While Northeast Ohio does not have a Grand Canyon, or a huge mountain range, or even an actual wilderness area, it does have a unique river — the Cuyahoga. It's one of the few major rivers in the country that travels both north and south.
It starts in Geauga County, flows south into Portage County through Mantua and Kent before turning east to Munroe Falls, Cuyahoga Falls and Akron. From there, it plunges north into another unique feature of our area, the Cuyahoga Valley.
I've been down the upper Cuyahoga River in a canoe before, setting off from Camp Hi in Hiram a couple of times. It's an interesting ride; some parts are remote, while others pass through people's back yards, filled with smooth grass lawns that stop abruptly a few inches from where the river steams past. I remember having to get out of the water at Route 303, just north of the city of Akron’s Lake Rockwell reservoir.
On the lower end of the river, tributaries such as Tinkers Creek in Summit and Cuyahoga County boast splendid views, and the broad, meandering stretches way down in the Cuyahoga Valley are a different world altogether. Camping is now allowed in the national park, and there are picturesque trails off of Brandywine Falls in Northfield Center, and the Carriage Trail in Sagamore Hills, though parking at that trailhead is not available. I've also spent many hours hiking in various parts of the park, from Brecksville to Peninsula. The terrain can be quite rugged.
But until last week, I had never been on the middle stretch of the river, from Kent to Cuyahoga Falls, where Burning River Adventures rents boats and equipment and provides shuttle service from Waterworks Park.
It's been a few years since Portage County and other communities took the city of Akron to court and won a settlement to guarantee a minimum amount of water would flow into the river from the Akron Water Department's Lake Rockwell Reservoir off either side of Route 14 in Streetsboro. And regional efforts to reduce the effects of stormwater runoff and development are improving the water quality in the Cuyahoga River as well.
Also, dams built a century ago to power industry are being removed. In recent years, dams have been taken out in Kent, Munroe Falls, Cuyahoga Falls. More removals are planned in the future, including the Gorge Dam in Akron and the dam on the border between Sagamore Hills and Breckville.
Also, the city of Akron is working to clean up its sewer treatment system, which pollutes the lower stretch of the river after heavy rains.
And the middle stretch of the Cuyahoga River has become a beautiful place to be on the water. My wife Carol and I got into the outfitter's flat-top kayak just after 8 a.m, and just as a band of rain began rolling through Kent. So, we sat under a bridge for about 20 minutes while the storm passed, then set back off into the river.
It’s hard to believe the remote, wild area we cruised through for the next two hours is only a couple minutes away from neighborhoods, shopping centers and highways. For a while, the loudest thing we could hear was the trickle of water streaming here and there from tiny streams, fresh with the rain that had just fallen.
The sound of the water got louder and we got excited to see some ripples in the river, where big rocks underwater disturbed the flow. Not exactly white water rapids, but pretty fun after drifting so slowly. Around another bend in the river, a blue heron took off from a tree about 40 feet over us and let out a squawk like something out of Jurassic Park. It really was funny!
In some areas, we drifted. In others, the water was moving so slowly, we decided to paddle to keep going. A few other people came up behind us, and we let them pass.
Eventually, the sun began to break through the clouds and tiny bugs buzzed on the water’s surface, making it sparkle.
Though muddy, the water seemed clean, and there were only a couple of empty bottles on the riverbank, a couple of hidden old tires in another spot, and the overturned shell of a paddle boat in another. Overall, the trip was through a seemingly unspoiled, verdant landscape, with more turtles than trash and lots of ducks and geese parked along the side of the stream.
Lately, I’ve heard the term “forest bathing” has become a popular way to describe getting outdoors into natural areas as a way to heal oneself of stress and to reconnect with nature.
I’ve always loved getting outdoors and find that even though I may not actually feel a residual effect, I really have a good time while I am away from crowds, and in a quiet, natural place.
And it’s even better when I’m out with my wife, or family and friends.
There are only a few more weeks of warm weather before one has to wear a coat for comfort. I’m planning to get out onto the river again!
Eric Marotta: 330-541-9433