Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of our newer national parks, having been designated on October 11, 2000 by President Bill Clinton. It is the only national park that began its public life as a National Recreation Area, having been designated as an NRA in 1974. Cuyahoga Valley is unique in several other respects as well; it is the only national park in Ohio, located between Akron and Cleveland in a fairly populated area. It was already filled with roads, farms, small towns and several existing parks before it became a national park, so the National Park Service coordinates with the towns and the metro park system to administer the park.
The land that Cuyahoga Valley National Park sits on has a long history of use by several tribes, including the Wyandot, Ottawa, Objibwe, Munsee, Potawatomi, and Shawnee, but the Lenapé Nation is considered the grandfather of many of the other tribes in the upper Ohio River Valley. A series of treaties and white encroachment on their land pushed the tribes off the land in this area in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
White settlement began in the late 1700s, and increased when the Ohio and Erie Canal established a well defined trade path between Akron and Cleveland in 1827. Towns and services sprung up along the path of the canal, feeding passengers and workers on the barges, and quenching their thirst at the taverns! Farming and sawmills were also common in the area. Even after the railroad came to the valley in the mid-1800s and greatly lessened the use of the canal, it still operated as a method to move coal to the Great Lakes for the ships there. The canal was finally doomed when a flood in 1913 washed out large portions of its banks, and some of the locks had to be dynamited in order to release the floodwaters.
The park is located along a 20 mile section of the old Ohio and Erie Canal, and it’s towpath has been turned into the Towpath Trail, for walkers, runners and bicyclists. The park also has dozens of waterfalls, including the 65 foot Brandywine Falls, which is the tallest in the park and the second tallest in Ohio; some of the waterfalls dry up in the dry season though. There are historic buildings, and living history museums, and some old cemeteries scattered throughout the park. A rebuilt covered bridge, a marsh and lots of wildlife round out the park!
The park has an annual visitation of 2,096,053 in 2018, and I was one of them! I spent two days there in August 2018; I’m excited to share my experiences!