New dog, new world
On May 13, 2017, between my mother’s birthday and Mother’s Day, the husband and I ventured out on a trail in our area to hike and explore for the first time—and what a discovery!
We could almost claim the Glens Trail of Gorge Metro Park for ourselves on that beautiful spring Saturday. Although the parking lot was packed, few locals seem to realize how the Glens’ beauty matches or exceeds that of the Gorge Trail.
How could we be ignorant of this treasure so nearby?
The park resides in the city limits of Cuyahoga Falls, our former hometown of seven years and the place where both my parents grew up. Aunts, uncles, and their siblings, my folks, came to know the area well during the 50s and 60s.
Back then, I daresay, the natural beauty of the Gorge was taken for granted. To our predecessors, it was just another close place of recreation in which to pass idle childhood moments. They had no idea how unique this playground was.
Its danger, however, became all too familiar to one family member, who shall remain anonymous. Playing hooky from school one day with a friend, this relative fell nearly 100 feet down into the Gorge. We think it was somewhere along this section of the Cuyahoga River bank, if not on what is now the Glens Trail itself.
The friend thought our family member was dead, but luck, providence, or fate would have it that the landing was mercifully soft, though not far from a treacherous boulder. No major head trauma, no broken bones. A bona fide miracle. Next time, there would be no skipping school at the Gorge—only in much safer places.
Nothing so dramatic but the view accompanied our virgin visit to the trail. Although the going wasn’t easy, we know from experience it was easier than if we had taken the Gorge Trail, which is much more vertical, narrower, and rougher. The Glens Trail is almost 2 miles long, out and back; the return is on the same path.
Looking at the park map before arriving, I had expected a lower elevation, riverbed sort of trail. I think we were both pleasantly surprised by the scenic geology and dense greenery.
The Glens Trail runs parallel to the Cuyahoga River, but the trees made river views rare. With daylight waning, most water we could see was either frothed with white foam, trickling from a pipe atop the opposite bank, or more brown than blue from steady current through a shallow river, with its silty sedimentary bed and some urban contamination.
Investigating the sediment content online led me to learn more about the geologic history of the area. The main features combine shale, sandstone, and conglomerate rock layers.
Most of northeast Ohio is built on Bedford Shale (most easily eroded) overlain by Berea Sandstone (evident at Glens Trail).
The Sharon Conglomerate came later and is the most erosion resistant of the three layers. The best examples of this occur in parks and trails with the word Ledges in their names.
But I also found this note: “The most accessible location to view Mississippian and Pennsylvanian rocks, including the Sharon Conglomerate, is in Gorge Park, part of the Metro Parks, Serving Summit County system.” Source: “Bedrock Beneath” at Green City Blue Lake, The Cleveland Museum of Natural History
With glaciation, erosion, damming, pollution, restoration, and now talk of removing certain dams, the Cuyahoga Valley has undergone many changes over the millennia.
The map: Cuyahoga River
The height and sheer faces of the cliffs are breathtaking, an unexpected feature of the trek that made us slow down and look around more than we might have otherwise.
An orphaned slab made way for a partial cave roof that appears to have been used, perhaps centuries ago, for shelter. A soot stain on the “ceiling” suggests repeated fires.
Birds were plentiful for an afternoon, due to the secluded, protected nature of the trail. We spotted catbird, sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, robins, cardinals, and Canada goose, among others, along with a kind of swallow I’m still not sure of.
I think I’ve narrowed it down to either a bank swallow or a tree swallow. By name, a cliff or cave swallow would make more sense, as it was perched on rock outside a nest in the cliff crevice, but colorings and territory ruled those out. Bank swallows usually nest in colonies in sandy hillside holes, whereas tree swallows nest singly in trees or cavities.
It may have been a juvenile or female tree swallow or a bank swallow taking its home where it could. As you can probably see, the picture is blurry, so the starker lines between the tree swallow’s blue-green head cap, back, and wings versus white throat, belly, and under tail may have been smudged more softly together. Really, I was lucky to capture its image at all.
“Angry” bird: Robin flings debris in search of food or nesting material.
There were a few narrow parts where ducking was in order and some uneven ground to manage, including hills, but the views, especially of the rocks on our left going out, were well worth the effort. The drop-off is steep, but it’s steeper on the other side of the river.
From the parking lot up the hill at 1160 Front Street, Cuyahoga Falls, visitors have central access to three major trails at Gorge Metro Park, Summit County, Ohio: Glens, Gorge, and Highbridge.
Next time, we’ll try out the Highbridge Trail. Another moderate path, but almost twice as long as the Glens, it should be manageable with sufficient time. Directly opposite the Gorge Trail along the river, Highbridge goes roughly west. Glens goes roughly east.
Although the Gorge is the rock star of the park, the Glens Trail, wandering away alone, also deserves a second look.
Happy trails to you this summer, wherever you find yourself.
As it gets colder in the northern hemisphere, though we are over the hump of winter solstice, I thought I’d share a little figurative fire to brighten your holiday. I first drafted this poem from field notes written as an exercise at the nature writers’ conference I attended at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in October 2016. Here are some excerpts.
Happy New Year. And Happy 100th Birthday to the National Park Service.
Giddy beige feathers of tall, unnamed fronds perched at a tilt, sprout their crowns in fanned-out spikes, forging two beings into one: fire and ashy aftermath. Two heads' lengths above these frozen flames, the color starts. Green, rounded leaves of chartreuse underbellies and grey- green backs, or faces—I can't tell which—huddle in discarded half-arches, craft of the stone mason who made too many, just in case. A half-hearted bow only at their very tops, partly praising a fractional work. On ground farther back, a grander stage presents the proud, living burns of orange-tipped yellow dancers. Some like to sway more than others, some feel the fueling wind. A tree not yet bronzed stands apart, flushed with a green, pre-fire readiness, and here, at the edge of its leaf clusters, starts to catch. Beside, with lifeless pallor, bored out, burnt out, by burning beetle fever, the fire of hunger— too-soon wintered, emaciated, desolate—ash trees jealously watch their flaming neighbors. And foraging over all heads, some unseen spirit slurps up and bloats full with grey smoke from all this combustion below, from above, with the yellow- white smoke of sunlight. The wind roars like a terrible conflagration, and the grey, not white, smoke is winning. Stone-piles at my feet see up to the short spray of grasses, hints of feathers on higher fliers, and my shadow. Blown quiet, I walk most unhurried, back, into no fire.