The Great Outdoors: Parks in Northeast Ohio

The Great Outdoors: Parks in Northeast Ohio

- in 2015 Editions, Featured, July 2015
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fishing_stark parks
Fishing at Stark County Parks

From city and county parks to national recreation areas, Northeast Ohio is home to scores of opportunities for outdoor fun. No matter where you live, it’s likely there is a park close to home. While we can’t list them all, below is a sampling of unique parks in each of Northeast Ohio’s counties. Enhance your family’s summer by visiting one — or all — of the parks below.

Cuyahoga County

From beaches to boat ramps, fitness trails to fishing piers, Lakefront Reservation is a true gem in the “Emerald Necklace” anchoring Cleveland Metroparks’ presence on the shores of Lake Erie. Edgewater Park, E. 55th Street Marina, Whiskey Island and Gordon Park comprise the new Lakefront Reservation (clevelandmetroparks.com).

Edgewater Park boasts 6,000 feet of shoreline — including Edgewater Beach, a 900-foot swimming beach — and features a playground, pavilions and one of the best views of downtown Cleveland. Anglers and boaters can take advantage of the 1,200-foot fishing platform, eight transient docks and concession facility at the E. 55thSt. Marina. Whiskey Island, originally named for the distillery that was built on the land in the 1800s, includes a marina and Wendy Park, which provides the public direct access to Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. Part of an Audubon Important Birding Area, Gordon Park provides the best viewing for a large number of diverse and rare gulls and ducks, in addition to 1.3 miles of armored coastline and onshore fishing platforms.


Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park (nps.gov/cuva) protects nearly 33,000 acres and receives more than 2.2 million recreational visits each year, making it one of the most-visited national parks in the United States. Amazingly, it’s right in our backyard, letting locals take a hike, ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, explore the visitor centers, attend a concert, or bike the Towpath Trail. The park is home to 20 miles of the Towpath Trail, which follows the historic Ohio & Erie Canal route. The fully accessible trail features picnic areas, restrooms and train access points along the way. Through Oct. 31, the park’s Bike Aboard! program allows riders to bike the Towpath Trail in one direction, then hop on the train for a relaxing ride back.


Geauga County

Geauga Park District’s 1,100-acre Observatory Park (geaugaparkdistrict.org) allows people to explore nature from the ground to the galaxies, as it is one of only 15 designated “Dark Sky Parks” in the U.S. and 20 in the world. The park’s Robert McCullough Science Center features weekly planetarium shows; a meteorite display that includes a meteorite visitors can touch; and projection equipment for astronomy-related programming. Across the plaza, the Oberle Observatory has a partially retractable roof to allow direct sky viewing with the Newtonian reflector telescope. Observatory Park also features several other wonders, including a mile-long Planetary Trail with interactive pods representing each planet; a Weather Trail with interactive stations representing ways to study weather; life-sized corner stones of the Great Pyramid of Giza; earthen mounds; henge stones; and woodland trails connecting the main campus with the soon-to-be-renovated Nassau Astronomical Observing Station.


Lake County

Lake Metroparks’ 600-acre Lake Erie Bluffs (lakemetroparks.com) property in Perry Township protects a significant amount of wetland, meadow and mostly undeveloped lakefront habitat used by rare and common plant and animal species. The park, which features 40-foot high beach bluffs and open sandy and cobble beach across 9,000 feet of shoreline, offers fishing and hiking, with three scenic overlooks and beach access.Lake Erie Bluffs protects habitat used by many rare species, including bald eagles, so keep an eye out for wildlife while visiting.

Lorain County

Spanning two adjacent areas separated by the Vermilion River — Mill Hollow on one side and Bacon Woods on the other — Lorain County Metro Parks’ Vermilion River Reservation (metroparks.cc) offers plenty of open space, five miles of wooded trails, two playgrounds and two ponds.

The Park’s Benjamin Bacon Museum at Mill Hollow lets visitors walk through the original settler’s house, built in 1845.

Next to the museum, the Carriage Barn offers information about the park and hosts nature programs throughout the year. The Bacon Woods area of Vermilion River Reservation is home to a nine-hole public Disc Golf course, as well as an amphitheater for musical concerts during warmer months. Exhibits, kids’ areas, live animals and a gift shop featuring educational and locally-made items. The park’s grounds showcase a suspension bridge over a 45-foot-deep ravine, several gardens, plant identification, observation decks, two ponds, wetlands, hiking trails and a tall-grass prairie. Just remember dogs are not permitted, since the park is a special-use area that has been set aside for the study and enjoyment of nature.

 

Medina County

Medina County Park District’s Alderfer-Oenslager Wildlife Sanctuary/Wolf Creek Environmental Center (medinacountyparks.com) houses an environmental education center among its 248 acres of mature forests, wetlands, meadows and prairies. The education center hosts park district nature programs that offer hands-on experiences in the study of the environment.

The Wolf Creek Educational Wetlands, a project that recreated roughly four acres of marsh ecosystem, has a boardwalk permitting visitors to travel “into” the wetland for study and wildlife viewing, while a deep-water pond provides opportunities for pond study.

 

Portage County

Towner’s Woods, part of the Portage Park District (portageparkdistrict.org), features picnic shelters, a gazebo, sledding hills, hiking trails, access to the Portage Hike & Bike Trail, and the historic Brady Interlocking Railroad Tower.

The property consists of 234 rolling acres of mixed forests, diverse wetlands and meadows in Franklin and Ravenna townships. Foot trails throughout the park provide hiking options ranging from easy to strenuous, as well as renowned cross-country skiing through beautiful natural scenery and varied habitats.

 

Stark County

Walborn Reservoir, part of the Stark County Park District (starkparks.com), encompasses more than 1,852 acres and provides the perfect escape for equestrians, hikers, anglers, canoeists and kayakers. Quiet trails for hikers and horseback riders travel through pine woods, brushlands and oak and hickory forests throughout the park, which also offers a covered picnic shelter overlooking the shoreline of Walborn Reservoir, as well as a marina, fishing dock and boat launch.

 

Summit County

Summit Metro Parks’ 104-acre Nature Realm (summitmetroparks.org) includes a 10,000-square-foot visitors center with exhibits, kids’ areas, live animals and a gift shop featuring educational and locally-made items. The park’s grounds showcase a suspension bridge over a 45-foot-deep ravine, several gardens, plant identification, observation decks, two ponds, wetlands, hiking trails and a tall-grass prairie.

Just remember dogs are not permitted, since the park is a special-use area that has been set aside for the study and enjoyment of nature.

 

Fun for All Abilities

Several area parks cater to children of all levels of abilities, including Preston’s H.O.P.E. (prestonshope.com), a fully accessible playground park in Northeast Ohio.

Located on the property of and operated by the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood, this massive public park features several areas, including Imagination Village, with make-believe houses that are connected by a raised walkway; a play theatre; sand area; and areas with swings, tunnels and slides.

The park was built with many custom-designed elements to accommodate youngsters with mobility issues, vision or hearing impairments.

Lorain County Metroparks’ Inclusive Playground located at the Hollstein Reservation combines water play, structured play and natural play.

The playground provides an opportunity for people with special needs and all families to get connected with each other. The park has swings that are wheelchair accessible, a sensory village, a stocked fishing pond that can be used by all abilities, and a variety of different play areas that accommodate people with special needs.

Parks Legacy

Connecting past and present has always been important for Akron’s Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens (stanhywet.org), which now features a Playgarden specially designed for children.

The fun-filled garden features six interactive experiences — including a splash fountain, kid-powered antique Model A truck, and archeological dig, among others — that are all tied to stories of the Sieberling family, whose patriarch F.A. Seiberling co-founded The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

The Playgarden also echoes the historical significance of Seiberling’s role in the creation of many local parks, including the Akron Metro Park District and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Sieberling, who was part of a small group of Akron leaders who lobbied the city to form the Akron Metropolitan Park District in 1921, believed that accessibility to clean, safe outdoor spaces created stability and happiness among community members.

With the creation of the Akron Metropolitan Park District, he took this philosophy one step further by donating 469 acres of his personal property on the west side of Akron as the foundation for Sand Run Park.

About the author

Denise Koeth is managing/digital editor of Northeast Ohio Parent. She writes for and assists with production of the print magazine, as well as manages digital content on the NortheastOhioParent.com website and oversees the brand’s social media activity. Denise grew up in Northeast Ohio and she and her husband are currently raising their two boys here.

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