Tired family, obligatory sign photo.We were definitely at Cuyahoga in the off-season; in the late spring, summer, and fall, there are all kinds of activities: a farmers’ market, farms to visit, outdoor concerts, catered meals on the train, etc. And I imagine the scenery of the park gets really stunning with wildflowers and changing leaves in other seasons. But we actually really enjoyed the early spring atmosphere. The park was quiet, the birds were active, the waterfalls were enormous, and the bare trees were like sculptures. There’s also something wonderful about spending time outside right when things are starting to come back to life.Peregrine falcon nesting under the bridge. Margi enjoyed herself enormously in the mud puddles. We ran around at Brandywine Falls during sunset and it was gorgeous. It had been raining throughout the week, so the falls were raging. The ranger said it was about as big as the falls get during the year. The struggle of getting a good family picture. One of our favorite things was hiking the 2.2-mile Ledges trail. The rain made the colors vibrant, everything smelled amazing, Margi took a little pack-nap, Graham was a champion, and the mossy rock formations were beautiful. Hiking buddies. On our hike, we came across these guys driving RC cars around the rocks. We stopped to talk and found out they all met on a Facebook group and they get together here about once a week to play around. Talking to them was, weirdly, sort of revelatory for David and I. I guess we normally think of the parks as being full of sort of crunchy, hike-y, sporty, outdoorsy people. And here we realized that, obviously, the parks are for everyone and are used by everyone and have something very crucial to offer anyone who takes advantage of them. Maybe the stereotype of the typical park-goer is unique to David and I, but I think it might be a pretty common perception, and I wonder if changing that, even for just a few (LAWMAKERS, for instance), could change the way we conceive of the necessity of protected public lands. Coming back from the Ledges Overlook. We were there mid-morning, but we’ve heard sunset from the lookout is awesome. We boarded the Scenic Railroad in Peninsula and rode to the Canal Exploration Center. On the way, we learned lots of interesting tidbits about the park from the volunteer train guides, rode past marshes and fields, and saw a nesting bald eagle. (One of the tidbits we learned: a while back, park rangers found an eagles’ nest that had fallen out of a tree. Since they generally leave the nests alone, they were excited to have this one at their feet to study. They were wondering, for example, what the parks’ eagles generally ate. The first thing they discovered was 12 cat collars [and our guide was quick to point out, that was just the ones wearing collars.]) One of our favorite moments from the park was talking to one of our train guides as we walked to the Canal Exploration Center about his life and his years volunteering at the park. He told us that when the park was converted to a National Recreation Area, there were lots of people living inside, so the government offered them varying amounts of money for leaving their houses immediately or in a specified number of years. Once the homes were vacated, the NPS basically just left them to go back to nature. You can still find old foundations and remains of houses throughout the park, in areas that otherwise seem like untouched nature. We were also inspired by our guide friend because he retired super young after making a lot of money as a computer engineer in Cleveland, bought a small house, and spends his time volunteering and hanging out with his wife. His goal is to spend more years retired than he spent working and he’s three years away from achieving it. Somehow we just encountered the coolest and most interesting people in Cuyahoga Valley. For its size, its proximity to the city, and its general lack of the epic wildness I usually associate with National Parks, Cuyahoga Valley is sort of a strange little anomaly of a park, but many of the reasons it’s different were reasons we loved it. There’s something particularly special about a park that can be accessed and enjoyed so frequently by so many people. Plus . . . birds! Forests! Mossy rocks! And I haven’t been to a better-smelling place in a loooooong time. Two thumbs up for this one.
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