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Finding the Cuyahoga Rhythm (Cuyahoga Valley NP)

Updated: Jul 2, 2022

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. — Lao Tzu

Sunday, 12 June 2022, Cuyahoga Valley NP

Another day to explore this gem of a park. Time to manage my expectations - I can't imagine today could be as much of a lark as yesterday, but time will tell.

Coming up from the south, I headed first for Beaver Marsh.

This area truly highlights how well the valley has recovered from its earlier neglect. Formerly, an auto reclamation yard (okay, a junkyard) sat here, full of rusting hulks, debris of our automotive society. But in the '70s, an astounding cross-species collaboration took place. Humans did the heavy lifting, hauling away old autos, while beavers handled the hydraulic engineering, damming the canal and flooding the ground to create the marsh. Now water plants grace the pond, and wildlife flourishes here.

A boardwalk crosses the marsh, letting people glimpse the animals. I spied one turtle, basking, mostly submerged;

several birds; and a Northern Green Frog.

You can identify the frog, say the signs, by its call: it sounds like a plucked banjo string.

Heading north, I returned to the Ledges area to hike around Kendall Lake. This easy, one-mile hike travels the woods beside what marketers once called "Ohio's Lake Placid". Developers planned a resort full of recreation amenities - the trail I walked tunnels under a ramp built for the toboggan run. Big dreams, certainly - but I couldn't see how this small lake could support those plans.

In the end, it didn't.

I took Riverview drive further north, wondering about lunch, when I encountered Szalay's. This farm stand teemed with people shopping at the fruit and vegetable market, buying hot dogs and roasted corn from the vendors, sitting on sliding picnic tables, listening to live music.

Across the street, a tractor plowed the field next to the parking lot.

How could I resist? I settled in with a polish sausage and an ear of corn, people-watching the crowd, settling back into that festive, holiday spirit.

Still more to see. Brandywine Falls is perhaps the iconic spot of the park, appearing on pictures and logos promoting the park. The park had closed the parking area adjacent to the falls for restroom upgrades (installing plumbed, not pit, toilets), so people had to work for a falls fix. The hike from the Boston Store took me down the towpath, across a meadow, by the Stanford House (where you can stay overnight),

through the woods, across a gully,

and over a ridge.

No question, the view justified the effort.

The two boardwalks offer views of the falls from the bottom or the top.

I had seen it on my first trip here 19 years ago, and it still impressed me.

After the obligatory photos, I hurried back to the Boston Store

to try my hand at Canalway Quest. This program, unique to CVNP, I could describe as 'a mixture of geocaching and forest bathing as imagined by Emily Dickinson'. The pamphlets - free at the Visitor Center or online - guide you around a section or feature of the park via rhyming verse, encouraging you to stop and draw what you see, or describe what you hear. Samples:

Ahead the Cuyahoga River comes into better view -

Winding this way and that, making turns quite a few.

Just before the footbridge, turn to the right.

Sit on the block of stone and take in the sight.


Stairs just ahead are where you must go.

Take a seat at the top, looking around and below.

Use your ears to tune in to what nature has to say.

Write in the fourth box what you hear today.

As I started my quest, I overheard a mother following the guide with her young sons. She would read them a verse and encourage them to follow the directions. What a great family activity!

I rushed through the Sense of Boston Quest - TOTALLY ignoring the goal of the quest to slow down. But I still had one more stop I wanted to squeeze in. On the way back to my car, I noticed kayakers launching on the river.

Oh, how I envied them, floating lazily downstream, without a care. But I had earlier seen a sign announcing a free outdoors concert from 4:00-6:00 a few miles south, in the park at Howe Meadow. (This Rhythm On the River program presents one concert a month during the warmer months.) I chose that for the final act of exploring this park.

I got there at 4:30, with many more still arriving after me. People wandered across the grassy expanse toward the tent where the band played light jazz tunes.

I headed for the food truck, figuring on an impromptu picnic. When I saw a line of 40 people waiting to order, and a second line of over 30 waiting to pick up their order, I figured it would take over an hour, so I demurred. Why would anyone expect a single food truck to handle this crowd?

Instead, I listened for a few minutes, and chatted with park rangers at the the booth they manned. When I mentioned their 50 Ways video, one ranger mentioned that her husband had filmed the live segments. She mentioned how the song was a group effort, with many rangers tossing out song lines or themes.

I may have finally clicked in to the rhythm of the park. Now let's see if I can retain that rhythm on my upcoming stops.

Travel Notes: When I visit an area, I enjoy hitting other nearby NPS sites, enjoying the diversity of the system. However, I had relegated myself to missing one this trip. While in the Visitor Center yesterday, I mentioned to the ranger my disappointment at hearing that the First Ladies NHS had closed due to a staffing shortage. "Closed?" she said. "That's news to me."

"I checked their website last Friday. It was right on their home page: Closed until further notice."

The ranger moved to a computer and brought up the website, which said nothing about a closure. A Google search uncovered an Akron Sentinel article from June 1, announcing the closure, then another article on June 7 about the re-opening. "Oh, well," I said, "It's about to close for the day, and it's not open on Sundays, so I still won't get to see it."

But wait - after 'visiting' St. Croix Island on my way back from Canada, I was now an expert on seeing inaccessible parks. Thus, I drove south of Canton to that park and looked around. The former house of Ida Saxton McKinley - First Lady from 1897-1901 - served as the centerpiece of the Historic Site.

(The park also included an education center a block away.) I walked around the house - the bunting hanging from the porch emphasized its historical legacy - and tried to imagine the history set there. While the NPS does offer tours of the house Tuesday-Saturday (when they're staffed, at least), I gathered that this site mostly serves as a research facility for those studying the impacts and roles of First Ladies (and someday, First Gentlemen) through history.

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