History Behind the Parks: Cuyahoga Valley National Park 

By Carla Charter

BRECKSVILLE, OH. – The Cuyahoga Valley National Park, created in 1974, is a total of 33,000 acres.  Flowing through that acreage is 22 miles of the 100-mile-long Cuyahoga River. “The river means the park is in a flood plain which makes the land a good place to farm,” said Pamela Barnes, Community Engagement Supervisor and Public Information Officer at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

“There are quite a few farmers who live in the park through farm leasing. The National Park Service owns the land and it is leased to the farmers through a competitive process.  They live and work on the farm then sell their produce at farmers market. Farms in the park include turkey and lamb farms, vegetable and berry farms and a vineyard/winery.”

The Cuyahoga Valley has a long history of farming, said Barnes.  “When people first settled here to farm, it was largely subsistence farming. The Ohio and Erie Canal was built in the early 1800’s as a way to get goods to market.  When the canal opened Ohio was at the edge of the frontier. Mules would be tied to the boat with a rope and the water would float the boat, which made it easier for the mules.”  The park preserves this history through Towpath Trail, one of the most visited features of the park.

Wildlife has taken up residence in the park as well.. “We have had nesting bald eagles for a little over a decade. There are river otters, beavers, white- tailed deer and great blue herons which nest in quite high numbers, Barnes said.

The valley’s story is also the story of the comeback of the Cuyahoga River, which caught fire in Cleveland in 1969 when a spark from a railroad car ignited the gas and oil mixed with debris floating on the water.   “During the Industrial Revolution there were no laws as to what could be put into the river, so oil, gas and run off went into the river. The Clean Water Act along with legislation like that started us along the road cleaning up Americas Rivers,” Barnes added.

There is a scenic train that runs the length of the park, so visitors can take an excursion ride.  “It’s a nice way to see the park especially for those with mobility issues. You can also ride a bike one way and then take the train back, Barnes added. The train runs from March until December.

As for lodging the park has a small 5 site campground.   The Stanford House, situated within the park, or even a room there, can be rented.  Lodging is also available outside of the park.

The Visitors Center at the park is open 7 days a week. “We will be building a new visitors center in 2019 with a new exhibit which will tell the complete story of the park. It is a really complex place,” Barnes continued.

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park attracts a little over 2 million visitors a year. “We are not one of the western parks with millions of acres. However, the park shows what Americans can do to come back from unfortunate circumstances,” she said.

More information on Cuyahoga Valley National Park can be found at www.nps.gov/cuva

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