I still remember the day I discovered that Ohio was a beautiful state. I hiked down into a glen and discovered a world of stone, streams, owls and caves. This surprised me, since most of my experience of Ohio until then had been spent driving from Toledo east to the Pennsylvania border. I was equally surprised when I visited Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a green, forested world of waterfalls, valleys, caves and canals just a few miles south of Cleveland.
Cleveland is on the shores of Lake Erie, which means that it is guaranteed to have some natural beauty around. Despite this, what I think about nature and Cleveland is the burning Cuyahoga River and the line in The Lorax where the humming-fish are leaving for better water. “I hear things are just as bad in Lake Erie,” croaks the humming-fish.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
After visiting the David Berger National Memorial and the James A. Garfield National Historic Site, I thought I would spend the afternoon hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I chose my spot and headed South to the Ledges. I immediately remembered the feeling I had when I first hiked in Ohio. The landscape was fairly ordinary, a nice walk in a forest. One of my friends thinks that all trees look the same. I characterized this part of the hike as “typical woods, ” but then I noticed that there were a lot of yellow birch and hemlock trees in these woods. Interesting, but I didn’t think much of it. Then I came upon the Ledges.
The trail I hiked went right up to the edge of a deep crevice. The earth gave way to a sandstone cliff face. The rock was covered in moss and ferns. Every thing was covered in green. I wondered if I imagined a temperature drop. The temperature change was real. Within a few minutes I was hiking along the base of the sandstone ledges and feeling blasts of cold air coming out through crevices in the rock. When I came to Ice Box Cave, the air was almost chilly.
Ice Box Cave is closed to people to prevent the spread of white nose syndrome to the Park’s bats. While I really wanted to explore the cave, I am glad that the cave is closed. White nose syndrome kills hibernating bats. Wildlife managers use words like devastating when they talk about the disease. I love bats, but even if I didn’t I would be worried about the disease because bats eat mosquitos. The Park takes the closure seriously – there were surveillance cameras set up to protect the bats.
My hike ended at the Ledges Overlook – a popular spot with great view over the surrounding valley. Once I again I wondered if I was really in Ohio. After taking in the view with a lot of other people, I headed back to the parking lot and wished I rented a bike. Instead of speeding along down the rolling hills on a bike, I was puttering along behind riders who turned off down mountain bike trails all over the Park.
The Park is a sprawling 33,000 acres, and I think the best way to see it is on a bike. The parking lots were full all over the Park. I wasted a lot of time figuring out where to put my rental car. I could have been using that time to cruise along the Ohio and Erie Canal (where President James Garfield worked as a teenager) or checking out waterfalls.
One Nice Waterfall
I did manage to get to one pretty waterfall – Blue Hen Falls. I parked in the overflow parking lot, within view of Interstate 271, but the sound of the traffic didn’t follow me down the trail. The trail was a short half mile to the falls. The stream cuts over a harder sandstone, eroding away the softer rock below at the drop. The falls are about 15 feet, and very pretty. If I had done a little more research, I would have continued on the trail to Buttermilk Falls. These falls aren’t on government land, so their exact location isn’t advertised. I will get there on our next visit.
After my walk to Blue Hen Falls, it was time to head to the airport. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is huge and deserving of more time. I barely scratched the surface on my visit, perhaps because my Michigan bias prevented me from remembering that Ohio is a beautiful state. Another visit is needed. I will come prepared with a bike.