Cuyahoga Valley National Park protects the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. As such, it is truly an urban park. A patchwork of natural areas, villages and small farms, it’s often really difficult to tell whether you are actually in the national park or in a residential development or on someone’s farm. Since we were there in 2020 there were many things closed or with very limited access, including two visitor centers and the railroad. However, we managed to explore, walk some pathways, and visit waterfalls.
In the 1960’s, local citizens and public officials became concerned that development, both commercial and residential, was threatening the scenic river valley. In 1974,Congress passed a bill creating a National Recreation Area and in 2000 Cuyahoga Valley was given National Park status.
Cuyahoga is a native American word meaning “crooked”. Native Americans who canoed the lower Cuyahoga found it a favorable portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. In the 1700’s fur traders established temporary trading posts and in the early 1800’s water was diverted from the lower river for a canal. The Ohio & Erie Canal connected heartland farms to East Coast ports. Canal transport of goods became obsolete in the 1880’s when the railroad arrived.
A few decades ago, the Cuyahoga River was notoriously polluted. After extensive rehabilitation efforts it is far cleaner today. Swimming and boating are still not recommended and recovery efforts continue. As the water recovers, wildlife also recovers. Bald eagles, great blue herons, beavers and otters have re-established.
The park’s most-visited natural feature, Brandywine Falls cascades over a series of sandstone shelves.
In the Tinkers Creek Gorge, a tributary of the creek creates Bridal Veil Falls when it drops over a series of sandstone ledges.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is long and narrow running north-south and encompassing the river valley. The canal towpath is a popular hiking trail and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad allows excursionists to hop on and off at different points throughout the park.
Crisscrossed by roads and two interstate highways, Cuyahoga has no wilderness. This park is so different than the vast western national parks, it was a little difficult for us to wrap our heads around it as an actual National Park. It is a park that one, living in an urban area, would love to have on your doorstep. It feels like a daily use kind of park rather than a destination kind of park.
For more information: https://www.nps.gov/cuva/index.htm