Hidden Gems with Gene: Beaver Marsh in the Winter

By: Guest blogger Julie Schuler
As a volunteer at Cuyahoga Valley National Park for 10+ years, Gene Stepanik knows a thing or two about life in and around the valley. As a wildlife watcher, hike assistant, scenic railroad volunteer, speaker’s bureau presenter and Elf at the North Pole for the Polar Express – people often turn to Gene with questions about where to go and what to do. In this ongoing series, Gene shares some of his favorite spots within the park.

Photo by Lee Long

Winter in Cleveland – you either love it or hate it. For Gene, it wasn’t always a love affair.

“I used to hate winter. Many years ago, I decided: I’m going to do something instead of sit here and wait for spring. I’m going to hike the Towpath.”

He started at the northern most point on the Towpath and worked his way south with a hike every Sunday – snow, cold or bad weather. With that, Gene’s love of winter was born. Now he often helps Park Rangers with the park’s winter hiking program, known as a Winter Warm-Up.

“Hiking in winter is just a great way to see the park. I actually enjoy it more in the winter than I do in the summer. You don’t get overheated as easily. The leaves are off of the trees and you see everything. It’s great. You just have to dress appropriately: not too many layers and not too few. The best advice I’ve ever heard is dress for the second mile. When you start out you feel the cold, but once you get moving and the blood is flowing, you’re good.”

Last winter, Gene was hiking at Beaver Marsh when he encountered something unusual.

Photo by Rick McMeechan

“The marsh was frozen over, but there were three holes in it. I wondered: ‘what is in those holes?’ I hung around for about 30 minutes before I moved along. Then, when I returned and just as I was getting ready to leave, an otter popped out of one of the holes. Maybe half a minute later, another one pops out of another hole. They started running and sliding on the ice, having a great time playing. I thought, ‘when I die I want to come back as an otter.’”

Beaver Marsh is known for its namesake animal, and Gene says it’s a place for wildlife no matter the season.

“On a cold winter day – usually the beavers are out just walking. Us wildlife watchers, we just eat that up. In the spring, you might see the Trumpeter or Tundra Swans coming in. One day there was a Green Heron hunting, and he wasn’t afraid of anyone. What you see is really just luck of the draw. But in winter, you’d especially be surprised what you find.”