CUYAHOGA VALLEY: A Community Gem
Within a day of arriving at Cuyahoga Valley National Park last week with four adventure days ahead of us, a few things were clear. The trees were alive with the colors of fall. We would not be lacking any LTE. And Cuyahoga Valley National Park really values its community.
It didn’t take us long to realize we had to dig into this idea a little deeper. Cuyahoga is such a unique park: its contrasting “urban” designation and pictures of flowing waterfalls and lonely leaf-covered trails put a confused image in our mind. But when we arrived and immersed ourselves in the history and scenery of the area, we quickly learned that Cuyahoga and its surrounding community maintain a mutually-beneficial relationship.
During our four-day stay, we hiked several of the trails, saw all the advertised waterfalls, attended four ranger-led programs, learned the history of the canal, biked the Towpath Trail, and explored the surrounding community.
While the park is unique in many ways, we want to primarily feature this special partnership of Cuyahoga National Park and its community.
Cuyahoga + Activities
We were pleasantly surprised to arrive at Cuyahoga and see dozens of Ranger-led programs and activities available in October and November. Pleasantly because we love activities. Surprised because most of the parks we had visited thus far wind down their programs after the summer season.
Because Cuyahoga is an urban park and very accessible to its neighboring communities, they seem to us to be more a year-round recreation area than a summer vacation destination. The park does welcome masses of traveling passers-by like us, but for the most part, it’s a gem for people in Cleveland and Akron to enjoy.
During our four days, we attended four NPS-led programs: a fossil hunt, the weekly farmers’ market, a canal lock demonstration, and an evening “Ghost Walk.” (We tried to attend a “Hike the Hills” exercise program, but arrived a couple minutes late and couldn’t find the group.) All the programs were more than worthwhile, and we’d definitely recommend attending a few on your visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Cuyahoga + Farmers
Like we mentioned above, Cuyahoga runs a farmers’ market inside the park. This was such a unique and refreshing change from other parks we have visited. Cuyahoga supports several local farms that lie within the park, and rangers are proud of the fact the park’s relationship with nearby farms is strong.
Nine farms lie within the boundaries of the park. These farms are involved in an organization called Countryside Conservancy which ensures the farms commit to sustainable agriculture practices. Countryside Conservancy also runs the farmers’ market which occurs every Saturday May through October.
Cuyahoga + Local Art
In addition to farmers, Cuyahoga also supports local artisans by featuring crafted goods at gift shops scattered throughout the park called Trail Mix. At Trail Mix, you can find handmade soaps, jewelry, honey, granola, ice cream, greeting cards, salsa, and other goodies. We love that these shops don’t shout “tourist trap” with brightly colored kitschy items, but instead house many of these artisan items. (Don’t get too excited… they also have quite a few souvenir t-shirts.)
In Peninsula, the quaint town carved out of the middle of the park, there are also several art galleries right along the Towpath Trail. We wished we had time to peruse these, but we were never around when they were open.
Cuyahoga + Fitness
We tried hard to make it to a Ranger-led program called “Hike the Hills” which occurs on select Sundays in the fall. This 2.5-hour hike traverses about 6.5 miles of hilly trails in the Kendall Lake area of Cuyahoga Valley.
We were a few minutes late, and either the group had already left, or the chilly weather had deterred anyone from showing up. Either way, we hiked about 5 miles half-looking for the group and half-just enjoying the trails at Kendall Lake.
Also, we saw tons of locals jogging or biking on the 20-mile stretch of the Towpath Trail.
Cuyahoga + Education
When speaking to rangers and volunteers briefly, we discovered a few ways Cuyahoga aims to engage local students.
During our morning fossil hunt, we were joined by about five or six Kent State University students currently working toward a relevant degree. The college students helped rangers explain to members of the community about fossils in the area and also helped identify specific fossils that were found. They seemed to enjoy this expert role.
Then a ranger saw Cole’s Mizzou Alternative Spring Break jacket, and told us about Cuyahoga’s partnership with local Alternative Break volunteer organizations. He told us the park offers three-day volunteer opportunities for students.
Finally, a volunteer at Beaver Marsh explained that students from nearby elementary schools visit almost daily in the spring and fall, split into small groups, and spend time learning about the history and conservation of the Cuyahoga Valley area.
Cuyahoga + Volunteers
Cuyahoga’s service to their community is embraced by the community so much that many want to give back. With about 5,500 volunteers (5,500!) the relatively unhyped park ranks fourth in the NPS volunteer system.
We met with a volunteer who talks to visitors at Beaver Marsh, a huge highlight on our trip through the park. She explained that she loves talking to people and pointing out wildlife in the marsh. She was very proud of Cuyahoga’s high volunteer participation.
That seemed to be a popular feeling among rangers, volunteers, local business owners, and community members as we chatted with many during our visit. The pride for their park was palpable.
And, because of all the ways that Cuyahoga Valley National Park has served its community, that pride is well deserved.