**This should have been posted before Indianapolis**
I drove to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the early morning (5/20/15) and stopped at the visitor center before heading out on bike.
Before I get into what the park is like, bear with me while I drag you through a little background.
Cuyahoga River collects runoff from north eastern Ohio and runs north dumping back into Lake Erie. The Ohio River, which creates the southern border of Ohio, runs south west before merging with the Mississippi River. Goods could be taken from Cleveland by canoe or small boat upstream on the Cuyahoga River (south) where they could get within walking distance to the Ohio River. From there goods could be sent downstream to any town on the way to New Orleans or upstream towards Pittsburg. The problem was that the Cuyahoga River was treacherous during spring and shallow during fall.
In 1832 the completed Ohio and Erie Canal was opened. It has two names, but it’s just one canal so don’t let that trip you up. The canals straight path generally paralleled the winding Cuyahoga River, and thanks to a series of locks and dams it could be navigated in either direction by 12 foot wide boats. Most of these motorless boats were pulled by mules (usually teams of 3 in a line) which walked a trace next to the canal known as the Tow Path.
By 1860’s railroads began to offer more secure, quick, and eventually less expensive transportation for goods (lumber) out of Cleveland. The canals were retired in the 1900’s and left to be reclaimed by river flooding. Cleveland’s urban sprawl began to encroach on the Cuyahoga River Valley, and in the 1960’s citizens began to work with the state and local government to protect the land from development. In 1974 it became a National Recreation Area, and in 2000 it was welcomed into the elite fraternity of National Parks.
Now, all that being said, Cuyahoga National Park is not likely to leave you stunned by its majesty, misty eyed, and speechless.
There are many roads leading through it, and even on the bike trail I was never too far out of ear-shot or eye-shot of the residential roads, freeways, and powerlines which crisscross the river basin. What I did experience was a extraordinarily pleasant bike ride down the Canal Tow Path Trail. I stopped at the Beaver Marsh with a group of middle schoolers on field trip to take in the wetland environment before heading back the 5 miles I came.
The park is unique because of its proximity to a major city.
The drive from downtown Cleveland to the park takes less than 30 minutes without traffic. I’m both happy it’s protected as a National Park and impressed by whoever successfully lobbied for its federal protection.