Less than 50 years ago Cuyahoga Valley National Park was a sprawling community of farms and small-scale factories in the Cuyahoga Valley. Thanks to its natural beauty, intriguing fauna and flora and amazing story of habitat renewal, it was crowned as a National Park in 2000. Today it is one of just two national parks in the Great Lakes region of the U.S and a haven for wildlife such as bald eagles, white-tailed deer and beavers.
The tumultuous history of Cuyahoga Valley
In the early 1800s, the US frontier was a patchwork of independent Indian nations and European settlers. Some settlers headed west in search of fertile farming land, and found their way to Cuyahoga Valley but with no viable way to export goods, they struggled to be self-sufficient.
So, locals began the construction of the Ohio & Erie Canal, a man-made ditch that led from Cleveland to Akron and connected to the Ohio River. For decades the canal was a prosperous trade route and a popular recreational spot. Sadly, after the Civil War the canal’s expenditure started to outgrow its revenue, and in 1913 a major flood damaged the canal beyond repair.
By the 1960s the rise of urbanisation, factory waste and sewage were causing environmental degradation. Campaigners successfully egged President Gerald Ford to sign a bill to establish the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in 1974. Clean-up of the park started in 1987 until it became a national park.
While the canal has been consigned to history, visitors to the park can follow its path along the 87-mile Towpath Trail. Various parts of it are open to hikers, cyclists and horse riders – bikes are available to rent at Century Cycles in the town of Peninsula. You can also attend ranger-led programmes to learn more about the park and its wildlife.
The Towpath Trail weaves through dense woodland and flower-strewn pastures, offering occasional glimpses of the Cuyahoga River.
We recommend hiking along the Towpath Trail from Boston Store Visitor Centre to Stanford House. From here, follow the 1.5-mile Stanford Trail along a gentle incline through the trees, where chipmunks dart about and the sunlight casts a beautiful dappled glow on the forest floor.
One of the more unusual creatures we spotted are woolly aphids, who cling to the trees in their hundreds and resemble small tufts of cotton wool.