One of my favorite parts about growing up and living in Northeast Ohio is the amount of green space available. Home to incredible park systems, including the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, there is also the Towpath Trail, which stretches an astounding eighty miles through four different Northeast Ohio counties (Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark, and Tuscarawas). As a runner, the trails are one of my go-to spots, especially in the summer when I can catch some shade from the gorgeous canopy overhead. Best part is, the Towpath Trail is still growing – right now there are plans to extend it both north and south. When it’s all done, the Towpath will reach from Lake Erie all the way to New Philadelphia. Whether you bike, hike, run, walk or anything in between, there will be close to 100 miles of scenic trails for you to travel.
While the Cleveland Metroparks are one of the more well-known features of the area, the surrounding cities have just as many equally enjoyable outdoor areas. Near Youngstown there are the Mill Creek MetroParks, which offer 4,400 acres of woods, parks, and preserves, including the Fellows Riverside Gardens. This year-round public garden invites visitors to welcome spring with the blooming of over 40,000 bulbs. Talk about a bright and colorful way to say goodbye to a Northeast Ohio winter.
Of course, it should be noted that the parks in the area are more than just, well, parks. At Hale Farm & Village in Bath you can immerse yourself in 19th century life and enjoy live demonstrations of period trades such as candle making, blacksmithing, and even glass blowing. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a unique opportunity to view Northeast Ohio by train. Along with their standard scenic rides, they offer ghost tours, a murder mystery night (how very “Murder on the Ohio Express”), and for the kids, a special Christmas train ride that lets them live the popular picture book “The Polar Express,” while adults get Grape Escape and Ales on Rails rides (whoever named the 21 and over excursions is a genius). With multiple stations between Canton and Independence, The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is an easily accessible adventure for everyone in the area.
Northeast Ohio also sports two zoos, one in Akron and one in Cleveland. What I love best is that both zoos let visitors take their own food in. Packing a small picnic and spending a few hours walking around and visiting the animals is one of my favorite things to do on a nice day.
There’s also always golf and, having grown up with a father who is an avid golfer, I know that Northeast Ohio has its pick of links. But if you’re looking for something a little more non-traditional, consider jumping on one of the many disc golf courses in the area. Whether it’s the Portage Lakes course in Akron, the Clarence Darrow Park in Warren, or one of the multiple courses in either Hudson or Canton, disc golf will prove to be a fun and challenging way to spend the afternoon. (Trust me on this one: Fun, but waaay harder than it looks.)
This region may be home to major metropolitan cities like Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown, but we still respect and cultivate the natural land of the original Western Reserve and take the “parks and recreation” part seriously, with plenty of gorgeous park space with equally enjoyable nearby recreational activities. No matter where in the Cleveland Plus area you live, work, or play, there is plenty of park to explore.
Jill A. Grunenwald is a Summit County native who now works and lives in Cleveland. A librarian by trade, she writes a healthy living blog that chronicles her journey of losing over 100 pounds. Find her story at www.theyearofthephoenix.com or connect with her on Twitter @Jill_Grun