Posted by Mike on

Better than Brandywine – Blue Hen and Buttermilk Falls

Better than Brandywine – Blue Hen and Buttermilk Falls

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, being located between Akron and Cleveland wouldn’t on paper appear to be your average national park, like Yosemite or the Great Smokies. But for northeast Ohio, it’s about as close as you can get. It doesn’t have quite the scale of larger parks, but it has quite a bit of isolation if you know where to look. One of the most photographed and visited features of the park is Brandywine Falls.

Brandywine Falls

Brandywine Falls

It’s such a popular attraction that there are boardwalks built all over the South side of the 100 foot deep gorge with various different interpretative signs and viewing areas.  While this makes for easy access to a beautiful waterfall, it also means that there are usually quite a few people milling around, and you always get the standard people wading around in the splash pool at the bottom of the falls.  It’s not exactly my idea of a walk in the woods (It’s about 50 feet from the parking area to the boardwalks).
With that said, Shelby and I woke up Saturday morning, harnessed up two of the dogs, and decided to go to Blue Hen falls and Buttermilk falls.
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Blue Hen Falls

Blue Hen falls is also somewhat popular, but it is hidden in a deep ravine behind the Boston Mills Ski Resort and has a small, unimproved parking area.  The only development of the trail, which starts out as an old jeep road, is a bridge over the creek and one bench to view the falls from.  At the falls, about a quarter mile from the parking area and down the hill, the Buckeye Trail splits off with it’s blue blazes to the North, where it follows the west valley rim for about 4 or 5 miles.  Just on the other side of the bench, there is a sign saying that the trail “ends” here.  If you only wanted to see a pretty waterfall with relatively minimal effort but still have some peace and quiet in the woods, these are the falls to go to in Cuyahoga Valley.

It was a beautiful morning, and we were feeling a little more adventurous, so we decided to walk right past the trail end sign onto the obvious trail that has been beaten down by who knows how many people.  What the “end” of the trail means is that the park service doesn’t maintain the trail past this point.  It doesn’t mean “off-limits” or “prohibited”.  You will encounter some downed trees, slippery side slopes, and three or four creek crossings.  Granted, the creek is no more than 6 inches deep, but expect some wet feet unless you scout out a perfect rock hop.
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One of the creek crossings. It’s not exactly the mighty Mississippi, but you can still get wet feet


A little further down the trail, after climbing over a few more logs and a tricky side slope for a 7 year old, you come to a beautiful spot where there is apparently an old mill site.  The foundations of this structure, on both sides of the creek are obvious.

 

There aren't any signposts describing what these old foundation walls once held up. My bet is that it was a mill

There aren’t any signposts describing what these old foundation walls once held up. My bet is that it was a mill

Because the creek is small, and Buttermilk Falls is a “bridal veil” style fall, they don’t make a ton of noise.  When you’re standing in the little glen at the mill site, there are tons of mossy drips coming out of the side of the hill, the creek is rippling over nearly flat sandstone, and the entire valley is studded with Hemlocks.  It’s no wonder someone chose to build here.  You wouldn’t know it right away, but you’re only 50 feet from the falls.

 

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Cross the creek, and continue about 15 feet.  You are now at the top of Buttermilk Falls.
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The trail turns to the right and heads downstream.  Because the falls drop into a min gorge here, it is definitely not advisable to try to shortcut straight to the falls’ base.  Follow the trail another tenth of a mile, downhill, and once down to the creek level, it’s an easy streamside walk back to the base.
Follow the trail downstream a bit...it's much safer, and only takes an extra minute or so

Follow the trail downstream a bit…it’s much safer, and only takes an extra minute or so

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If it was a little warmer (it’s been a cool summer in Ohio, and it was pretty early in the morning), the shoes would have come off and I would have been the “standard person wading around in the splash pool at the base of the falls”
Total distance to the base of Buttermilk Falls from the parking lot was .77 miles.  Because it’s a non-maintained trail, and fairly isolated, it seems to be longer.  There isn’t anything particularly strenuous about it, but it does take some careful route finding and foot placement.  The walk back upstream isn’t steep, and Shelby did it with no complaining or running out of gas.
I truly consider Buttermilk Falls to be nicer than Brandywine.  This isn’t because they’re bigger or prettier, but they are definitely quieter, less traveled, just as easily accessible (to get to the base at least), and one of the “secret” woods walks of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  If and when the park starts implementing the backcountry campsite portion of their trail management plan (in 3 – 4 years), this should be one of the sites in my opinion.  I would be there every chance I got, hanging in my hammock.
Posted by Mike on

Behind Downtown Akron. A Walk from Lock 3 Park to Lock #1 site.

Behind Downtown Akron.  A Walk from Lock 3 Park to Lock #1 site.
Under the State Street Bridge.

Downtown Akron, Ohio is small enough that you can usually find parking in the evenings or weekends, but large enough that you get a good selection of restaurants, attractions, and events.  On Thursday, the 17th, Shelby and I decided to head downtown.  Turns out there was a sold-out Rubber Ducks game (they are really packing the stands this year), something big going on at the Civic Theater, and a “Downtown at Dusk” event at the art museum.  For a Thursday night, downtown was packed elbow to elbow.

Lock 3 park didn’t have anything going on, so we parked in the State Street garage that sits between the park and Canal Park.  We got there early enough to miss the baseball crowd flooding into the parking.
Lock 3 was barren.  The stage sat empty, waiting for the Friday Night Rock the Lock concert.  We stepped onto the towpath, and headed south.
Lock 3 itself is directly behind the fence.
I mentioned before that Shelby is fascinated by canal locks.  Walking a few hundred feet south of the park, and under the State Street bridge takes you to Lock #2.  I think that this is Shelby’s favorite thus far, because it still has “doors” on it.  They’re not functional, and actually don’t go the whole way to the bottom of the lock, but they give you a sense of what it would have looked like when it was full.
The downstream gate.  There is an artistic, life sized canal boat in the background with an interpretative sign.
  We traipsed around lock 2 for a bit, which is also directly behind Canal Park.  There were a few people already being seated, and the grounds crew was preparing the infield.  This might be a sneaky place to watch the game or even catch a home run without even needing to purchase a ticket.  I don’t know if they clear the area during games or not.
On down past canal park, you come to the former site of Lock #1.  The canal disappears under exchange street here, and on the west bank, is the Richard Howe House.  This building was built in 1836 by Richard Howe, the resident engineer of the Ohio and Erie canal.  But it wasn’t built here.  It was originally constructed further to the east on Exchange street.  It was neglected, but in 2008, the Canalway Coalition cut the whole thing in half, put it on flatbeds, restored it, and moved it to the present site.  You can tour it now (I haven’t got the chance yet).  It’s open Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM.
This is the view from the stairs heading across the canal to the Howe house, just below Exchange street.  From right to left: Howe House, Akron YMCA building, the canal, and Canal Park.
We continued down the towpath a bit past here, going under Exchange street in what is an old viaduct tunnel faced with sandstone.  A look at a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1886 shows that a creek used to run through here.
The intersection of Exchange and S. Main streets in Akron as it looked in 1886.
Other than some of the steam pipes from the Akron Steam plant, and a nice view of the former BF Goodrich stacks, there aren’t many more “features” to the canal until you walk the whole way to Summit Lake, approximately 1 mile from Exchange street.  We decided to turn around at one of the former Goodrich office buildings and head back to Lock 3.
In essence, we we able to take a nice leisurely stroll, and see a lot of history, some nature (there are quite a few geese and mallards in the canal though here, and interesting plants growing on the banks) “behind” a busy downtown Akron.  If you would just like a 30 minute out-and-back, relaxing walk, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Taken a few days prior to our walk, during the Italian American festival.
Posted by Mike on

Exploring the Cascade Locks

Exploring the Cascade Locks
On Sunday, Shelby and I decided to wake up a little early, and go for a walk.  I hopped on the Ohio and Erie Canalway website, and downloaded some “quests“, which are kind of like Geocaching, but with more back story behind the clues.  You can pick up the pamphlets at different visitors centers in the area.
 
We decided to head to the Cascade Locks area, as it’s one of Shelby’s favorite spots.  She loves to explore the old canal locks, Cascade Mills, the Mustill Store, and the old railroad bridges.  There is a lot of history in a 1/4 mile section of the towpath.
 
So, we printed out our instructions, and hopped in the car.  Out of the three quests we had in that area, we decided to start with Questing the Cascade Locks.  This started us at the Mustill store parking lot, and the information Kiosk located at that point.
 
After having Shelby read the various rhyming clues, we learned that the spillway for lock 15, directly across from the store, runs right underneath the porch of the building.  It can still be seen as a small trench from the upstream end of the lock, down to the Little Cuyahoga river.
 
Now, this was beginning to be fun for me too.  What started as a simple excuse to get outside, and have Shelby learn some things, turned into an educational experience for me as well.  I had never really noticed the trench, and when we hit this point, it got me to look around and observe the layout of the area even more.  Even though inside the Mustill store there are plenty of historical exhibits and pictures, I like to simply daydream and imagine what the area looked like 150 years ago, when all of it was still a functioning canal.
 
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Lock 15 is on the left.  You can see the remains of the spillway on the right side of the path, and the ramp to the Mustill Store’s porch at bottom right.

We found our way across North Street, over to lock 14.  Shelby is fascinated by canal locks.  She knows the simple stuff, like how old they are, that canal boats used them to make their way up or downhill, and that they used to be full of water, but, more surprisingly for a 7 year old, she understands exactly HOW they worked, and the actual process used to either lift or lower a boat.  I credit the exhibits in the store and various visitor centers with teaching her this.  Most of the time, she simply glances over the exhibits, and heads straight for where the stuffed animals are stored, but when it comes to the interactive lock exhibit, she can easily spend 15 minutes just playing with it, not realizing she’s learning.
 
As we were going through the various clues, the sky started threatening.  Unfortunately, we were operating with paper, which doesn’t do so well in the rain.  We stepped up our pace a little, and walked up to lock 12, which is nicely covered by a new foot bridge with a roof, since it passes directly under the high railroad bridge spanning the valley.  We spent 10 minutes or so looking at the various details of lock 12 and both the new an old piers for the current and former railroad bridges while we waited out the rain that finally began to fall.
 
Our last clue pointed us to the secret box, which contains a log book and a stamp.  As we were standing under the roof, we could see the box, about 30 feet away.  Not knowing how long the rain would last, I decided to just use the umbrella and head over to it.
 
Shelby deciphered the way to open the box, and we went ahead and signed the log book, and stamped her paper.  At this point, we were getting hungry, and the rain was still falling, so we headed back to the car, and determined that the best course of action would be to grab some breakfast and head home.
 
After a good meal at Akron Family Restaurant, (highly recommended for it’s good food, service, and prices) we made our way home.  We still have two more quests to do in the Cascade locks area, and over 40 more scattered around the Canalway, which runs from Cleveland, through the Cuyahoga Valley, Akron, and on south to Canton and Massillon.