For many people, thoughts of Cleveland conjure images of LeBron James, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or even a Rust Belt skyline and grainy photos of the burning Cuyahoga River. Although all of these images are inextricably linked to the city, many people don’t realize that Cleveland is also known as the “Forest City” and has more woodlands than nearly any other urban area in the country. Few people realize that just south of Cleveland is a National Park, a short drive east lies a National Forest, and along the shore of Lake Erie to the west are several important National Wildlife Refuges. Although Clevelanders are proud of both the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, who has been enshrined in the Rock Hall since 1986, and “The King,” Lebron James, who first graced the Cleveland hardwood in 2003 and brought the ‘Land’ its first title in 2016, they are equally proud of their green areas and nearby public lands.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is only a short drive south from Cleveland, but seems like a different world tucked into the lush Cuyahoga River Valley. The 33,000-acre preserve became a national park in 2000. Before that, it was set aside as the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in 1974, with a mission “to preserve and protect for public use and enjoyment the historic, scenic, natural, and recreational values of the Cuyahoga River Valley.” The park includes nearly 250 historic structures and “remarkable and thriving wildlife.” Opportunities for recreation and connecting with nature abound in the park, offering wildlife viewing, camping, and horseback riding for visitors. Although some four million people live within an hour of the park, there are plentiful opportunities for solitude; if you need a break from the hustle and bustle of Cleveland after the conference, add a visit to the Cuyahoga to your list!
Unless your journey to the conference included a drive on Pennsylvania’s Route 666, it’s unlikely that you’ve recently visited the Allegheny National Forest. Attendees from west of the Mississippi may be altogether unfamiliar with this 517,000-acre gem in the Appalachian foothills, which also happens to be Pennsylvania’s only National Forest, and includes sections of two National Wild and Scenic Rivers. Although the Allegheny isn’t in Ohio, there are myriad opportunities for Ohioans and visitors to the Cleveland area to hunt, fish, camp and hike on this remarkable block of public land. The National Forest was established in 1923, and in addition to the 7,500-acre Allegheny Reservoir, boasts two wilderness areas with ridges and plateaus up to 2,300 feet, more than 170 miles of hiking trails, and healthy populations of numerous game species. If you’re looking for an opportunity for hunting or fishing, or a true wilderness experience as part of your time at the 25th Annual Conference, be sure to head east to the Allegheny before heading home.
Finally, if a visit to an important component of the National Wildlife Refuge system is a priority during your time in northern Ohio, consider a trip down the shoreline of Lake Erie to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, established in 1961, “provides habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds, resident wildlife, and endangered and threatened species” and offers visitors a unique glimpse of the larger Great Lakes ecosystem. The Ottawa encompasses approximately 6,500 acres of wetlands, grasslands, and woodlands that were once part of the 1,500-square-mile Great Black Swamp, most of which has been drained and converted to agricultural land. The Ottawa has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area through the American Bird Conservancy, an Important Bird Area through Audubon Ohio, and October is one of best times of year to view migrating waterfowl. If a memorable visit to a unique unit within the Refuge system sounds enticing, be sure to plan a trip to the Ottawa during your time in Cleveland!
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