop. [I'll argue that the sign was ill-placed.] I kept moving forward, hoping to spy another Ledges Loop sign, but when I reached the junction with the Kendall Lake Trail, I asked other hikers for directions. Okay, heading back to find the sign I missed.
Back on the right trail, I soon found more of the ledges, the rocks dwarfing me.
The hikers I passed looked similarly awed, gazing at the terrain.
A great way to end a remarkable day.
Travel Note. I don't need a National Park to have an adventure - I can do it with my lodging! For last night, I booked the Hope B&B in Canton. Two weeks ago, Valerie (the hostess) had messaged me, asking if I had any dietary restrictions for my breakfast. Me being me, I replied that I did have a strong aversion to pickled beets and to liver and onions.
Her reply: Darn, I was going to serve my special liver, onions, and beets omelet! Back to the drawing board!
My retort: If you add jalapenos and anchovies, you could enter it in the cooking contest at the state fair, and get disinvited from ever participating again...
When I arrived last night, we chatted about adventures, and talked more as she prepared a frittata for her three guests. As we dug into our delicious breakfast, Valerie announced, "And I've got something special for you, Glen!" She then set down full-color pictures of liver and onions, and of pickled beets, next to my place setting.
Game, set, and match to Valerie!