Cuyahoga Valley National Park boasts high visitation among the 58 national parks in the US system

Ohio's only national park is an 'oasis' of calm

PENINSULA, Ohio - Even before you see it cascading over a rocky edge and plunging 60 feet into the valley below, you know you are close because of the roar of the waterfall. At the Brandywine Waterfalls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the sound of the rushing water beckons a visitor toward it.

The sight of Brandywine touches more of the senses as the water endlessly flows to the edge of a rocky cliff and then falls to a stream below as the water moves on. It has moved on in this manner for many millions of years. To view the scene in the national park is not only to see life as it unfolds at the precise moment a visitor sees it, but it also gives a look back at history.

Millions of years ago, glaciers from the north gouged their way through this area of northern Ohio. The glaciers with rugged and icy fingers carved the landscape. What they left because beautiful. The rocky cliff over which the waters of Brandywine Falls flows shows the development through time.

The waters sings an ongoing serenade. "There's a writer who said, 'If there is magic in this planet, it is contained in the water,'" said CVNP Ranger Rebecca Jones Macko, who also uses the title of interpreter. "I get to speak for the waterfall; I get to speak for the flowers; I get to speak for the people who have been here before," said Jones Macko.

As a park ranger, she said it was part of job to connect the visitors to the park to everything that is around them.

Around the 2.5 million visitors a year to the CVNP, which was established by the US government as a national park in 1974, are 33,000 acres. That is equivalent to 33,000 football fields.

"It's an oasis," said park superintendent Stan Austin. "People come here to escape. It is therapeutic."

The national park stretches from southern Cuyahoga County into northern Summit County. The main waterway flowing through the park is the Cuyahoga River. There are many places to visit inside the park, which is open to the public without an admissions charge.

"This is one of the best places in northeast Ohio that we can find to visit and do pictures," said Mike Bieniek, who is visited the U.S. from his native Poland. With camera in hand, he snapped photographs during a short stop at the Brandywine Falls.

Another stop in the park that is awesome in its size is the area called The Ledges. There are crevices 30 feet deep which have been carved by nature's persistent forces through sandstone. To enter one of the areas of the Ledges, a traveler must squeeze through a tight entrance, which then swells to a pathway through the rock wide enough for the traveler's shoulders.

"You get down in the Ledges and you realize there is something greater than ourselves and that is this national park," said Austin, a career national parks administrator who has worked in several other national settings including Yosemite and Rocky Mountain.

Austin said he has found each national park in which he has worked to be special. "Yosemite has the iconic scenes -- Half Dome, et cetera, but we have an urban oasis that people came come to and visit and have a spiritual connection."

He said the park offers a far different setting from the Cleveland and Akron metropolitan areas, which are both near. He said the hiking trails, canoeing and kayaking areas, horse trails, and many other features enable the park visitor to find natural surprises.

"They can take your breath away once you get into the park," said Austin, smiling and adjusting his wide-brimmed ranger's hat.

Austin grew up in New Jersey. He said his parents often took him into park areas which inspired him to follow a career in the national parks service.

"It is a passion for me," he said. Austin added what worked for him as a child still works for children today. He said the Cuyahoga Valley National Park was a good place for parents to bring their children.

The love he and the other employees of the national park have for the area is evident.

"Where we are standing is always going to be the same," he said, his arm pointing outward to the thousands of acres within sight. "Whether is you, your grandchildren, or great grandchildren who will see this park, understand we are protecting this area for generations to come," said Austin.

He smiled broadly as the wind rustled the leaves of the nearby trees and birds made their calls. Other than the park superintendent's  voice, the only sounds which could be heard were those of nature which filled the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The main entrance to the visitor's center at the park is 1550 Boston Mills Road, Peninsula.

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