Location: Between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio
Webpage: National Park
General Description: In 1816, New York Governor Henry Clinton sent a letter to the Ohio Legislature, that the state of New York was intending to begin construction of the Erie Canal to connect Lake Erie to the Hudson River with the hope of encouraging Ohio to also begin a canal to connect Cleveland with Cincinnati. It was not until 1822 that Ohio passed legislation to begin the construction, which began in 1825. The first challenge was following the Cuyahoga River climbing up to the Continental Divide at Akron. This first section opened in 1827 consisting of 41 locks, 3 aqueducts along 37 miles. While an average speed of 3 mph may seem slow by today standards, the tons of freight that could be hauled on the canal was much more efficient then wagons over rutted trails. Initially operated largely by private companies, this canal opened up Ohio markets and created an economic and cultural boom that made Ohio the third richest state in the US by the 1840s. The golden years were from the 1830s until the 1860s, with a peak revenue from 1852 to 1855. Following the Civil War, the huge expansion of the railroad in the state began the decline in the use of the canal, however, much of the canal continued to be used by family units to transport goods until the flood of 1912 destroyed most of the critical sections, from which the canal never recovered. During the heydays many communities sprang up around the many locks in the Cuyahoga Valley, the most notable being Akron. Akron sits on the Continental Divide and was transformed into a bustling city due to the many passengers that would shop and stay there while their canal was making its slow passage through the many locks. Today much of the Cuyahoga Valley has been incorporated into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, consisting of 33,000 acres of deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands, beginning as a National Recreation Area in 1974 and a National Park in 2000. Situated between Cleveland and Akron, the Cuyahoga Valley NP provides important recreational opportunities to the local residents, as well as, a refuge for many plants and animals. Even the beaver, which by the 1830s was eliminated from the state, has made a come back in the park. Along with the many trails, there are also a number of cultural and historical sites of life back to the golden years of the Ohio and Erie Canal.
1) There are 3 Visitor Centers in the National Park, the Canal Exploration Center, and the Hunt House, which is a small rest area along the Towpath that offers child-friendly exhibits. The main Visitor Center is the Boston Store Visitor Center, which is located about midway through the park from north to south. Boston Store was one of the many small communities that sprang up along the Ohio and Erie Canal and store itself is now the location of the Visitor Center. From here you can obtain good information about the many sites in the park you can explore either by car or by foot. One of the more popular trails is the Towpath trail that is beside the remains of the canal from one end of the park to the other.
2) The Canal Exploration Center is near the north end of the park and is located at the only remaining operational lock in the park. In addition, there is a very nice museum with interactive exhibits about the history and operation of the Ohio and Erie Canal. For those interested in the history of the area, this is a must see location and well worth the time. From here you can also take advantage of the Towpath Trail that runs by the front of the Center.
3) There are a few waterfalls that are accessible with short walks from the parking area. The most spectacular of these is Brandywine Falls, which is a 65 foot falls. Of course, during late July there was not a lot of water flowing over the falls, but it was still a nice view. In 1814, George Wallace installed a sawmill at the top of the falls to be followed with grist and woolen mills creating the small town of Brandywine. Much of the town is now gone, but George Wallace’s home still remains as a bed and breakfast inn. The path from the parking lot is a nice boardwalk with steps that lead visitors to the falls.
4) There are a number of hiking and biking trails in the park of varying degrees of difficulty. The only trail we explored was the 1.75 mile loop trail around The Ledges. This trail leads from the picnic area with CCC constructed facilities to descend off of the ridge to bring the ledges into view. The ledges are the remnants of the sandstone cap overlaying the limestone that extends 20 to 100 feet of sheer rock faces. The trail goes all the way around the outcropping with many spectacular views of the rock faces. The temperature difference on a hot July day near the entrance to the Ice Box Cave, which is closed to protect the bats, is dramatic.
5) For those less adventurous, you can get a real sense of the beauty and history in the valley by taking the ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway. With departures from either Akron or at the north end of the park near Cleveland, riders can enjoy a 3 hour round trip through the park. Be sure to take advantage of the free audio tour which uses GPS to give the history, stories, and songs from the area. There is a snack car to purchase food and drink during the trip. You can exit the train at a number of stops along the way and catch the train on the way back on its next round trip 3 hours later. For instance, we boarded the train in Akron and exited it near the northern end at the Canal Exploration Center. We would have hiked the towpath north to the Rockside Station, but got caught in a thunderstorm that lasted for over an hour at the Canal Exploration Station. So we were there for the full 3 hours before the train returned to pick us up.