My wife insists on comfortable bike riding. For me, who in my younger years had whooshed his ram’s handle, light ten speed with its narrow tires and hard, narrow seat around the cliff-edged curves of the Colorado National Monument, this slow, easy mode of bicycle touring is new—and nice.
She looks good sitting on her bicycle with its upright handlebars and soft seat as she pedals steadily along a level bike path while her ponytail moves gently from side to side. She has a rainbow-colored bell, and as she tells me, adding a basket would complete the ensemble. I like this genteel touring with my wife.
Cuyahoga National Park, near Cleveland, Ohio, is made for enjoyable bike riding. It was another surprising discovery in our own national backyard. We chose Cuyahoga for no other reason than that I wanted to see the Wright Brothers Museum in Dayton, and while looking at the map we saw that Ohio had a national park, so we decided to trailer camp near the park (at the Streetsboro, Ohio KOA) to explore it. That random decision led to days of pleasant bike riding, a train ride, a walk through an early 1800s-era town, and an appreciation of how a notoriously polluted river has been restored to a nature-filled, pleasant river.
To enjoy Cuyahoga Valley National Park, bike it. You can walk or run along the firm, flat trail beside the Cuyahoga River and the Ohio & Erie Canal, but when you bike it you can cover distance and then hop a train going back. I’m told the bikeway extends beyond the park both north and south, creating a total of about 110 miles.
Mules pulled canalboats along the towpath in the days when commerce moved along the Ohio & Erie Canal from Lake Erie to the Ohio River, and so the towpath is wide, flat, and easy. A polluted Cuyahoga Rover infamously burst into flames near Cleveland, helping to spur creation of the Clean Water Act. On our ride we saw cranes, turtles, ducks, hawks, and squirrels along the clean Cuyahoga, and there are many more creatures inhabiting this river we did not see. The beaver marsh had been a dump site, but it was cleaned up by the national park service and by volunteers, and, as the information poster describes, once the area became clean, “the beavers took over.” Now you can enjoy this wonderful, lily pad filled wetland as you ride on the raised wooden trail that crosses it. Learning of what had been there, and then seeing what is there inspires our conservation efforts now. There’s always a story behind every conserved nature area—a story of people who loved it and then banded together to save it.
My wife and I parked at the Boston Mill Visitor Center, with its displays and helpful rangers. We offloaded our bikes and then embarked on a pleasant ten-mile ride north to Rockside Station where we boarded the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad train, which then rumbled us south to Akron. From there, we enjoyed a leisurely, slightly downhill twenty-mile ride back to the Boston Mill Visitor Center, stopping along the way at Szalay’s Market (on Riverview and Bolanz Roads, just north of the beaver marsh) for cider and cookies and to see the many pumpkins and corn ears. On the trail are stopping points with information posters describing what canal lock had been there, how people managed their mules, how this building had been a mill, how that building had been a lodge and tavern. The train ($5 a person, $5 a bike) was staffed by friendly volunteer men and women trainmen (a whole train car load of them), and it had a snack car where you could buy food, drink, and train-related paraphernalia.
That evening, we drove to the nearby town of Hudson and strolled the streets that are lined by 1830s-era houses. John Brown (of assaulting the Harper’s Ferry fame) and other members of the Brown family lived here. From the information posters in the town square, we learned that Hudson had been a hotbed of abolitionist fervor.
Activities are more peaceful in the valley now—no slavery to fight, no pollution to clean, and the valley preserves part of America’s beautiful nature. As the national park map says, “the Cuyahoga Valley National Park protects the river between Akron and Cleveland. It is a patchwork of natural areas, villages, and small farms. Families stroll after dinner along the canal towpath. Water lilies part as a lone beaver swims across a marsh. Valley slopes teem with skiers and sledders in winter. Uplands offer forests, rock ledges, and waterfalls to inspire the spirit.”
We were inspired. We had stumbled onto Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and consequently we enjoyed genteel bike rides, a train ride, and we were educated about nature and American history, and we got to stroll a historic town. A mighty fine stumble.
Incidentally, during our four days in the valley we also drove to Cleveland to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (a great visit) and to walk beside the Cleveland Browns stadium with its statue of Jim Brown out front—but that’s a different story.
Cuyahoga Valley map and information brochure, National Park Service
Cuhahoga Valley, Ohio and Erie Canal information brochure, National Park Service
Cuyahoga Valley, All Aboard! information brochure, National Park Service