Conservancy blog


September 18, 2014
By Dwight and Ann Chasar, CVNP Volunteers

Looking for and identifying songbirds during the annual fall migration in CVNP can be more challenging than you might expect. Each fall, migrants from Canada arrive and mix with our "local" migrants. Young birds from both groups increase this mix—so birds should be easy to find in the CVNP, right? Well, it can be trickier than you think! 

Challenges of Fall Birding

Neotropical migrants arriving from Canada and further north must wing their way non-stop across Lake Erie, ultimately heading for warmer climes in Central and South America. After arriving at the southern edge of Lake Erie, they drop, rest, and begin to fuel up for the next leg of their journey. Then, they disperse at a more leisurely pace, mostly skipping the urban areas, to find suitable habitat to refuel. 

But songbirds that arrive in the CVNP may not be so easy to find. They’re often well-camouflaged behind lush foliage that’s peppered with yellow and orange. This is in sharp contrast to the spring migration, when birds start arriving from the south before the leaves are fully out. 

If only there were fewer leaves… But be careful what you wish for! As fall progresses, leaves start dropping from the trees—so are those leaves falling or birds moving? Momentarily confused, it’s easy to lose the bird you’re focused on. To compensate, some birders only look at upward movement. 

Gray Catbird (Photo: Bob Boltz) 

During the spring migration, as hormones flow through their bodies telling them it's time to reproduce, birds burst into song to attract mates and defend territory. These unique songs tell us which species are present. In the fall, however, there’s little need for all this communication; hormone levels have diminished, and the desire to mate is over until next year. 

At best, birding by ear in the fall means catching a call note or two. Thus, seeing the bird becomes much more important for identification—but that can be tricky, as we’ve already discussed. 

Visual Clues

Guest what? You’ve finally spotted a bird well enough—but you still can't identify it! A number of species in the fall don't look like they did in the spring. Earlier in the year, the male is generally more colorful and flashy in order to attract a female—kind of like he’s wearing courting clothes. This breeding plumage makes it easier to find and identify the bird. In the fall, however, the males have either molted to basic or winter plumage, or they’re just much duller. 

In fact, males can look similar to those females we tend to overlook in the spring. For some birds, feathers haven’t been replaced, so they look worn and faded. First-year birds—those born this summer—may not have developed their full adult plumage. So some birds just don't "look" right and can make them difficult to identify. 

A male Blackpoll Warbler, after hatch year (Photo: Sandy Teliak, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)

Well, if all that isn’t challenging enough for you, there are species that look so similar to one another in the fall that identification is nearly impossible. In the spring, the Pine Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, and Bay-breasted Warbler are easily distinguishable in CVNP. In the fall, the three look nearly alike, and views of the back for stripes or the legs/feet for color are nearly mandatory to confidently ID them—which is, of course, difficult thanks to autumn colors and falling leaves. 

Migration Pathways

Speaking of the Blackpoll Warbler, we would be remiss if we didn’t address its remarkable migration pathways. In the spring, this species moves from northern South America through the Caribbean and the eastern half of the U.S. to lands further north and west, finally nesting from Nova Scotia to Alaska. But its fall migration is remarkably different and complex. 

Most of this species fly to the east coast, where they spread out from Nova Scotia to New Jersey. Then, they wait for the appropriate westerly winds, fly out over the Atlantic Ocean to pick up northwesterly trade winds, and finally head toward home using tailwinds. This path is a 40-hour, 2000-mile, non-stop ocean flight until the Blackpoll reaches northeastern South America! The bird will have lost about half its body weight in the process. From nest to winter home, this migration is the longest of any North American songbird. 

Where do birds acquire this energy for migration? It's all about berries! Insects are the feast in spring and summer, but berries become increasingly important to a bird's diet in the fall. 

Gray dogwood berries (Photo: Ann Chasar) 

Not all berries are the same, though. Different kinds of berries have different food value; they are not all available at the same time, or even every year, and their longevity through the season varies. Early-season berries contain more sugar (carbohydrates), and late-season berries have more lipids (fat). Birds have to cue in on quality fruit, ignoring those of lower nutrition (such as invasive honeysuckles).

This need to stock up helps us find birds in CVNP. A good bet for finding fall songbirds is to look in places where berries and insects are found—such as forest edges and shrubby fields. Likely spots are the Towpath Trail, Oak Hill Trail, and the Virginia Kendall Lake area. 

Fall birding isn't easy, but it adds to a life-long learning experience about birds. It certainly makes us thankful that these birds will return to CVNP next year in spring garb!

For further reading about bird migrations, we recommend How Birds Migrate (2nd Edition) by Paul Kerlinger. This book includes a great discussion of how songbirds, flying mostly at night, find their way. 



September 8, 2014
By Rebecca Jones, NPS Park Ranger

Everyone dances. From time immemorial, people have danced. From the circle dances around early fires, to the long lines facing each other in community events, to squares of couples facing each other, people have danced since man discovered joy.

Dancing once had a ceremonial function, but it also has a social function. The contra dance, as we know it today, was once a community event held throughout New England. When settlers from Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York came to the Cuyahoga Valley, they brought their dances with them.

Boston Township Hall Dance
Contra dancing in Boston Township Hall around the 1950s (Photo: Peninsula Historical Society)

Contra dancing was country dancing. It was the dance of the common man: rarely refined, hardly polished, energetic, and—I would say—fun. It is most directly descended from English country dancing, where the men lined up in long lines across from the women. This form of line dancing of two opposing sides has been recorded in art as far back as Neolithic times.

Since then, dance has been handed down from one generation to the next. You learned the country dances and their songs from your parents, your peers, your neighbors. 

Over the centuries, country dancing moved into our cities, and then out again, as new dances such as the waltz and the two-step became more popular. In the end, country dance survived only in the most rural areas. 

A caller would call out the figures, sometimes in a set pattern like the contra dance, or sometimes in no set pattern. Dance was social. You came to dance, but also to be with people—talking, dancing, watching, and socializing. In the Appalachian region, big circle dances and running sets were more popular. In the west, a hybrid thing evolved that would become western square dancing. But in New England, and spreading from its cultural hearth, the contra dance survived. 

As a child, I can remember my grandfather playing late night jigs, hornpipes, and reels. Ever try to go to sleep listening to that kind of music? It made my blood move! Years later, I learned that my grandfather had been a fiddler and a caller at dances at Natural Bridge and at Renfro Valley in Kentucky during the 1930s.

During the 1930s, there was a revival of contra dancing in New England. Consider it: It was the depth of the Depression. You couldn’t afford to go to do something fancy. But a dance at the Town Hall, or in someone’s kitchen, was a different story. 

Here in the Cuyahoga Valley, we know dances were held in Boston and in Everett. We know people had kitchen dances. What were they dancing? Probably some waltz, maybe some polka, some squares, and some longways sets. 

Everett Street Dance
A street dance in Everett, post-World War II (Photo: Peninsula Historical Society)

In the 1940s, the popularity of square dancing began to rise. For the next 20 years, the popularity of country dancing remained steady. Then, in the late 1960s through the 1970s, contra dancing was discovered by boomers and back-to-the-land people. Here was a community dance, open to all, free for all.

In 1986, I was working at a nature preserve/organic farm/environmental education center. One Friday a month, it was my job to rake out the barn, scrape down the floor, and tamp it down. That evening, a barn dance was held in the largest, oldest, Appalachian double-crib barn west of the Alleghenies. 

Now, if I was going to work that hard, I wanted to see what this was all about! I don’t know what I expected, big skirts or something. But that evening, as I approached the barn, I hear familiar strains of jigs, hornpipes, and reels. At the end of that dizzying, delirious evening, my blood was moving again. I knew this music. I was hooked.

And now, nearly 30 years later, I find myself in a blessed place, where I can combine two great passions of my life: contra dance and the National Park Service.

You might wonder why the park service is involved with this program. Part of the National Park Service’s mission is to preserve the natural and cultural resources, unimpaired for future generations. Contra dancing is part of the valley’s cultural history. The dance of the common man survived, influenced by current fashions, but survived. So today, we have the opportunity to participate in a living tradition here in the valley.

Interested in taking part in this unique tradition? Join us for a fall contra dance at the Boston Township School House. Dates this fall are Thursdays, September 11 and 25, October 9 and 23, and November 13 at 7:00 p.m. 

The dance is on. You can continue the tradition. John Bunyan said in the 17th century, “All good people dance, from the angels down.” And aren’t you good?

Content adapted from Contra Conversations



September 2, 2014

Cooler evenings, songbirds moving south, leaves with a hint of gold around the edges… It might still be warm outside, but fall is in the air! Next week, experience one of the majestic signs of autumn by observing the Harvest Moon in the night sky above CVNP. 

The Harvest Moon is the full moon that falls closest to the autumnal equinox on September 23. This year’s Harvest Moon also happens to be the year’s third—and final—supermoon, so it’ll appear a bit larger and brighter than usual. 

Why does the Harvest Moon look so big and orange? 

You may have seen the Harvest Moon before: a big, bright, orange ball rising slowly over the horizon, looking like the incarnation of autumn itself. The Harvest Moon isn’t actually bigger or more colorful than other full moons, although it is a supermoon this year—more on that below. Instead, the size and color of the moon are mostly tricks of your eyes. 

Harvest Moon

Usually, each evening, the full moon rises 50 minutes later than it rose the previous day. However, around the time of the Harvest Moon, the moon rises near the same time each day—in some cases, as little as 23 minutes later on successive nights. That’s because the moon’s orbit makes a narrow angle with the evening horizon around the time of the autumn equinox. 

So, around this time, the moon rises right around sunset for several days in a row. This culminates with the full moon: the largest incarnation of the moon cycle. 

When the moon is at the horizon, it appears bigger than when it’s high in the sky. Scientists disagree about why that’s the case, but the most common theory is that on the horizon, you have objects to compare the moon to, like trees or buildings. When it’s all alone at the top of the sky, there’s nothing nearby to compare it with, so it looks smaller.

When you look for the full Harvest Moon rising near sunset, it will be at the horizon, basking in the opposite glow of the setting sun. This makes the full moon appear much larger than usual—particularly after several days of near-full moons rising around sunset. 

Harvest Moon_Timosca
Photo: NASA, Catalin M. Timosca

The pumpkin-orange color of the Harvest Moon comes from late summer pollen and dust in the air. As you look at the moon, particularly when you look at it on the horizon through much of the Earth’s atmosphere, its light must travel through a haze of golden pollen. As a result, you see a gentle, orange glow instead of the usual white light. 

Why the name “Harvest Moon?” 

The Harvest Moon is the full moon nearest to the autumnal equinox, which is the tipping point from summer into the fall season. Around this time, famers harvest crops from the summer’s bounty and spend long hours in their fields before the frosts arrive. 

Because the Harvest Moon typically rises earlier than other full moons—usually right around sunset—farmers can use its bright light to help harvest crops into the night. The name “Harvest Moon” likely sprang up from the farmers who used its light to continue working after sunset.  

So what’s a supermoon? 

A supermoon is when the full moon passes closest to Earth in its orbit. As a result, it’s closer to Earth and thus brighter than “regular” full moons throughout the year—typically about 14% larger and 30% brighter than when the moon is at its farthest point from Earth, according to NASA. 

Supermoon Comparison
A regular moon compared to a supermoon from several years ago 

Supermoons can occur several times a year. In 2014, we’ve already had two supermoons, in July and August. September’s Harvest Moon is the last supermoon of 2014—be sure to visit the national park to check out this unusual phenomenon before it passes for the year! 

Check it out yourself!

This year’s Harvest Moon will rise on the eastern horizon at 7:26 p.m. EST and be at its fullest at 9:38 p.m. EST. You can check out the Harvest Moon with the guidance of a park ranger at the Full Moon Hike on Monday, September 8, 7:00 p.m. at the Oak Hill Trailhead.

Enjoy the Harvest Moon—and let us know if you snap any great pictures!



August 26, 2014

Imagine: You’re enjoying a hike through the woods and meadows of CVNP, basking in the sunshine, when all of a sudden, a loud buzzing fills your ears. Don’t swat! Chances are it’s one of our many local bees buzzing by.  

Despite many people’s fears about these flying insects, most native bees are relatively gentle unless provoked. As pollinators, they help move pollen among plants and play a critical role in fruit and seed production. Without bees, we wouldn't have foods like apples, peaches, potatoes, almonds, coffee, or chocolate!

You’ve probably heard of the honey bee, which is a very important pollinator but actually a non-native species in the United States. But are you familiar with native bee species in the Cuyahoga Valley? Here are a few to watch for around the national park. 

Leaf Cutting Bee

Leaf cutting bees use their mouths to cut circular pieces out of leaves, which can measure up to a half-inch across. They then transport these leaf circles to their nests and use them to line the inner walls. Nests are created using above-ground, pre-existing holes, such as those made by beetles tunneling into dead wood. 

You’re most likely to spot these industrious creatures in wooded areas with fallen or decomposing trees, such as on the Wetmore Trail system or the Towpath Trail near Beaver Marsh. 

Carpenter Bee

Carpenter bees construct their nests by tunneling into wood. They do not eat the wood, but instead discard it or re-use it to build partitions between "rooms" in the maze of the nest's wooden tunnels. During the cold winter months, carpenter bees hole up inside these cozy nests to stay warm. 

Watch for carpenter bees near manmade, wood shelters, such as the Ledges and Octagon Shelters or Happy Days Lodge.

Bumble Bee

Bumble bees are active in cool, cloudy weather when most other bees stay at home. You'll most likely hear a bumble bee before you see it, because they pollinate flowers by "buzz pollination." This means the bee uses a rapid vibrating motion to release large amounts of pollen from a flower at once. 

You can find bumble bees in most places in the park, but especially in meadows and open areas with wildflowers, such as the parking area near Brandywine Falls, in Howe Meadow, or around Indigo Lake. 

So what's NOT a bee? Wasps and hornets are sometimes confused for bees, but you can tell the difference primarily by the absence of fuzzy, pollen-carrying hairs on wasps and hornets. Bees are also typically much less aggressive than wasps and hornets and stick mostly to flowers. 

As you enjoy these final weeks of summer, keep an eye—and an ear!—out for our friendly local bees. 



August 19, 2014

In the middle of CVNP lies the Village of Peninsula, a small town steeped in Cuyahoga Valley history. This central village gets its name from the shape the Cuyahoga River makes as it cuts through the area, creating several narrow fingers or peninsulas.

Because of its prime location halfway between Akron and Cleveland, Peninsula was historically a hub for canallers traveling through the area. During the mid-1800s, Peninsula was known for its boat building, boasting double the production of other towns. It also saw a number of other smaller industries, including flour milling along the Cuyahoga River.

Boat-Building Ventures

In 1863, Peninsula’s peak boat-building year, 33 boats moved from local yards for the Civil War trade. Imagine walking through the noisy, bustling boatyard in that era: you’d hear the clang of hammers and the persistent crunch of saws cutting through wood. The smell of wet wood and steam would fill the air, immersing you in the boat-making process.

A boat on the Ohio and Erie Canal (Photo: Ohio & Erie Canalway)

An old-time historian wrote, “A boatyard was not a spectacular place… It consisted merely of an open space with a partially completed boat or two ranged beside the canal bank. A stick of timber might be perched high on a couple of supports with two men whipsawing it into planks… Carpenters, calkers, painters would be busy about the hulls, depending on the stages of completion.”

“The yard would be littered with chips, shavings, and bits of wood and a few small board-laden saw horses,” he wrote. “It is said that the side panels were sawed from logs, hardwood pieces for frames and bottoms came from local saw mills, and the pine lumber for cabins and decks was boated out from Cleveland.”

The Peninsula boatyard; the water you see is the Cuyahoga River, just south of Riverview Road. (You would be standing in Fisher's lot to get this image back then.) The boatyard is on the other side of the river near the building with piers. (Photo: NPS Historic Photo)

Just south of Peninsula along the Ohio and Erie Canal was a dry-dock, where boats could be repaired. From there, travelers could continue toward Cleveland or Akron—nearly a full day’s journey in either direction.

Peninsula Flour Mill

The Moody and Thomas flour mill in Peninsula (Illustration: John de Vries, More Cuyahoga Valley Tales)

Peninsula was also home to a flour mill built in the 1800s, producing flours such as Peerless Patent Flour. Its close proximity to the canal and valley railroad provided easy modes of transportation to neighboring cities.

The Cuyahoga River was also a helpful tool for the mill, as a dam diverted water to provide power need to grind the grain into flour. On the day after Christmas, 1931, however, the mill burned down, ending the era of flour product in Peninsula.

These days, Peninsula is filled with shops and restaurants for both locals and visitors to the national park. It’s even home to one of the Conservancy’s shops, Trail Mix Peninsula! Particularly during the summer months, you can always see people exploring the streets of the bustling town, and in this way, Peninsula continues to be a central hub for the people of the Cuyahoga Valley.

Content for this blog post is adapted from More Cuyahoga Valley Tales by Margot Y. Jackson and Mary K. Newton




August 12, 2014

CVNP has more than 100 miles of trails, and they’re gorgeous in every season, especially during these sunny summer months. With so much mileage to explore, though, it can be hard to know where to begin—so we’re here to help you out.

This week, we’re highlighting one of the lesser-known trail systems in the national park: the Wetmore Trail system. Yes, it’s a horseback riding trail, but it’s also fantastic for hiking and trail running.  Just be sure to yield to any horses you encounter along the way.

Wetmore Trail gets its name from Frederick and Emila Wetmore, landowners from the late 1800s. Prior to the area’s purchase by the National Park Service in 1984, the area was primarily used for breeding Morgan and thoroughbred horses. Today, the Wetmore Trail system follows old logging roads and horse paths through deep woodlands and pastures.

Last week, we took a trek on Wetmore Trail to check out some of its coolest features. Here’s what we found:

Burbling Streams

As you start off on the Wetmore Trail loop, heading counterclockwise, you’ll come upon a shallow stream on your left. This is Dickerson Run, which appears throughout the hike, meandering through the hillsides and woodlands.

You likely won’t encounter many other folks on this out-of-the-way section of CVNP, so enjoy the peacefulness of the clear-running stream. Don’t forget to wear a pair of old shoes on this trail, as you’ll encounter a few shallow crossings over Dickerson Run and muddy areas, especially after a heavy rain.

Towering Trees

Although there’s a variety of different terrain throughout the Wetmore Trail system, most of the trail loop is dominated by woodlands. After you climb up the steep slope out of the Dickerson Run valley, you’ll encounter stands of towering red maples and beech trees, rising vertically toward the sky.

Continuing along the high grounds of this portion of trail, you’ll come across pockets of evergreens, including red and white pines and spruces, that waft the sweet scent of pine needles in your direction.

The trail continues to take you through many different types of woodlands, including sunnier areas dominated by tulip trees, large old oaks, and buckeyes. Eastern peewees, black-capped chickadees, and white-breasted nuthatches abound—and you might even spy a pileated woodpecker, with his bright flash of red.

Open Meadows

On the southeastern stretch of Wetmore Trail, you’ll venture briefly into an open meadow, formerly a horse pasture. Grasses and prairie flowers appear here, including the monarch butterfly’s favorite plant: milkweed.

Prairie birds, like the chipper little American goldfinch, flit across the landscape—or you may see a great blue heron flying overhead, looking for a cool area to rest.

Without the hard work of TRAILS FOREVER donors and volunteers, including the Medina County chapter of the Ohio Horseman’s Council and the Cuyahoga Valley Trails Council, these trails simply wouldn’t exist. Thank you for your support—you’re helping us build a world-class trail system in northeast Ohio.

Want to contribute to a project to reopen a trail in the Wetmore Trail system? Check out our most recent TRAILS FOREVER fundraiser to reopen Tabletop Trail, which connects the upper and lower pieces of Wetmore Trail but has been closed since 2003 due to heavy flooding.



August 5, 2014

We all know the Cuyahoga Valley as the home of expansive woodlands, meadows, and wetlands, crisscrossed with trails for exploring. But the valley also has a history of housing one of northeast Ohio’s more fascinating criminals: a notorious—and beloved—counterfeiter of the 19th century named Jim Brown.

Jim Brown moved to Boston Township with his father at age eight in 1808 and grew up in the valley, earning the friendship and respect of the locals. He married at the age of 19, and by 1826, had purchased a tavern on the west bank of the Cuyahoga. Later, he would move the building across the river to the bank of the canal, refitting it as a hotel.

Despite his successful hotel business, Jim and his brother Dan were operating a less wholesome production on the side. The two brothers, along with a host of other partners, printed paper money in the wood ravines and isolated barns of the Cuyahoga Valley. The counterfeit bills were then distributed along the entire length of the Ohio & Erie Canal, earning the Browns a fortune.

Jim certainly had a way of charming people, which may account for his success. Sherriff Samuel A. Lane, who would eventually pursue Jim’s arrest, even described him as follows: “Jim, in his early prime, though not remarkably handsome of feature, possessed a pleasant countenance which, with the mildness of his voice and geniality of his conversation, rendered him a most captivating companion. He was, in stature, about six feet, two inches tall, straight as an arrow, with a rather dark complexion, black or very dark brown hair and black, deep-set penetrating eyes.”

One of Jim’s most infamous schemes occurred in the winter of 1831-32, when Jim, his brother Dan, and a friend named Bill Taylor decided to expand their counterfeiting productions to India and China. They conspired to take a boat across the ocean and use their printed money to bring back a hefty cargo of teas, spices, silks, and other merchandise.

Jim, Dan, and Bill bought a ship in New Orleans and spent several months equipping the boat with counterfeiting equipment. The night before they were to set sail, however, Jim and Bill went ashore “to paint the town red.” The pair spent so much money that they roused the suspicion of local police, who raided the boat and threw the trio in jail.

Jim was eventually acquitted and released, so he returned to Boston Township, where he was “heartily congratulated by his old neighbors, and a good deal lionized wherever he was known.”

In fact, Jim was soon elected Justice of the Peace in Boston Township. Sherriff Lane wrote, “He is said to have administered [his office] with marked fidelity during his three years’ incumbency thereof, although at the same time known to be the very ‘head center’ of the Cuyahoga Valley Syndicate for fabricating and expanding the currency.”

Although he was occasionally arrested in years to come, Jim had a talent for escaping prison—until 1846, when he was convicted and sentenced to ten years in the Ohio penitentiary. However, good behavior, as well as his “devotion and heroism” during an outbreak of cholera, won him an early release after less than three years behind bars.

Jim died in 1865 after falling in a canal boat and fracturing his skull while passing through the Peninsula Lock. He’s now buried in the old cemetery in the Village of Boston under a small stone simply inscribed “James Brown.”

The Brown-Bender Farm, where Jim lived after being released from prison, is still standing in CVNP along Akron Peninsula Road, just south of Ira Road.

The Brown-Bender farm with the farmhouse in the background; Jim's brother, Dan, is buried under the tall tombstone at the end of the driveway (Photo: NPS)

Despite his scandalous history—or perhaps because of it—there’s something captivating about Jim Brown and his life of crime. The folklore of the area continues to remember this charming criminal and his exploits in counterfeiting in the Cuyahoga Valley.

Content for this blog post is adapted from Cuyahoga Valley Tales by James S. and Margot Y. Jackson




July 29, 2014

It’s a sunny July afternoon in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and six people are huddled in a circle in the woods near Indigo Lake, hunched over a tiny, plastic cylinder. Inside, a small, chestnut-colored butterfly rests on the latticed plastic lid while the group examines his stripes and silvery spots. 

The butterfly—a silver-spotted skipper—is soon released, unharmed, so he can continue his day in the sunshine. The group continues down their path through the woods, searching for these small, winged jewels of the park. 

This is a common view of the CVNP butterfly monitoring groups, who take weekly walks in the park to collect data about the local butterfly population. Park rangers, volunteer citizen scientists, students, and interns all take part in these weekly walks, but they all have one thing in common: they love butterflies.

To monitor CVNP’s butterfly population, the park conducts surveys to count the number of butterflies in a given area, or “transect.” Each week, park biologist Meg Plona leads a crew to a transect in the park, where they walk a couple miles through meadows, woodlands, and grasslands. Currently, the program monitors butterfly populations along three transects in CVNP: Terra Vista Natural Study Area, Indigo Lake, and Pine Hollow.

When a butterfly is spotted within 15 feet of the transect path, someone may try to gently catch it in a butterfly net, then move it to a plastic jar for closer examination. (All butterflies are soon released.) If the butterfly proves too elusive to catch, everyone pulls out their binoculars to try to identify it from afar. 

Each week, the data is submitted to a long-term butterfly monitoring program managed by several state organizations, including the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Ohio Biological Survey, and the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The data is useful for determining the health of butterflies in the state and the impact that environmental changes have on their populations.

Last week, the group found nearly 20 different species on the Indigo Lake transect, including the wild indigo duskywing, pearl crescent, orange sulphur, tiger swallowtail, little wood satyr, and even the uncommon harvester butterfly.

Identifying a tiny, fluttering butterfly can be tricky, but like anything, all it takes is practice—and a little patience.  Here’s how the butterfly monitoring crew typically identifies butterflies in the field:

  1. Look first at the size, shape, and behavior of the butterfly. For instance, does it have swallowtails on its hindwings? Does it seem unusually large? Does it have rapid, fluttering flight, or is it sitting with its wings spread?
  2. Next, look at the dominant colors—both on the inside and outside of the wings—as well as any patterns, like spots or stripes.
  3. Finally, note the butterfly’s habitat, as well as the time of year. Both of these characteristics are frequently the defining factor to distinguish between similar species.

Even within a single species, however, each butterfly is unique, so even the best scientists sometimes need to snap a photo of a tricky butterfly to study in more detail at home or send to an expert.

One of CVNP’s flashiest and most well-known butterfly species is, of course, the monarch.

Photo: NPS

CVNP volunteers have been a part of the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project for several years now, which is a citizen scientist project to collect long-term data on larval monarch populations and the milkweed habitat on which they rely. Each week, volunteers go out to the park’s monitoring site, on the Towpath just south of the Boston Store Visitor Center, to count milkweed plants, monarch eggs, and larvae.

Like many areas of the United States, the monarch population in CVNP seems low, likely due to the elimination of their primary food source: milkweed. However, citizen scientists are quick to point out that the population varies widely in the park from year to year, so it will be several more years before any meaningful long-term trends appear.

In any case, CVNP staff and volunteers are already working to keep monarchs in the area by planting native milkweed plants around the park. Grown in the park hoophouse and transplanted by rangers and volunteers, these plants are essential to the development of these beautiful butterflies.

Get out in the park to check out some of these lovely creatures! For a list of the 20 most common butterfly species in CVNP, including pictures of each, check out the national park website. For information about becoming a volunteer for projects like the butterfly monitoring program, visit the Conservancy’s volunteer page.



July 21, 2014

Earlier this month, Farm Camp campers from the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center (CVEEC) surprised their families with a unique treat: a camper-run farmers' market

Using Monopoly money as currency, campers set up stands with blackberries, raspberries, squash, lettuce, and more to show off their new gardening expertise. This market was the culmination of a week of food exploration in and around Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Farm Camp is a week-long overnight camp for elementary and middle school students interested in learning more about where their food comes from. With the CVEEC as a home base, campers spend time at the Crown Point Ecology Center, just outside the southern end of CVNP, to learn what life is like on a farm. Campers also visit Hale Farm & Village to interact with animals and get a feel for the historical farm.

At this month’s Farm Camp, the kids spent time planting new crops, learning how to harvest veggies, and even making smoothies out of the harvested foods. They got a chance to dig their hands in the dirt and experience nature’s gifts and cycles first-hand

On Friday, everyone returned to the CVEEC campus to set up a market for their families. After harvesting berries and veggies from Crown Point all morning, they were ready to share the bounty! Campers decided on prices for each item, created signs, and waited for their customers.

Families showed up to browse tables with juicy berries, plump summer squash, bright sunflowers, crisp lettuce, and other treats. Instead of using real money, shoppers received $10 worth of play money to spend as they wished. Brightly colored, homemade signs beckoned, while the campers enthusiastically answered questions about their wares.

Needless to say, produce sold out quickly! After all of the fruits and veggies were gone, campers left the CVEEC with new confidence and expertise in how to grow—and sell—their own food.  

Many of the 33 campers at Farm Camp were able to attend only because of the CVEEC’s scholarship program and grant funding efforts, which cover attendance fees for children who otherwise couldn’t afford the cost. As a member of the Conservancy, you’re helping us bring these deserving kids to summer camp. Thank you for supporting environmental education at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center!



July 8, 2014

When you hear the word "buckeye," what do you think of? Whether you think of trees or sports teams, Ohio is home to many different types of buckeyes—from the familiar Ohio buckeye tree to the Buckeye Trail. 

For instance, have you ever stumbled across the bottlebrush buckeye shrub? Did you know that the last leg added to the Buckeye Trail is in CVNP? You might also be surprised to hear how the Ohio buckeye tree got its name.

Read more about the bottlebrush buckeye, the Buckeye Trail, and other Ohio buckeyes below.

Bottlebrush Buckeye

Bottlebrush Buckeye

The leaves of the bottlebrush buckeye are very similar to the leaves of the familiar tree to which it is related: large, compound leaves, typically with five “leaflets.” However, the bottlebrush buckeye is a shrub, not a tree, so it grows a bit closer to the ground (although still reaching above your head as it matures) and spreads horizontally.

The flowers of the bottlebrush buckeye, which start blooming this first week of July, are its most striking feature. Tall, vertical stalks grow straight up from the plant, resembling the bottle brush after which it’s named. Small, white and pink petals hover delicately along the flower stalk, contrasting with the bold, dark green of the leaves.

We have a blooming bottlebrush buckeye at the Hines Hill administrative offices for the Conservancy, so stop by to check it out if you’re curious about this unusual shrub.

Buckeye Trail

Buckeye Trail Blue Blaze

The famous Buckeye Trail runs 1,444 miles throughout the entire state of Ohio, following the blue blazes from Cleveland to Cincinnati. The idea for the trail was originally conceived in 1958 by Merrill Gilfillan, who wrote a newspaper article advocating for a trail that would “serve as an encouragement to young people to slow down and learn about their native land.”

A year later, the Buckeye Trail Association dedicated the first 20 miles of the trail in Hocking County on September 19, 1959. Twenty years later, in 1980, the trail was completed near Dear Lick Cave in what was then called Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area—now part of the Brecksville Reservation in CVNP.

You can get on the Buckeye Trail in several different locations in the national park, including at Station Bridge Road, Everett Covered Bridge, and Boston Trailhead. Check out the NPS website for a full listing of trailheads.

Ohio Buckeye

Buckeye tree

The Ohio buckeye is our state tree and a common sight throughout Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Look for the distinctive compound leaves and the unmistakable nuts.

 The term “buckeye” comes from the pioneers on the Ohio frontier, who were called “buckeyes” as a term of endearment. It’s thought that the buckeye tree was so named because it was the first tree to be felled by a “buckeye” settler west of the Ohio River.


Of course, the tree’s shiny brown nut also resembles the eye of a deer, which probably also played a role in its name. Buckeye nuts are highly poisonous raw, but Native Americans learned to boil and leach them to remove their toxins and take advantage of this protein-rich food source.

Come visit your national park this weekend to check out some of Ohio’s many buckeyes! And for an extra delicious treat, stop by Trail Mix Peninsula or Trail Mix Boston to pick up some chocolate-y, peanut butter-y goodness in the form of an edible buckeye. Yum!



July 1, 2014

Forty-five years ago, the Cuyahoga River burned, serving as a catalyst for the environmental movement. Today, we’re lucky to be able to reap the benefits of the massive cleanup that followed.

While there is still much work to do, the river has come a long way in the past several decades. Where toxic chemicals once oozed, you can now see fish, birds, and other wildlife. For example, just last week, two young bald eagles fledged from their nest in the Pinery Narrows area! And did you know that smallmouth bass are common in the Cuyahoga River, indicating that pollution levels are dropping? Read on to learn more about covering wildlife on the river. 

Smallmouth Bass

As a high-level freshwater predator with low tolerance for pollution, the native smallmouth bass is a great indicator of environmental health in the Cuyahoga River.

As they eat smaller fish that are lower on the food chain, smallmouth bass can accumulate many toxins, making them more likely to die off when pollution is heavy. Today, however, smallmouth bass are common in the Cuyahoga River, indicating that pollution levels are dropping.

These elusive and feisty fish can be frequently found in cooler areas of the river, hiding in the cool shadows of rocky outcroppings or fallen trees.

Bald Eagles

In 1975, bald eagles were almost completely absent from Ohio, with only four breeding pairs in the entire state. Today, however, bald eagles are a regular and spectacular sight in the park, eating fish directly from the waters of the Cuyahoga River.

Two bald eagles have been building a nest in the Pinery Narrows area in Brecksville for several years now. When the pair began building the nest in 2006, it was the first recorded bald eagle’s nest in Cuyahoga County in more than 70 years. Just last week, two young eagles fledged from the nest, upping the total number of bald eagles to be raised in the park to nine!

After the eaglets fledge, they stick around the nest area for a couple months, learning to hunt and find food with their parents. When they eventually find nests of their own, they will typically nest within 100 miles of where they were born.

River Otters

The park’s most charismatic creatures are undoubtedly the playful river otters. After a long absence, river otters have returned to Cuyahoga Valley National Park to make their home once more.

Once plentiful in Ohio, native river otters had disappeared by the early 1900s. In 1986, the Ohio Division of Wildlife began reintroducing the otter to several major Ohio rivers. In 2002, they were removed from the state endangered species list and can now be found throughout northeastern Ohio, including in CVNP.

River otters require very high-quality water conditions, so their return is indicative of the growing health of the Cuyahoga River and its tributaries. You’re mostly likely to spot a river otter off of the river in the Beaver Marsh or in a smaller tributary, but you might be able to see one near the river if you look closely.

The health of the Cuyahoga River is critical to the success of all of these species. The river is still a long way from being a pristine resource, but we’re confident that it will only continue to improve in the years to come. Thank you for supporting the Conservancy and being a steward of the Cuyahoga River in your national park!




June 24, 2014

It's officially summer! That means that the national park is awash in bright green leaves. Some places are so green that they seem to almost glow.

This week, take a walk with us through the woods to identify some of the lesser-known trees in CVNP by their leaves.


Musclewood trees, also known as hornbeams, are relatively small, slender trees. Their smooth, gray bark and sinewy trunk, which resembles a flexed arm muscle, are distinctive, but you can also look at their leaves to identify these trees.

Hornbeam leaves are shaped like a long oval with a pointed tip, uneven base, and serrated edges.

The leaves are alternate, which means that they do not appear directly opposite each other on the stem, but alternate from left to right. The undersides of these leaves are slightly lighter than the deep green of their topsides, and they also have prominent veins that give the leaves a “corrugated” texture. 

Yellow birch

Yellow birch leaves are finely serrated, two to five inches long, and alternate along the stem. Like musclewood leaves, they are dark green on top and lighter beneath.

You can also look for the flaking bark that is characteristic of birch trees. The bark is smooth and yellow-bronze (hence the name “yellow birch”), but it flakes off horizontally in small strips.

Yellow birches grow in small pockets in the national park where the air is cooler. For example, you can spot some in the Ritchie Ledges area, where the towering rock shades the valley and keeps the temperature cooler.


We saved the trickiest tree for last! Sassafras trees actually produce three differently shaped leaves, sometimes all on the same tree: a three-lobed leaf, a two-lobed leaf shaped like a mitten, and a simple, oval-shaped leaf with no lobes.

All three leaves are alternate and about three to seven inches long with smooth edges. When sassafras trees are young, they typically produce more of the two- and three-lobed leaves, but as they age, they produce more of the simple, oval-shaped leaves. Fun fact: Sassafras leaves smell like root beer when torn or crushed!

We hope you enjoy searching for these unusual trees in your national park. If you find a particularly interesting tree or snap a great photo, let us know! We’d love to hear from you (



June 17, 2014 

There are more than 100 miles of trails to explore in our national park—and counting! Thanks to the hard work of volunteers and park staff, as well as support from Conservancy members like you, there are many exciting trail projects happening in the national park this summer. 

Flooding Update:

Following heavy rains and flooding in mid-May, many of the park's trails were severely damaged, particularly in the southern part of the park. Because of this extensive damage, the park qualified for emergency fund assistance and has been working diligently to make repairs. Emergency funds will be used to repair portions of the Towpath Trail near Yellow Creek as well as the washed-out railroad line.  

To help reopen CVNP’s trails as soon as possible, additional National Park Service staff came to the park to work on trail maintenance. A maintenance crew from Shenandoah National Park spent two weeks in the park rehabilitating trails alongside CVNP's trail crew. Volunteers also assisted with trail cleanup at a special celebration of National Trails Day earlier this month.

In early June, 128 volunteers spent a day picking up flood litter in the Stumpy Basin area, restoring native habitat along Langes Run, and performing trail maintenance and repairs on the Ledges Loop, Pine Grove Trail, Langes Run, and Valley Trail. All told, volunteers donated 661 hours to support trails in CVNP. 

Thanks to all of this hard work, the park was able to reopen two more trails last week: the Wetmore Trail system and Langes Run. Portions of Valley Bridle Trail, Perkins Trail, and the Towpath Trail remain closed—check the National Park Service website for updates. 

Scheduled Trail Projects:

  • Rehabilitation of Langes Run (Summer 2014): Reconstruct about 600 feet of the trail to raise the walking surface and add better a drainage system. 
  • Restoration and reopening of Tabletop Trail (Fall 2014): Clean up the flood-damaged trail, repair drainage culverts, add a new 40-foot boardwalk, and install 18 new drain drips. 
  • New mountain biking trails (2015+): Add approximately 15 miles of new trails for unpaved biking. Currently, the park service is planning trail locations and routes, with a tentative goal of opening the new trails in 2016. 

The preservation, maintenance, and enhancement of CVNP’s trail system are possible thanks to TRAILS FOREVER, a partnership of the Conservancy and National Park Service. For more information about TRAILS FOREVER, including ways to get involved, visit the TRAILS FOREVER page >



March 31, 2014

To survive the cold temperatures through a long Ohio winter, animals have a few different options to survive, including hibernation, migration, and toughing it out—typically with the benefit of a thicker fur coat. But have you ever considered what our native plants and wildflowers do to stay alive? How on earth do they spend months in the frozen ground, buried under snow, and still manage to pop up in the spring?

For many wildflowers, like native trillium and bluebells, the parts that you can see above ground—the green stems and the flower itself—die off in the late fall when the heavy frosts arrive. Beneath the ground, however, the roots, tubers, or rhizomes of the plants stay alive, even when the ground freezes. They don’t grow or take in any water, which is all frozen anyway, but remain in a holding pattern until the spring thaw.

You might say that, in a way, these below-ground pieces are “hibernating,” like frogs that burrow into leaf litter for the winter and freeze nearly solid. During the spring thaw, the roots “wake up” and begin absorbing water and essential minerals once more, triggering the surge of new growth that you see around this time of year.

Wildflowers spend most of their time in the summer and early fall producing seeds to expand their numbers. Some plants hold onto their seeds all winter long, but most wildflowers drops their seeds at some point during the colder months. The seeds might fall naturally, or they might be scattered by winds, passing animals, or rainfall.

The remarkable thing about wildflower seeds is that most will not germinate, or sprout, unless they have first been frozen. This extraordinary trait prevents seeds that fall too soon from germinating in the fall or late summer and being killed off by cold temperatures before they have time to finish growing.

After the seeds fall during the winter, they lie dormant under the snow, working their way slowly into the frozen ground during temporary thaws. There they lie until they can start growing in the spring and give us the spectacular displays we love so much.

One of the first native wildflowers that you’ll see in the national park this spring is the skunk cabbage. At first, only the flower of this pungent plant is visible above ground, while the stems remain buried in the soil and produce leaves later in the season. Look for its mottled purple color low to the ground in damp, wetland areas.

To explore some of the early wildflowers around CVNP and experience your national park in a unique way, check out our April Dinner in the Valley event. You’ll go on a wildflower hike around the campus of the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center, followed by a delicious, seasonal meal in November Lodge.Register here.

Content for this blog post comes from the following sources: On NatureNPSWikipedia



March 24, 2014

With snow on the ground and temperatures still dipping into the teens, you might be tempted to throw up your hands and say that spring forgot about northeast Ohio. However, there’s at least one promising clue to show spring is on its way to Cuyahoga Valley National Park—particularly if you look skyward.

Look up to find a true herald of spring: the turkey vulture. After spending the winter in warmer climates to the south, turkey vultures return north to our national park in early spring—which is right about now! You can see them almost anywhere in the park; we’ve seen several flying around our administrative office on the Hines Hill campus recently, which is a sure sign that spring is on its way.

You’ve probably seen these scavengers circling overhead, looking for their next meal. Turkey vultures have a six-foot wingspan, which they keep spread wide to catch rising columns of air, or thermal updrafts, to support their flight. Once they find one of these thermal updrafts, they almost never flap their wings, but instead simply float through the sky for hours at a time, circling to stay within the rising current of air.

Turkey vultures rarely—if ever—kill prey themselves, but feed mostly on carrion, including small mammals and some larger animals, such as deer. To find recently dead animals, turkey vultures search primarily by smell, an unusual trait among birds. They circle the skies and occasionally swoop low to the earth to catch a whiff of the gases from decaying animals that indicate a good lunch. While eating roadkill might seem rather repulsive to us humans, this habit helps keep our park clean, removes disease-spreading carcasses, and cycles energy back into the ecosystem.

The mating season for turkey vultures in Ohio typically begins in late spring and extends into mid-summer. To show off for their potential mate, suitors gather in a circle and hop around the perimeter with partially spread wings. They also perform mating rituals in the sky, where one vulture closely follows another, flapping and diving through the air.

Turkey vultures nest in areas such as hollow stumps, rock crevices and barn lofts, and usually don’t build much of a nest. Instead, eggs rest directly on the hard surface of the nesting area, while both parents take turns incubating for 30 to 40 days.

A family of turkey vultures sticks together for 10 to 11 weeks into the autumn, then dissipates to migrate back south for colder weather. Last fall on the Hines Hill campus, we thought we spotted a rare cousin of the turkey vulture—the black vulture, which has a black head instead of red—but it turned out to be a young turkey vulture that hadn’t yet developed its full coloring.

Mature turkey vultures are usually easy to identify by their nearly-black bodies, silver-tipped wings, and tendency to avoid flapping their wings in flight. Your best chance of spotting one is in the sky, but if you happen to see one on the ground or in a tree, you might see him standing with outspread wings to dry out his feathers, warm his body, and “bake off” bacteria. Keep an eye out for these amazing birds!



March 17, 2014

We all know that spring showers bring us flowers in May, but they also bring something else that’s a little trickier to find: salamanders!

Yes, folks, it’s time for the spring salamander migration. Under the cover of darkness and usually after several days of warm rain, the elusive salamanders of Cuyahoga Valley National Park make their annual pilgrimage to nearby ponds—en masse. If you’ve never experienced this fascinating phenomenon, you’ll want to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park within the next couple of weeks to check it out.

What's a salamander?

A student at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center finds a spotted salamander.

Salamanders might look like lizards, but they're actually very different. Lizards are reptiles, but salamanders are amphibians. Unlike lizards, which lay shelled eggs on land, salamanders lay unshelled eggs in water, where they hatch with gills (like a tadpole) and eventually metamorphose into lung-breathing adults. And where lizards have thick skin and love to bask in the sun, salamanders have thin, porous skin and gravitate toward damp environments.

In fact, salamanders breathe through their skin. Most salamanders also have lungs to breathe, but some species don't have lungs at all, like the red-backed salamander and four-toed salamander in CVNP. That means that they are particularly sensitive to chemicals and other pollutants in the air and water around them, because it goes straight into their bodies without any filter. As a result, scientists often use the health of local salamanders to measure of the environmental health of an area.

There are 24 different species of salamanders in Ohio, and about 12 of those species live in CVNP. (Check whether your favorite salamander was found in the park in this 2009 listing!) Even though salamanders are fairly numerous in this area, they're also quite secretive and can be tricky to find - especially since many species (called mole salamanders) spend most of the year underground.

In early spring (typically in mid- to late March), though, salamanders throw caution to the winds and make their annual migration. 

Spring Migration

Spotted salamanders migrate to breeding pools in early spring.

When the weather starts to warm and the spring rains begin to fall, salamanders start moving. Thousands of salamanders migrate from their underground winter hibernation spots to small, shallow, temporary ponds called vernal pools.

After they emerge from their underground hibernation, salamanders traverse hiking paths and roads to get to where they're going. Once they find a suitable pool, they'll perform mating rituals, lay eggs, and then head back underground, leaving their young to fend for themselves.

Young salamanders remain in vernal pools for several months, feeding, growing, and breathing through gills. Around mid-summer, when the pools are about to dry up for the season, they lose their gills and head into the world as adult salamanders. Most likely, they'll burrow into the leaf litter and wait to emerge until the next year as breeding adults. 

Clues to finding a salamander migration

A northern two-lined salamander, abundant in the park.

To see migrating salamanders in the national park, keep the following clues in mind:

  • Go in mid- to late March. This winter has been a little longer than usual, but it's still likely that the salamanders will emerge near the end of this month.
  • Go at night. Salamanders typically move under cover of darkness.
  • Go when it's warm and rainy - especially if it's been raining for a couple of days. Salamanders like to stay damp, and vernal pools are more likely to be available when it's been raining for a while.
  • Know what you're looking for. Check out this list of salamanders in CVNP - maybe you'll even see a blue-spotted salamander or an Eastern tiger salamander!
  • Watch your step! Salamanders can be tricky to spot, so stay on paths where you can easily see where you're putting your feet.

Happy salamandering! Let us know what you find.

Content for this blog comes from the following pages: OCVNNPS



March 10, 2014

The snow is finally starting to melt here in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and that means it’s time to go look at some rocks.

Yep, rocks.

Not excited about rocks? Take a walk around the Ritchie Ledges or check out Blue Hen Falls as it starts to thaw, and trust me—you will be. The spring thaw is the perfect time to get out of your house and check out the amazing natural sculptures of your national park.

Veins of sandstore run through the Ritchie Ledges.

CVNP has millions of years of geological history. You can see some of this history in rock formations created by years of rushing water and scouring weather. In fact, some of the visible rock in the park—like you might see at Brandywine Falls or along the Ledges—is more than 400 million years old. That’s even before the dinosaurs were around!

As you might expect, water played a big role in the formation of the park and Cuyahoga Valley itself. Around 400 million years ago, northeast Ohio was covered by an ancient saltwater sea. Think about all your favorite places in CVNP, covered by water! Over time, pieces of shell, mud, and sand settled to the sea floor, where enormous pressure compressed those particles into bedrock.

This continued for many millions of years, until an ancient river began to carve out the original Cuyahoga Valley. This ancient river washed away the more recent rock formations—from 150 to 50 million years ago or so—until it was stopped in its tracks with the advent of the Ice Age.

The Ice Age began around two million years ago and ended just 10,000 years ago. During that time, enormous glaciers bulldozed northeast Ohio at least four times, burying the old landscape and filling in the original Cuyahoga Valley.

At the end of the last Ice Age—and no, I’m not talking about this spring—the Cuyahoga River appeared as a way for all that melting water to make its way out of Lake Erie. And for the past 4,000 years, the river has spent its time washing out glacial sediment, re-carving the original Cuyahoga Valley, and cutting through bedrock to expose ancient history. Along with the streams and creeks that empty into it, the Cuyahoga River created the Cuyahoga Valley as we know it today.

These days, you can see many different types of sedimentary rocks in the park. Sedimentary rocks form when small particles are deposited in a body of water—in our case, the ancient sea that once stood over this area. Here are a few of the types of rocks you can find in CVNP:


Shale is a dark gray rock formed by the deposition of mud and other sediment and compressed over time. You can see the fossils of ancient shelled creatures called brachiopods and other invertebrates in CVNP’s shale.

Exposed layers of shale at Blue Hen Falls


Sandstone, like shale, is formed by the compression of sediment over time, but it’s formed primarily from—guess what?—grains of sand. These sand deposits formed in ancient river deltas and were eventually cemented together into sandstone. Sometimes, you can see the ripples from ancient streambeds in these rocks.

Sandstone bedding at the Ritchie Ledges


One of the showiest types of rock in the park, conglomerate, is made up of cemented pebbles and sand, and it can appear in bright yellow and orange colors. In some places, you can see holes in the rock that look like honeycomb. This honeycombing occurs when pebbles become unglued and wash out from the rest of the rock.

As the weather continues to warm, take a hike through your national park and check out some of these rock formations for yourself!

For more information about the geological history of CVNP, check out this link.



1403 West Hines Hill Road, Peninsula, Ohio 44264  |  Tel 330 657 2909  |  Fax 330 657 2328