CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Weather had done it again. We were planning to end our 2018 year on the road with a beautiful kayak trip around Voyageurs National Park. With early winter storms predicted, and weather in the 30's during the day, we came to the conclusion we were not prepared or willing to go through those conditions....yet.
This made Cuyahoga Valley National Park our final destination along the east coast before we headed to Florida and transitioned into our winter jobs in Colorado (we didn't know that at the time.)
I was hoping to have my mind changed about Cuyahoga, but even the Park Rangers were a bit miffed on why the land had been named a National Park. Recreation area, sure, I get that, but the National Park status I had always reserved for the flagship lands. The representation of very specific ecosystems, the culturally significant, and the unique. Cuyahoga Valley did not sell that for me. Shit, even the visitor center was taking a public poll of what the park should be about. At the end of our stay, we came to the conclusion that Cuyahoga Valley could be a great park, but lacks so much guidance and direction that it just fell very short of the National Park status in our eyes.
The visit was pleasant and short. We had planned 3 days for Cuyahoga, even with how small it was, we wanted to make sure we had time to see it all, as we didn't have plans to return to Ohio on purpose. We camped in the Streetsboro KOA which was cheap enough, had showers, and was complete with water and electric, so at least we had some hotel conditions. I didn't have high expectations for the drive out of Canada from Buffalo to Cleveland, but I was surprised when those expectations were not even met. That's as boring and industrial as it gets. This once again reaffirmed I had no desire to return to Ohio, and we hadn't even made it to our destination yet. It was not looking good as far as having my opinion changed about this park.
During the first day, these low expectations were once again reinforced with our trip to the visitor center. We love to watch the video summary at every National Park, and this one was by far the best, if your going off of comedic value. The video made it clear that the park existed only as a result of pissing match between the National Park Service, the Army Corps or Engineers, and the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area. This argument about the land around the Cuyahoga River Valley angered a lot of the residents in the area, and was a huge political issue that is still causing bitterness today.
I am happy this land was reclaimed at least by someone, and the companies that polluted it so heavily were made to clean it up. The famous Cuyahoga river, the one that caught on fire 13 times between 1868 and 1969 due to too much pollution, is known as 'The River That Burned.' Boating and swimming are still not recommended and the fish can not be eaten due to overabundance of extremely toxic chemicals. I am glad it has been protected to hopefully reverse the damage, but again, National Park?
We covered all of the park in one day, including the most popular hikes and time spent photographing the falls. Some of the highlights were the lock system for the Ohio Erie Canal, Brandywine falls, and the Ledges. One of the coolest programs the park implements is the farm lease system. This too was laughable in a way, because the land was originally obtained by imminent domain, taking it from non willing farmers, only to be leased back years later. However, the program does encourage organic and historic farming practices and agro-tourism for the area.
The hike through the ledges was my favorite part. The moss covered walls of large sedimentary rock formations was calming and surprisingly well preserved for being so close to a city.
On to the best thing about Cuyahoga National Park; it's proximity to the Cleveland Zoo. Based on Emily's recommendation (her sister lives in the area), we spent the next day ambling around the zoo and eating at El Campiseno mexican resturant. It is always great to see exotic animals in wonderfully created habitats cared for by organizations that support conservation and education. We will never forget how cute the baby rhino and baby snow leopards were, and how lucky we were to see them on their first day outside. El Campiseno was a favorite of Emily's, and I enjoyed joining a family photo tradition while eating top notch Mole.
On our drive back to Florida, we stopped by New River Gorge and Congaree National Park just because it was conveniently on the way. Seeing Congaree a second time was another reminder of how directionless Cuyahoga was. New River Gorge was on our 'to see' list when we were passing from Mammoth Cave to Shenandoah National Park, but we had to skip it due to the massive wind / rain storm that was hovering in the area. The Gorge was as impressive as West Virginia wasn't, and is on my list to return to for some solid climbing.
All and all, the East Coast had a lot of ups, a lot of lessons, and a variety of experiences. West Coast here we come!
100/10 would travel for a year again.
2018 Song: Seagulls! - Bad Lip Reading (of the Empire Strikes Back)