<< Brecksville The Cleveland Metroparks’ Brecksville Reservation perches on the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley then tumbles into it. There are lowlands and highlands, and they’re completely different from one another. Earl Waltz hikes the trails through the wetlands surrounding Chippewa Creek, and he often heads to a scenic overlook to see the water rushing down the gorge.
“It’s all been cut out over the years,” he says. “That’s the nicest aspect of it. … It’s not just a flat, grassy field.”
As a 23-year veteran of the Cleveland Hiking Club, Waltz, 75, has tromped through most of Northeast Ohio, but he admits to still getting a bit turned around in his own reservation.
It’s easy to see why. The city of Brecksville lays claim to almost all of the Brecksville Reservation (3,022 acres) plus 1,070 acres of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, making the town one-third parkland.
Within that sea of green are seven gorges, wetlands (in the lowlands) and sweeping vistas (in the highlands). Sixteen miles of the statewide Buckeye Trail wind through the park, as do 20 miles of bridle trails, a small portion of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and almost 10 miles of paved paths for bikers, runners and baby strollers. The reservation even has a golf course within its boundaries.
Waltz has led hikes as long as he’s belonged to the 90-year-old club, which counts almost 1,000 members among its ranks. He revels in spring and fall. When the colors change, he’ll take a group out to the Station Road Bridge, a pedestrian-only walkway that allows views downriver.
“I like to walk and talk and gawk,” he says, and Brecksville, where he’s lived since 1971, provides him with plenty of opportunities for all three. There’s the hike that starts at the Brecksville Nature Center and the one down the Towpath Trail to Hooker’s Run, where he stops his group to discuss theories behind the creek’s suspect name.
Nature spreads its tendrils outside the reservation, too. Waltz’s home borders the park, and its inhabitants often end up on his property.
“I can look out my window at trees, birds, lots of deer, wild turkeys roaming in my yard, even some coyotes,” he says. Even the animals recognize Brecksville’s assets. “I was watching a couple of Canadian geese walk up our street,” says Waltz, chuckling. “They looked just like people. It’s a great walking area.
This green-minded township is home to two “living laboratories” — The University of Akron Field Station (an ecological research lab inside the Bath Nature Preserve), and the Crown Point Ecology Center (a sustainable farming initiative) — as well as the 295-acre O’Neil Woods MetroPark, a former farmstead with hiking trails and a picnic area.
<< Cuyahoga Falls Locals know the city’s namesake rushes through downtown. In addition to a great outdoor concert venue, Blossom Music Center, the city’s 5,800 acres of land within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park system help make the Falls 63 percent parkland.
A Green Corridor Master Plan approved in 2009 ensures the eventual completion of a north-to-south trail system through the village. It’ll be a boon to a city that’s already almost a quarter parkland because of the Cleveland Metroparks North Chagrin Reservation, which includes Manakiki Golf Course, a nature center and a boardwalk through Sanctuary Marsh.
Brandywine Falls, one of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s most popular destinations, lies within this township’s borders. Scenic lookouts and a trail into the gorge provide access to the 60-foot watery drop. Want your H2O crystallized? Brandywine Ski Resort will feed your fix. // Amber Matheson