Take a hike: Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Trails Council releases new trail guide

Home to a stunning 65-foot waterfall, remnants of the Ohio & Erie Canal, and more than 140 miles of trails over 33,000 acres of land, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) is a natural gem in our region.

Comprised of 1,145 plant species and over 230 bird species—including a great blue heron rookery with around 120 nests—CVNP is one of just 63 designated national parks across the country, often mistakenly overshadowed by destinations like Yellowstone and Yosemite.

This Saturday, June 29, at 11 a.m., the Cuyahoga Valley Trails Council, a volunteer organization that plays a critical role in maintaining the park, will shine a spotlight on this local treasure with the launch of “Trail Guide: Cuyahoga Valley National Park 4th Edition.”

The event includes a free three-mile looping hike, led by Trail Guide editor Rob Bobel, which leaves from the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Trail Mix store in Peninsula. The new guide is a must-read for park enthusiasts and casual visitors alike.

trailguide_4thedition_frontcover.jpgtrailguide_4thedition_frontcover.jpgThe book, first published in 1991 by the Trails Council and now in its fourth edition, includes trail maps, descriptions, historical facts, and details on trail lengths, hiking times, and difficulty ratings designed to enhance the visitor experience.

“I’ve found out that many people don't even know Ohio has a national park,” laughs Mike Kosmyna, president of the Cuyahoga Valley Trails Council. “Even our own neighbors here in North Royalton, when we told them we volunteer in the park, went, ‘Oh, the Metroparks?’ No, the National Park. ‘What do you mean, National Park?’ It’s like a secret national park that no one knows about.”

CVNP’s history dates back to at least 10,000 BC, with signs of early human occupancy. Indigenous peoples lived off the land until the 1700s, when white settlers arrived and transformed the area for their own agricultural benefit—displacing the Indigenous population and destroying trees to create farmland.

The creation of the Ohio & Erie Canal in 1827 further altered the landscape, solidifying the region as an agricultural hub.

By the 1920s, concerns over land use led to preservation efforts, culminating in the establishment of the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in 1974 and eventually gaining National Park status in 2000.

Today, CVNP consistently ranks among the top 12 most-visited national parks, with 2.86 million guests in 2023. As a bonus, it’s completely free to visit.

Bobel, a retired park engineer, and his wife Peg Bobel, former executive director of the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, edited the new Trail Guide.

Both Rob and Peg were pivotal in shaping the park and the Trails Council from the very beginning.

“[In the 70’s,] we did a lot of work through the Sierra Club,” explains Rob Bobel. “We were very involved in the formation of the park from a citizen standpoint. Then, in the early 80s, [the park planners] needed to do a trail plan because they didn't want to have trails going everywhere.”

Due to limited park staff, volunteers were asked to help build the trail plan. The Bobels jumped at the opportunity.

“The plan came out in 1985,” Bobel says. “At that point, there was a bunch of us who were working together as volunteers and we thought, ‘We'd like to make sure that the trail plan is developed and implemented. We want to help in any way we can, maybe we can even help build trails.’ That evolved into a group that met on a monthly basis to go out and hike and build trails.”

That group became known as the Cuyahoga Valley Trails Council.

Today, the Trails Council, supervised by the National Park Service and the Conservancy for CVNP, is pivotal to the park’s preservation and accessibility.

Lake/Salt Run connector bridgeLake/Salt Run connector bridgeVolunteers can often be found carrying boulders and stones up trail hills to create rock steps, building bridges, or removing debris and hardening the mud on the trails. Their main responsibilities include maintaining existing trails, developing new ones, and working on various special projects.

Kosmyna, who joined the Trails Council in 2009 after moving from Toledo to Cleveland, says the work is challenging and never-ending (he says they’re still cleaning up after an increase in visitor traffic coupled with the shut-down during the COVID-19 pandemic), but fulfilling.

“We were the first volunteer group to come back after two years [of the pandemic],” he shares. “So [this year] we’re still doing trail triage, taking care of the highly used trails and trying to fix them, along with other projects carried over from last year.”

Kosmyna estimates they currently have about 5,000 volunteers filling approximately 200 different positions.

“The trail worker is just one [position],” he explains. “My wife volunteers as a naturalist at the environmental education center, taking kids on hikes. We both volunteer on the [Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad] Polar Express during the winter. Some of us volunteer with the Adopt-a-Trail group. They go out once a month and do light maintenance to ensure the trails remain safe and enjoyable.”

Proceeds from the Trail Guide ($19.95) directly support the Trail Council’s ongoing efforts, helping the group obtain new tools and equipment.

The guide can be purchased at the Conservancy for CVNP Trail Mix store locations or online.

Bobel says the Guide Book is perfect for hikers, bikers, birders, runners, equestrians, photographers, families, and anyone looking to explore CVNP's natural beauty or history.

“If they want a short hike, they can find a short hike,” says Bobel. “If they want a family hike, if they want to hike for birds, they can look. So, there's a wide variety of out there. There's a type of trail to meet every type of person.”

The Bobels have been involved in each of the Trail Guide’s iterations from the start, leveraging their park expertise and Peg’s freelance writing career.

“We are trail people,” Bobel notes. “We thought if we're going to go to a national park, what kind of information would we like about this hike? What information might be of interest? What is some of the history that has evolved? Why did this trail become what it became? We tried to make it not too long, but we tried to make it interesting enough so people could read it and have some idea of the history of the trail.”

Ultimately, the Bobels and Kosmyna know how special the park truly is, and they say they hope the Trail Guide will inspire others to hike the trails and support the work of the Trails Council.

“Peg and I were thinking about it, and we do a lot of hiking,” Bobel reflects. “We visit a lot of other areas. We've visited all 88 counties in Ohio, and we’ve hiked in all of them.”

Bobel says the trails are just one part of what makes CVNP so special.  “Ohio has a great park system and a great Metroparks system and they all have good hikes,” he explains. “But we think what’s really special about the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the trails.”

The launch party and hike on Saturday, June 29 begins at 11 a.m. The hike begins and ends at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Trail Mix store, 1600 West Mill St., Peninsula 44264.

About the Author: Rebecca Cahill

Rebecca Cahill is a freelance writer who is thrilled to contribute to FreshWater Cleveland, sharing the stories of the people and places that make our fine Forest City flourish and grow.