1) They are the ordinary distractions of a busy lakeside park in the summertime: the roar of boat motors, the buzzing of bumblebees. But when you are beginning your eighth sun salutation in Ginny Walters' yoga class at Rocky River Park, it's hard to hear anything but your muscles screaming. You stretch your whole body upward, then dive down toward the boardwalk once again, bending at the waist, looking briefly toward the horizon, then jumping back into plank position and lowering to a hover just above an ant crawling across your mat. Walters' class meets at 7 p.m. on Mondays through Aug. 30 and costs $5.
2) Stroll through the 24 Cultural Gardens in Rockefeller Park and you'll get a glimpse of what Cleveland's diversity is all about. Recognized as a national landmark, the gardens have been modeled after the United Nations' Ariana Park in Switzerland. Each garden is maintained by its respective ethnic community, from the stone Confucian structure in the Chinese Garden to the elaborate iron works of the Hungarian Garden. The gardens are located on both sides of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Superior and St. Clair avenues near University Circle.
3) In Greek mythology, the River Styx separates the world of the living from that of the dead. But, in springtime, the Medina park by that name is no crossroads. << Neotropical songbirds, just migrated from Central and South America, abound. They alight on trees, fill the air with chatter and treat birders to flashes of their bright red, blue and yellow plumage. Specially designed trails allow visitors to get good views without damaging the birds' habitat. The first two weeks of May are the best times to see the yellow-throated vireo, the scarlet tanager and the Baltimore oriole. If you get lucky, you might even spot the elusive cerulean warbler, which has nested there in the past. (330) 722-9364
4) Sometimes, the attraction isn't what's in the parks but what's above them. For decades, the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association has been hosting "star parties" at area parks. They set up their telescopes and welcome the public to gaze up at Saturn, star clusters or anything else lighting up the night sky. In the Medina County Park District, stargazers gather at dusk on the second Saturday of each month at thc Letha House Barn observatory, 10311 Spencer Lake Road in Chatham Township. For other events, visit www.geocities.com/cuyastro.
5) Capture your love of nature on film by joining the Cuyahoga Valley Photography Society. If you're a member of the Cuyahoga Valley National Parks Association (annual fee: $35), it costs just $20 more to join the photo society. You'll get the chance to participate in a series of four seasonal << photo walks led by professional nature photographer Jim Roetzel. Get shooting tips, demos and instruction, all in the great outdoors. The summer walk is Aug. 28 and the autumn date is marked for Nov. 6. Locations are to be determined. Call (330) 657-2909 or visit www.cvps.org.
6) Your dog may have an easy life, but there aren't many places Spot can get free of the leash and enjoy the outdoors with new friends. Lucky for him there are dog parks on both sides of the Cuyahoga River. Lakewood set up a half-acre dog park on property it owns along the Rocky River Reservation's Valley ParkÁay in 2002. Meanwhile, Eastlake's dog run is located on 30,000 square feet of land along Lake Shore Boulevard just east of state Route 91. Local groups are also lobbying to bring dog parks to Cleveland Heights, Brunswick, Westlake and Tremont's Lincoln Park. Visit www.clevelanddogparks.com for more.
7) Wet Woods Trail to Marsh Loop Trail
Location: Sandy Ridge Reservation,
Lorain County Metro Parks
Length: 2.1 miles
Start: Perry F. Johnson Wetlands Center, 6195 Otten Road, North Ridgeville
You don't need eagle eyes to spot the wildlife along this hike through restored wetlands. Plus, it's impossible to get lost, making this the perfect hike for families or novice hikers. (It's also a birders' paradise.)
From the wetlands center, there's only one path to take. After about a half mile under a shady canopy of trees, you will come upon a clearing and a large wetland, then have to decide whether to go right or left. Because the trail is a loop, you can't go the wrong way.
An environmental lesson for the kids: For every acre of wetlands that developers fill in and build on in Lorain County, they have to finance the restoration of approximately two acres of wetlands elsewhere in the county. Sandy Ridge is one of the wetlands restored through the program.
As you walk around the marsh, it's easy to spot some of the many species of waterfowl that summer there. If you start your hike on the left side of the loop, a sign identifying the different species will give you a heads-up on what to look for. (Bring binoculars for a better view.)
A list posted on the wetlands center's door names the dozens of species recently spotted, including a warbler, Baltimore oriole, sandhill crane, turkey vulture and bald eagle. A total of 220 species have been counted in the wetlands.
For more information, call the center at (440) 327-3626. Because of midday sun and evening mosquitoes, mornings are the best time for this hike. The ideal window for birders is from 8 to 10 a.m.
8) Impress your date with your knowledge of coniferous and deciduous trees during a stroll through Holden Arboretum. Have a romantic lunch under a 350-year-old white oak, then go on a gentle hike among crabapple trees. For a more challenging trail, try the Pierson Creek Loop, which has a shifting channel that travels through a valley filled with wildflowers. Open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the arboretum is free for seniors on Tuesdays and $3 on other days. Adults are admitted for $4, kids ages 6 to 15 for $2 and children under 6 for free. (440) 946-4400
9) Every March 15, thousands of people gather to watch the buzzards return to the Hinckley Buz zard Roost >> yand mark their yearly arrival at the following weekend's "Buzzard Sunday." The celebration honors their reappearance at Hinckley Reservation on cue since 1819. Bring binoculars, a blanket and some spare change for buzzard mementos. Come early before the free doughnuts and coffee run out, but consider sticking around for dinner: Sometimes, the first sighting is closer to dusk than dawn. (216) 351-6300
10) People like the legend best: Six Native American tribes used a strangely shaped bur oak, now 300 years old, to mark their canoe-portaging route from the Cuyahoga River to the Tuscarawas River eight miles away. The less romantic possibility is that white settlers used the Indian Signal Tree as a township marker. Either way, it's one freaky tree. Near the ground, two immense branches — which may have been staked down long ago to form the signal — stick straight out horizontally from the trunk, then turn up, like elbows. The thing looks like one of the Ents, the tree-people from the "Lord of the Rings" movies. It's in a deer-friendly meadow at the start of the Chuckery Trail in Akron's Cascade Valley Metro Park (enter off Cuyahoga Street). (330) 867-5511
For the remainder of the 66 ways to enjoy our parks systems, pick up the July 2004 issue at your local newsstand!