Behind the Scenes

with Deb Yandala, CEO

Field Notes

December 8, 2016

Conservancy donors and volunteers make a big difference for our park. But advocacy—making your voice heard among our elected officials—is another important way you can support Cuyahoga Valley National Park beyond donating time or money. This week, CEO Deb Yandala reflects on the Conservancy’s role in advocating for the future of CVNP, and how you can get involved, too.

Female Northern Cardinals in CVNP (Photo: Ed Toerek)

From the desk of Deb Yandala: 

It’s too early to know how national parks will fare in the new administration. One of the roles of friends groups like the Conservancy is to advocate on behalf of our parks, both for general funding for the National Park Service and for specific needs of our park. To that end, I will be in Washington D.C. in February along with my peers from around the country for an organized day on Capitol Hill to bring awareness to our national parks.

A week before the election in November, Senator Rob Portman’s office called and said that he had time between a meeting in Akron and one in Cleveland, and they asked if we would like him to visit some of our programs. He had never seen the Conservancy’s Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center, so we took this opportunity to introduce him. 

Introducing Senator Portman to CVEEC students 

The senator visited with students from the Cleveland Municipal School District and sat in on one of their classes. In his follow-up letter to me, he wrote, “I appreciate the input and support you provide to me as I do all I can in the U.S. Senate to support the National Park Service and ensure they have the necessary resources to keep doing their job well.” 

Senator Portman has been a leader in the Senate in supporting national parks. Likewise, we have strong support from Senator Sherrod Brown. We are fortunate to have two senators who value our park and the work we do to connect the park with the cities that surround us.

Beaver Marsh in winter (Photo: Rick McMeechan)

One of the things you can do as a supporter of our national park is to remind our elected officials of the park’s importance in northeast Ohio—for tourism, economic development, and quality of life for local residents. What does CVNP mean to YOU? 

As a new political season unfolds, thank you for being a partner in reminding those we elect how much we love Cuyahoga Valley National Park. 

- Deb 

Make your voice heard! Contact your Congressional Representative to speak up for national parks:

Not sure what district you’re in? Look it up by ZIP code >



November 23, 2016

We are thankful for turkeys. Wild ones, that is. And foxes, otters, coyotes, and all of the wonderful natural resources of our national park. 

We are grateful for National Park Service staff, who take care of the land and buildings of our park, interpret the resources for us, protect those resources (and us!), and wisely manage the park. 

We give thanks for our Conservancy coworkers and other partner staff for the many ways they connect us with the park and enhance our experiences. 

Most of all, we are thankful for you, our members and friends, who care enough about Cuyahoga Valley National Park to financially support it, who volunteer time, and who advocate for us and the park. 

There are many things that would not happen in this park without you. Thank you for being the wonderful community of park believers and supporters that you are. Happy Thanksgiving!

- Deb



October 20, 2016

Where do you feel awe in Cuyahoga Valley National Park? A recent article by Paula Spencer Scott in Parade Magazine talked about awe, and how researchers are finding that awe—the feeling you experience when seeing or hearing something astounding that makes you feel you’re a small part of something much larger—is a critical emotion.

Sometimes awe leaves you speechless. Sometimes it causes you to stop, catch your breath, and think about the universe. When you are filled with awe, it is a moment that is difficult to describe.Scientists are discovering there are health benefits to experiencing awe. Both physically and emotionally, it helps people reduce their stress and feel better.

Sylvan Pond (Photo: Bruce Winges)

The article in Parade ends with a suggestion that perhaps in the future, doctors will prescribe outdoor activities for health. Some parks have already latched onto this and have “Park Prescription” programs, which connect medical workers with parks to promote outdoor spaces as part of a prescription for healthy living.

Blue Hen Falls (Photo: Ed Toerek)

We’d like to give you an assignment. Share with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #forcvnp: Where do you experience awe-filled moments in Cuyahoga Valley National Park? 

I find particular beauty this time of year, when driving down the hill on Route 303 and entering Peninsula. It’s a charming town year- round, but when fall colors are vibrant, it is spectacular. 

Ira Trailhead (Photo: Jeff Picoult)

Likewise, Ira Road near Hale Farm & Village is filled with beauty in October. The maples on most trails and especially on Oak Hill Trail are stunning. There are places on the Towpath Trail where I round the corner on my bike and see the colors reflected on the Cuyahoga River, and I have to stop and simply look.

Indigo Lake (Photo: Jeff Picoult)

Let’s share with each other places that stop you in your tracks, so you can take a picture with your eye or your camera and remember the days of fall beauty in the snowy winter to come.

- Deb 

Tell us when you felt awe in CVNP: Share your story on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #forcvnp



September 22, 2016

This Saturday is National Public Lands Day, when volunteers around the country come together to protect and conserve public lands. Our national parks are a big part of the celebration, including here in the Cuyahoga Valley. As we honor our public lands this weekend, I want to take time to reflect on the goals and challenges of public lands and national parks as we enter the next 100 years of the National Park Service (NPS).

Great blue heron at Beaver Marsh (Photo: Tom Jones)

A few months ago, President Obama visited Yosemite National Park in honor of the NPS Centennial. While there, he quoted a speech given by President Theodore Roosevelt after a camping trip with John Muir: "We are not building this country of ours for a day. It is to last through the ages.” 

This effectively summarizes the mission of preserving our most important natural and cultural resources as national parks. This work is to last beyond our present generations—yet people today must take action to ensure our resources are protected. As a member, volunteer, or advocate for the Conservancy, you’re taking part in this movement, and we are tremendously grateful.

Sunset at the Ritchie Ledges (Photo: Tom Jones)

On August 24, President Obama designated the 413th NPS site: 87,000 acres in central Maine, called the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Private philanthropy played a big role in its creation; the land was originally purchased and then donated to the federal government by Roxanne Quimby, the founder of Burt’s Bees, and her foundation. 

Also in August, President Obama added almost three hundred million acres to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument northwest of Hawaii, much of it underwater—the largest ecological preserve on the planet. And just last week, the first national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean was created: the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

These are great successes in the effort to protect and preserve public lands. As we look to the next 100 years of the National Park Service, however, there are several key challenges we have the opportunity to embrace.

Admiring falls of the Cuyahoga Valley (Photo: Tom Jones)

Our greatest natural and cultural resources must be protected. Protecting precious habitat means we need to look beyond current park boundaries. Governments, communities, for-profit, and non-profit enterprises must work together to see that land and water is preserved and restored. History doesn't stop! As we recognize critical cultural and historical resources that tell our country's story—whether they are stories that were previously untold or when new events create new stories—we must protect them. 

We can't depend on federal, state and local budgets to protect our parks. Those of us who value conservation have the opportunity to personally support organizations who protect resources on our behalf.

Youth exploring CVNP, binoculars and all (Staff photo)

Finally, we must make sure that everyone feels welcome and has opportunities to be inspired by our parks. Programs and educational activities that engage new audiences will help people (especially children) feel welcome. These types of initiatives can also inspire a commitment to stewardship of our resources.

Do you have any thoughts about the protection of public lands? I’d love to hear from you—send an email or start a conversation on social media with the hashtag #forcvnp. Or, you can volunteer for our next Day of Service on Oct. 22 to help conserve resources in CVNP. 

Happy National Public Lands Day! 

- Deb 

Make your voice heard! Contact your Congressional Representative to speak up for national parks:

Not sure what district you’re in? Look it up by ZIP code >



September 8, 2016

It’s a new school year at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center (CVEEC)! We’re thrilled to be changing lives again this year—and not just the lives of students. Each fall, we’re joined by about a dozen young adults, who choose to spend the year as graduate-level teaching interns. As supporters of the Conservancy and the CVEEC, you’re impacting the lives and careers of these amazing young people.

2016-2017 teaching interns at the CVEEC

CVEEC interns spend most of their time teaching students during our residential and day programs. With each new school group, they gain meaningful teaching experience with a diversity of children and schools. One day each week, CVEEC interns also get a chance to do some learning of their own, learning about education methodology, environmental education theory, and natural history of the Cuyahoga Valley. 

Teaching children at the CVEEC about sustainability & more (Photo: Melanie Nesteruk)

The interns live in the village of Everett (those “little white houses” that you see in the historic town of Everett) and participate in a 10-month learning and living community. It’s an intense and unique experience to live in a national park, work with different schools each week, and experientially learn about environmental issues and natural history. 

Our first group of interns joined us when the CVEEC opened in 1994. Since then, over 200 young adults have had their lives greatly impacted by this experience.

The original batch of CVEEC interns in 1994

We are incredibly proud of what our interns have gone on to do with their lives. Many past interns tell us their current careers stem from their time in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. 

Our program alums include park rangers, teachers, school and program administrators, and more. Many are now parents and tell us how their emphasis on taking their own children outdoors comes from their experiences at the CVEEC.

Here’s one of our former interns, Pete Wadden, a Cleveland native and now the Sustainability Director for Vail, Colorado, being interviewed by a local TV station earlier this summer. He tells us that he uses what he learned at CVEEC every day in his job. You’ll hear the same message that we teach children about living in the Cuyahoga watershed, being shared with people in Colorado: 

When you support the Conservancy, you support Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center. As you support CVEEC, you make an impact on the lives of young adults, who then impact thousands of other lives through the good work that they do. Thank you! 



August 25, 2016

100 years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service (NPS). Over the past century, our national parks have given countless Americans a place to breathe fresh air, experience nature first-hand, and preserve the wild beauty of our country. What better reason to celebrate? 

In the act, the stated purpose of the NPS is to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wild life therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

There were national parks in existence before this act, including Yellowstone and Yosemite. What the act established was a system of parks, a federal agency with a mission to conserve them and an agreement that meant the parks forever would live with the creative tension that comes with resource protection and enjoyment by the public.

Our National Park System is a brilliant concept, copied around the world. Within our national parks, our country’s scenery, nature, history, and wildlife will be unimpaired for the future. But these lands are not protected to the point of no human interaction; we are to enjoy our parks and be inspired by them. 

This is truly something to celebrate. I know all of you believe that your life is better because you enjoy our national parks. Many of you participate in the work that it takes to conserve our own Cuyahoga Valley National Park. You treat our park resources as the valuable assets that they are.

Tomorrow, the next 100 years of the National Park Service begin. Future generations will marvel that people in northeastern Ohio had the foresight to protect our land and our history. If you are a member of the Conservancy, you are investing in that future, as we educate children about the value of parks in our various programs. As a member, you model care for the park, you take time to learn about it, and many of you volunteer in it. 

Today, let’s take a moment to truly celebrate, to be grateful that 100 years ago our leaders had the foresight to protect our parks and care about our generation. Tomorrow, let’s continue to enjoy our park and remember that our actions touch the future

- Deb

See a timeline of the past 100 years of the NPS & Cuyahoga Valley in our member magazine >



August 18, 2016

Why are the arts so important to our national parks? Music, visual arts, writing, and drama are a great way to express a deep connection with nature. Whether you’re inspired by colors, sounds, words, or stories, you’ll find in the arts a deeply emotional way to discover how others experience parks. 

The arts have played a key role in the founding of a number of our country’s national parks. For instance, it was the Western artist Thomas Moran and his incredible illustrations of the amazing features of the Yellowstone region that helped persuade President Grant and the United States Congress that Yellowstone should be preserved.

“The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” was painted by Thomas Moran between 1893 and 1901

More locally, photographs of the beautiful Cuyahoga Valley taken by Congressman John Seiberling and shared with his colleagues were important to the formation of our own national park. His amazing photographs of Alaskan lands also played a role in protecting millions of acres in the wilds of Alaska.

Summer at the Ritchie Ledges, photographed by John Seiberling 

Many parks have art galleries (including here in the Cuyahoga Valley), musical programs (like our Music in the Meadow and Heritage Series), artist-in-residence programs, outdoor theater, poetry workshops, and other artistic activities. The Conservancy supports a wide range of music and art programs—check our event calendar to find something for you and your family to enjoy.

There is something very magical about being in a national park. Our parks are places where we touch the past and reach into the future. They create emotional experiences as we contemplate beauty, the miracle of nature, and the mystique of the past. 

Beaver Marsh at sunrise (Photo: Jeff Picoult)

If sounds and colors and stories emerge from these uniquely amazing places, then perhaps others will join us in protecting them for future generations—just as the founders of the National Park Service asked us to do 100 years ago. 

I hope you and your family will join us this Sunday, August 21, for Celebrate100!, CVNP’s birthday party for the National Park Service Centennial. You’ll enjoy many fun events led by the park and Conservancy volunteers, staff, and partners, including crafts, kayaking, paddle boarding, fat-tire bike demos, make-your-own bug boxes, a scavenger hunt, live animal demonstrations, and more. 

Let your artistic side come out this weekend at Celebrate100!

You’ll also experience the amazing talents of numerous musicians and artists from our community who are coming to the park to help us celebrate. You may even find a new way to share your own park story! 

- Deb 

Celebrate 100 years of national parks at Celebrate100! on August 21 in Howe Meadow >




July 14, 2016

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free… Copland’s Appalachian Spring will be one of the familiar songs played at the NPS Centennial celebration at Blossom this weekend. On Sunday, July 17, you’re invited to join the Conservancy for a special concert by The Cleveland Orchestra, in celebration of the Centennial of the National Park Service (NPS). 

The concert will be preceded by a variety of family-friendly activities led by NPS, Conservancy, and partner staff and volunteers. Afterward, stay for a fabulous concert by a world-class orchestra, performed in a national park! What a treat!

Hear great music in a gorgeous location (Photo: Roger Mastroianni) 

The concert will feature several very popular pieces: Copland’s Appalachian Spring includes a folk tune, sometimes known as “Simple Gifts,” that evokes nature. This tune is one of my all-time favorites. I have to admit I have special appreciation for Aaron Copland’s music ever since I had an opportunity to play under him when he conducted my college orchestra—one of the thrills of my life.

Gershwin’s American in Paris is a jazzy piece that is beloved by audiences and includes taxi horns—listen for them! Ravel’s Rapsodie Epagnole might just make you want to dance, whether you are seated in the pavilion or on the lawn. His Piano Concerto was inspired by a trip to America that Ravel took in 1928, and you can hear how he was influenced by jazz.

Enjoy live music that inspires you to think of nature’s beauty (Photo: Rick McMeechan)

Come early to explore the park and Conservancy stations on the Blossom grounds. You and your family can stop by the Conservancy booth to go on a scavenger hunt for Ollie the Otter—keep your stuffed Ollie when you find him! You can also meet a conductor on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, create your own park ranger hat, or color giant coloring pages (for kids and adults). 

Stop by the park’s volunteer booth to learn about invasive species and habitat restoration in the park. You’ll learn about seed starting and receive a packet of native wildflower seeds to plant in your own home garden. Live performances from local musicians will light up the evening before the orchestra takes the stage. 

Contribute to giant coloring pages prior to the concert (Photo: Conservancy staff)

The Cleveland Orchestra is a wonderful partner to the park and to the Conservancy. Several of their musicians will be performing this week in our Heritage Series. Together with the Orchestra, we’ve worked to protect the land around Blossom, preserving what is so special about their summer home, as well as a wonderful entertainment venue for northeast Ohio.

The Centennial of the National Park Service is truly something to celebrate, and we invite you to join us and The Cleveland Orchestra as we mark this anniversary with a unique evening under the stars.

Come to CVNP for a fun evening celebrating YOUR national park, as well as national parks across America. This local celebration brings together two of northeast Ohio’s most important assets: CVNP and the Cleveland Orchestra. Add to this the opportunity to be with others who love our park, fun park activities, and what promises to be a beautiful summer evening. 

Celebrate CVNP and other national parks this weekend (Photo: Rick McMeechan)

Our staff will be decked out in their Centennial T-shirts. We invite you, our friends, to wear a CVNP T-shirt Sunday night. Let’s show northeast Ohio that we are united in supporting the fabulous national park that we value and enjoy!

Buy tickets for Cleveland Orchestra event (20% off pavilion seats!) >
Join us for a special pre-concert dinner at Blossom >




June 16, 2016

Night hikes followed by stories around the campfire. Holding a crayfish for the first time ever and studying its claws. Silly jokes told around the dinner table. Deep secrets shared with new best friends met only a few days ago. Group games played in a grassy field. Wanting to grow up to be just like your camp counselor. An early morning hike in the dewy woods.

Who doesn’t want to go to summer camp?? Summer camps create a world apart, a place where children and childhood joys rule. Feeling at home in nature, and having time to explore and enjoy the world around you—this simply doesn’t happen in everyday life. 

Holding a crayfish for the first time (Photo: Melanie Nesteruk)

Going to camp in the summer is part of the rite of childhood for many children. I’m so pleased that we (along with our donors) make this possible for hundreds of children in northeastern Ohio at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center (CVEEC). 

I chose the field of environmental education for my profession because of summer camp. I saw what a week in the woods with caring adults and new friends did for children when I worked as a camp counselor during college.

Exploring streams at summer camp (Photo: Melanie Nesteruk)

These days I don’t have the pleasure of working directly in our camping programs, but I see the quality of what our CVEEC staff provides children. I also see the lives of our young adult staff change after spending a summer working with children and living in the park.

Our members and donors make camp possible. Thank you for making the magic of camp come alive for children this summer.

Learning to be brave with new experiences at All the Rivers Run

We also recently wrapped up our school-year residential program, All the Rivers Run, which gives fourth through eighth graders a chance to live and study in a national park. 

During the 2015-2016 school year, a total of 2,174 students from nearly 50 school groups attended All the Rivers Run. Of those students, 31.7% (689 children) received scholarship assistance to attend. 

Without the support of donors, programs like All the Rivers Run simply wouldn’t be accessible to children from lower-income families. To date, CVEEC scholarships funders for Fiscal Year 2016 include: 

Akron Garden Club
Alcoa Foundation
Cleveland Hiking Club
Enterprise Holdings Foundation
Henry V. & Frances W. Christenson

Hudson Garden Club
Kenneth L. Calhoun Charitable Trust
KeyBank Foundation
PPG Industries Foundation
Sandra L. and Dennis B. Haslinger Family Foundation
The Banks-Baldwin Foundation
The Bokum Foundation
The Elizabeth Ring Mather and William Gwinn Mather Fund
The Fred E. Scholl Charitable Foundation
The George W. Codrington Charitable

The Shaker Lakes Garden Club
The Sisler McFawn Foundation
Stanley & Hope Adelstein Environmental

W. Paul Mills & Thora J. Mills Memorial

Thank you for supporting young minds and outdoor education in Cuyahoga Valley National Park! 

Learn more and register for summer programs at the CVEEC >



June 2, 2016

The cicadas are here!

If you come to CVNP during the next few weeks, you won’t be able to miss the cicadas. You will see insects and shells. You will hear them. You may experience their flight—up close and personal, if you walk where they are abundant. 

These cicadas, part of Brood V covering much of Ohio (and several other states), emerge only once every 17 years. That means the cicadas emerging this year are the product of eggs laid in 1999—before Facebook, iPods (and iPhones), and Wikipedia. They’ve been living on underground roots in a nymph stage for all those years. 

Photo from Agricultural Research Service 

After they emerge, they live for only two to four weeks—just enough time to breed, lay eggs, and make an incredible racket. And although there may be a lot of them, they’re harmless and live off vegetation. 

Unless you are squeamish about bugs (and maybe even if you are), I hope you’ll join me in being amazed at this phenomenon. Think about the internal clock and development of cicadas that determines what year and what temperature (a 68-degree soil temperature) causes them to emerge. We have so much to learn from nature.

I have vivid memories of the appearance of these amazing cicadas 17 years ago. The dedication of the November Lodge at Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center occurred right in the midst of their arrival, and I remember being concerned about the noise and about how prepared our guests would be to walk through on our crunchy paths.

Photo by Fontaine K, Cooley J, Simon C (2007) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

And so, in 2016, I think about people attending events in the park over the next few weeks, especially those getting married here. 

Will the “cicada brides and grooms” reminisce about this on their 17th wedding anniversary? Will the children at summer camp remember “all those cicadas at the CVEEC” when they are in their twenties and thirties? Will you create a memory in the park this week that you will long remember?

Hope to see you in the park soon, 

- Deb 

Looking for a trail to explore the park and experience the 17-year cicadas? Check out our Outdoor Adventures page for some ideas >

We’re also excited to be partnering with Great Lakes Biomimicry to see what more we can learn from nature. Our national park is the perfect place to study the growing field of biomimicry and its application. Look for Great Lakes Biomimicry institutes and workshops in the coming months to learn more. 



May 19, 2016

I was recently a guest on “Applause” on WVIZ/PBS, and host Dee Perry challenged me to come up with my top 10 things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). Watch my interview here (tune in at 9:56 for my eight-minute segment), or read on for the full list. 

My first thought was recalling how we had to make so many difficult decisions and ultimately leave things out of our 100 Ways to Celebrate list for the NPS Centennial celebration this year. How on earth would I condense a list even further to just 10?

After much reflection, I thought of Dee’s challenge in the context of how we anticipate many newcomers—or guests who’ve been away from the park for a while—visiting this year. In that vein, I created a list of activities aimed at engaging or reconnecting people to the park in a way that will leave a lasting impression.

I hope you’ll come out to the park this year to experience our wonderful national park during this centennial year. Bring your friends and family, too! Here are my top 10 ways to explore CVNP: 

Buckeye Trail in CVNP (Photo: NPS/John Fitzpatrick)

1. Experience the Trails

CVNP has over 100 miles of wonderful trails. You can stroll, hike, run—any speed! The Towpath Trail is great for a leisurely bike ride, and the new East Rim mountain bike trail has been highly rated by mountain bikers. Or bring your horse to enjoy our horse trails. No matter how you move, try a new trail you haven't tried. There is truly something for everyone. Check out Outdoor Adventures page for recommended trails and more information. 

2. Attend a Centennial Event

The park’s centennial events are “not-to-miss” activities—find more details here. The first one is May 20-21: the National Parks BioBlitz. You can join volunteer nature enthusiasts to count species in our national park. At the same time, species will be counted at 109 national parks around the country. You can also join us for a Biodiversity Festival at Howe Meadow and celebrate the incredible natural resources of our park. 

There are other events later in the year, including a Picnic in the Park on June 18, a Cleveland Orchestra concert at Blossom on July 17, the start of the American Solar Car race on July 29, and a wonderful event for all ages at Howe Meadow on August 20-21 called Celebrate100. We'll conclude our year of centennial celebrations with a special Akron Symphony concert on November 4.

Kids exploring nature at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center 

3. Bring Kids to the Park

There is a lot of research documenting the value of getting children into nature. They benefit from experiencing the wonders of the natural environment, and outside activities are great for their physical and mental health. 

Our park has a Junior Ranger program that includes activities for children as young as four. New this year is a special teen program that gets youth kayaking on the Cuyahoga River. The Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center also offers overnight camps and day camps. If you are a teacher, check out our year-round programs for schools.

4. Ride the Train

Travel on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad to experience the park from a comfortable train car. What a fun way to see the park, year round! The railroad offers a variety of special programs, as well, from weekend brunches, beer and wine tastings, special children's programs, and perhaps the favorite—Bike Aboard, where you can ride the trail one way on your bike and take the train back to the start.

5. Participate in the Arts

Our national park includes wonderful concert venues and art galleries, both in the park and nearby in the lovely town of Peninsula. Our free summer concert series, Music in the Meadow at Howe Meadow, is a great opportunity to enjoy live music in a family-friendly setting. We have a variety of concerts and other programs offered all through the year, including a fiddle camp this coming August, adult learning opportunities, and both national and local musicians in concert. See the calendar > 

Countryside Farmers’ Market (Photo: Gary Whipple)

6. Enjoy Food and Farms

The only farmers’ market in a national park is right here in our national park. Saturday mornings at Howe Meadow feature a terrific market of local and organic farmers coordinated by Countryside Conservancy. The Countryside Farm Initiative program features farms in our park, with wonderful farmers growing and producing vegetables, berries, flowers, meat, and wine.

7. Picnic in the Park

Stop by the Conservancy’s Trail Mix stores—one in Peninsula and one in the Village of Boston—and pick up a sandwich, salad, Mitchell’s ice cream, or other goodies. Then, choose your favorite picnic location! There are tables outside both stores, or venture to one of the park's more remote picnic areas. While at the stores, leave time to shop our selection of interesting CVNP-branded items, the work of local artists, and environmental themed products. Peninsula is also a wonderful town for shopping, with some of the area's top art galleries.

8. Be Part of Ranger-Led Activities

Look on our website, or at the park's Schedule of Events (also available in in park visitor centers) to see where rangers will be leading an event next. Our park rangers offer a variety of activities, from hikes to special programs. Enjoy the insight of our knowledgeable rangers and try an activity that is new to you.

Brandywine Falls, the tallest waterfall in CVNP (Photo: Claus Siebenhaar)

9. See Waterfalls and Birds

Our park has incredible natural features. Visit waterfalls. Go on a bird hike. Learn about Ohio's geology at the Ritchie Ledges. The hemlock ravines are cool and enchanting. Enjoy wildflowers in the spring and the bright colors of fall. Winter hiking is fun to dream about during the summer months as well—cross country skiing or snowshoeing. See our Outdoor Adventures guide >

10. Have a Cuyahoga Valley Experience

Our park has great partners who add to the experience of the Cuyahoga Valley. Go to a concert at Blossom Music Center. Visit Hale Farm and Village. Downhill ski in the winter. Stay at the Stanford House—great for family reunions or group activities. Camp at one of our primitive campsites. Enjoy the Inn at Brandywine Falls. 

Our website includes links to a changing list of 100 activities to do in our national park in honor of 100 years of the National Park Service. This is the year to enjoy your national park!

Did I miss anything? If you have additional suggestions for things that should be on my list, let us know at

- Deb 



April 21, 2016

Happy National Park Week! As we celebrate our national park this week, I’ve been reflecting upon why parks and their nonprofit partners are relevant, both today and in the future. 

While in Washington, D.C. at a recent meeting of National Park Friends Alliance—an organization of friends group executive directors—I heard many interesting things about the direction of the National Park Service (NPS). 

In particular, Jon Jarvis, the Director of the National Park Service, made an interesting comparison. He compared Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City to Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. Both were founded at the same time with a similar amount of federal funding. Both are in large cities with the capability of attracting a large number of visitors.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge and Lands End from Point Lobos

In 2015, Golden Gate had 14.9 million visits while Gateway had 6.4 million visits. According to Director Jarvis, the main contributing factor to this difference is the work that the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has done to attract and serve visitors. 

As a nonprofit organization, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy have raised millions of dollars for park improvements and visitor services. They supplement NPS staff by operating key elements of the park, which could not be supported through federal dollars. Gateway NRA does not have a comparable support organization.

Nonprofit friends groups help parks with programs, staffing, events, and more. (Photo of Dinner in the Valley wildflower hike by Melanie Nesteruk)

In Cuyahoga Valley National Park, our Conservancy raises dollars for park projects while contributing operational staffing and leadership to a number of programs, including environmental education, volunteerism, the arts, and retail. 

We are among the largest national park friends groups in the country—largely because our community wants CVNP to have a multitude of programs, educate children, and preserve natural and cultural resources in our park. With over two million visitors every year, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is certainly worthy of support during this centennial year.

The Conservancy operates the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center in partnership with the National Park Service.

We have looked to Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for inspiration. You should also know that many other national parks and their friends groups look to us for inspiration, because of what we’ve been able to accomplish in an urban, Midwestern location. Our growth and impact is a good model for others—and we have you, our donors, members, and advocates, to thank for our success. 

- Deb 

Not yet a member of the Conservancy? Join us in our work for Cuyahoga Valley National Park by becoming a member today >



April 7, 2016

Your voice is valuable in determining funding for national parks. If you are a member of the Conservancy, we represent you by telling our Congressional delegation about the importance of maintaining a strong National Park Service budget, with a fair share coming to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Democracy in action is very evident when you walk the halls of Congressional office buildings, which I recently did on your behalf. The day I was there, I saw scouts in uniform, people with white pharmacy coats, and literally hundreds wearing “Flint Lives Matter” t-shirts, due to a hearing scheduled for that day. 

Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. 

About a hundred of us—representing national park friends groups like the Conservancy—converged on Capitol Hill to advocate for national parks. We represented you—our members and donors—in speaking up for the value of parks.

I was warmly greeted by every office I visited, as funding for national parks is truly a bipartisan priority. Congressional staffers know the strength of our constituency. 

The 114th United States Congress

During my visit, my message for our members of Congress was:

  • Make sure that funding for the National Park Service is strong going into its second century.
  • Watch the budget lines to assure Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s budget is stable or increased.
  • Support and consider co-sponsoring the proposed NPS Centennial bill. This bill would (among other things) establish a Centennial Challenge with matching funds, which successfully leverages private dollars to match federal support. CVNP’s new East Rim mountain bike trail was funded in this way.

Trillium over a stream in the Cuyahoga Valley (Photo: Tom Jones)

If you are so inclined, one of the ways you can help is to let our Senators and your Congressional representative know how important Cuyahoga Valley National Park is to you and thank them for their support. Conservancy members have already helped: There is strength in numbers, and when I tell them how many of you there are, our voice is definitely heard. 

We are fortunate to have a strong Congressional delegation who values the importance of our national park to Ohio and our community. It never hurts to remind Congress that Ohio’s voters appreciate this!

- Deb 

Make your voice heard! Contact your Congressional Representative to speak up for national parks: 

Not sure what district you’re in? Look it up by ZIP code >



March 17, 2016

This Sunday marks the first day of spring! While all seasons are delightful in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, early spring is especially magical. Even after a mild winter like we’ve had this year, there’s still something special about the first signs of spring, like seeing the first green shoots appear. Here are a few of my favorites: 

Spring peepers are tiny chorus frogs, distinguished by a dark “X” shape on their backs. Listen for their calls just south of Beaver Marsh or along Brandywine Gorge Trail. (Photo: U.S. Geological Survey) 

What can be more reassuring about the promise of warmth ahead than hearing the spring peepers? Spring peepers are small chorus frogs whose calls sound like sleigh bells. Come to the park just to hear their beautiful chorus! 

Students at the CVEEC may spot salamanders making their way to vernal mating pools. 

The salamanders have made their annual migration to spring mating pools—another sign of spring. At the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center (CVEEC), we’ve put up the “amphibian crossing” sign so incoming school buses filled with children know to slow down and pay attention. 

Turkey vultures began returning to the skies over CVNP earlier this month. (Photo: Rick McMeechan)

I was a naturalist early in my career, and I find that my “inner nature nerd” rises to the top as I walk on the trails of CVNP in March. In particular, I like to listen for the return of the redwing blackbirds—or look overhead for soaring turkey vultures. 

An American woodcock is well-camouflaged in its grassy habitat (Photo: guizmo_68, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

If you haven’t witnessed the mating ritual of the American Woodcock, you need to put that on your bucket list! Their high, spiraling flight to impress their mates is quite a show and can be seen in the fields of CVNP in early April. The best viewing spots are in the thicket meadows along the Buckeye Trail just south of Jaite, and on the Towpath where it intersects with the Ira Trailhead connector. Join a CVNP volunteer naturalist on April 8 to witness the sky dance >

Some people say March is a boring, muddy month. Those people haven’t figured out what we park and nature lovers know: This is a magnificent time to be outside. 

Enjoy the first day of spring and vernal equinox this Sunday, March 20, and I’ll see you in the park!

- Deb 



March 3, 2016

One of the most important and exciting initiatives of the National Park Service (NPS) Centennial was launched last year by the President. Every Kid in a Park is a program designed to give every fourth grader in the country a chance to visit public land in 2016—for free. 

As part of the program, fourth graders and their families or caregivers can receive a free, one-year pass to federal land. This includes a national park pass, which is available online to teachers, youth group leaders, and families for distribution to fourth graders. 

Fourth graders can visit national parks and other public lands around the country for free with their Every Kid in a Park pass. (Photo: NPS/Ted Toth)

Each park is also invited to create programs that engage fourth graders in their park. The National Park Foundation and, in our case, local foundations have been instrumental in helping the Conservancy fund trips to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Our park’s rangers have been giving passes to youth in the park, as well as visiting classrooms to present students with their passes.

Students from Sam Salem Elementary School in Akron explore the Ritchie Ledges as part of Every Kid in a Park (Photo: NPS/Ted Toth)

The Conservancy has worked alongside CVNP staff to design programs and provide funding to invite every fourth grader in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Akron Public Schools to programs in the park. Each program is designed to complement the schools’ fourth grade curriculum. Funding includes program costs and transportation, so the children can attend at no cost to them or their schools

Why fourth graders? NPS research shows that this is the age when you can capture children with meaningful experiences that they’ll remember their entire lives

Students use all their senses to explore the natural wonders of CVNP (Photo: NPS/Ted Toth)

Every Kid in a Park is anticipated to continue beyond 2016 and become an ongoing way to introduce our country’s children to their national parks. Some families of fourth graders have told us they are planning their family vacations to national parks because of this opportunity. Just think what it would mean if today’s children grow up with a love for our national parks! A generation of supporters would pass along this dedication to future park stewards. 

- Deb 

Thank You

The Every Kid in a Park initiative is possible in CVNP because of the generosity of the following donors: 

The Abington Foundatinon
Akron General Medical Center
The Andrews Foundation
Cleveland Clinic
Kelvin & Eleanor Smith Foundation
National Parks Foundation

Learn more about Every Kid in a Park >




February 18, 2016

Throughout 2016, National Geographic will feature articles on national parks in each issue. I encourage you to read the January issue published last month, found online here. In addition to introducing the National Park Service Centennial, it includes an article on why nature matters—and why national parks like our own are so important.

The Cuyahoga River in CVNP (Photo: Rick McMeechan)

People need nature for physical and emotional health. The movement to get people unplugged and outside is well supported by research. In graduate school, I was fortunate to be able to study with one of the scholars quoted in the National Geographic article, Dr. Rachel Kaplan of the University of Michigan. Her work has impacted my career in national parks. In particular, I was deeply influenced by her proof that nature provides important psychological benefits and is especially necessary for urban people.

River otter at Beaver Marsh (Photo: Rick McMeechan)

Parks are more than “nice-to-have” amenities or pleasant additions to the quality of life in communities. As Dr. Kaplan and others have shown, experiences in nature can be critical for mental health, brain development, and promotion of positive social interaction. When we support national parks, the benefit is far beyond an altruistic belief that we are protecting nature. It is supporting experiences that create healthy human beings.

White-throated sparrow (Photo: Rick McMeechan)

Is the Conservancy so different from social service organizations in our northeast Ohio community? As a member of our organization, you invest in nature—and you also invest in people. When people immerse themselves in nature, they have an opportunity to live healthier and happier lives. This intersection is vitally important, and I am grateful to you for supporting it.

- Deb

Keep reading:



February 4, 2016

CVNP’s Volunteer Management Office, co-managed by the Conservancy and the National Park Service, recently released statistics from the park’s 2015 fiscal year. The numbers are impressive:

6,716 volunteers served Cuyahoga Valley National Park in fiscal year 2015, a 15% increase from 2014.These volunteers provided 220,316 hours of service, a 5% increase from 2014.

Photos: Melanie Nesteruk, NPS/D.J. Reiser

What is even more important than these impressive numbers is the impact they had on the park:

  • 142,585 visitor contacts made by volunteers
  • 295 trail features/improvements completed
  • 530 acres of invasive plants removed or treated
  • 10,000 native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers planted

Let’s put this in a negative format, to better illustrate what couldn’t happen if we didn’t have such a large number of highly committed volunteers:

  • Numerous educational displays are set up in the park and throughout northeast Ohio to educate people about the park, and these displays are staffed solely by volunteers. The park would be far less known without volunteers. 
  • Volunteers provide important safety patrols on the Towpath and other trails. Emergency response and information for visitors would be hugely impacted without volunteers. 
  • Volunteers staff visitor centers, assist with educational and interpretive programs, and help in park and partner offices. We would see reduced hours of public interaction without volunteers.
  • Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is dependent on volunteers for its operation. It could not provide service at a reasonable cost without volunteers.

Photo: Mike Kosmyna

By supporting a strong volunteer management office, we are investing in services that make a vibrant volunteer program possible. What an incredible difference this makes in the day-to-day operation of Cuyahoga Valley National Park! We have one of the largest national park volunteer programs in the country. This is something to be truly proud of.

Photo: Melanie Nesteruk

We have discussed internally the need to evaluate our volunteer program not just by numbers, and not just by impact on the park, but also by impact on volunteers. We hear many stories from volunteers about what it means to them to volunteer in the park. Many of you that are reading this are volunteers, and I hope you find your volunteer time to be valuable and enjoyable. This is part of the value of our park—beyond recreation and education. It is an opportunity for meaningful service.

- Deb

Learn more about becoming a CVNP volunteer >

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January 21, 2016

2016 is a year that has been talked about for a long time in the national park community. We are beginning a year of celebration of our national parks in honor of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. Here it is—January of 2016, and the celebration has officially begun, featuring events like the NPS-themed Rose Bowl Parade on January 1. This was just the start of special events that will happen across the country and throughout social media.

Why is the anniversary of the founding of a government agency so important? Some feared that this would be merely a bureaucratic celebration and would not capture the public’s imagination.

Morning in the Cuyahoga Valley (Photo: Tom Jones)

The Centennial of the establishment of the National Park Service is also a celebration of an idea, a concept that is truly bold and very American in its origin. Historically around the world, many of the most beautiful places had been protected, but only as private property. Where special places were protected and then made available to the public, privatization and commercialism of the areas around them negatively impacted them. Think Niagara Falls as an example of this.

Establishing a national system for national parks meant that our most special natural and historical resources would be protected, safe from commercial endeavors, and able to be enjoyed by all, not just the wealthy or privileged. In celebrating the National Park Service Centennial, we are honoring an idea, a concept, a value, which is deeply embedded into our American culture. The most special places in our country belong to all of us, should be accessible to all of us, and protected from development that could negatively impact them. This is what we are celebrating in 2016.

A bald eagle builds a nest in CVNP (Photo: Rick McMeechan)

As the celebration of the first 100 years begins, we are also looking to the next 100 years. During this significant anniversary, we’ll be giving much thought as to how we can truly uphold the value of parks for all people in the changing face of America. This is very important to us in the Cuyahoga Valley, as a very special place in the midst of an urbanized area. Your thoughts and feedback on this are important, and I hope you will join the dialogue about the second century of national parks.

- Deb 



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