While most national parks were established to preserve vast areas of untouched nature from human development, Cuyahoga National Park has a very different story. Before the area was designated a national park, it was ruined and then restored. The park’s centerpiece, the Cuyahoga River, was originally pristine and unblemished until two expanding industrial cities called Cleveland and Akron threatened to overrun the villages, quiet byways and forests of the scenic Cuyahoga River Valley. Human expansion combined with the industrial sludge flowing from the factories destroyed the natural ecosystem of the river, drove away most of the wildlife, and polluted the river so badly it caught on fire numerous times.
One particular fire in 1969 aroused local citizens and public officials to prevent new developments from expanding into the area and to rescue it from further degradation. In 1974, Congress passed a bill creating the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreational Area which later became a national park in the year 2000. Under the administration of the National Park Service, the Cuyahoga River transformed from the cover model for the destruction of nature into the figurehead for the movement to restore damaged nature and control pollution.
Today, the Cuyahoga River and its surrounding area are once again a healthy ecosystem. Residents of Cleveland and Akron now have access to nature and an abundance of activities in their backyard. Trails for biking, running and walking go through secluded areas with rugged gorges and quiet walkways. Visitors can also ride the 26 mile Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, play golf, visit a museum, attend a concert or see a play. In the winter, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding are also available. When it comes to nature, Cuyahoga has a wide variety of trees, wild flowers, and over 100 species of birds. The once sludge-filled river is now populated by beavers, herons and ducks. Come spring and fall, visitors flock to the park to enjoy the colors of spring wildflowers and beautiful fall foliage.
This park has allowed more people to get close to nature. According to neural scientists, peaceful natural environments such as trees, flowing water, and mountain shadows reduce stress and allow our brains to rest, disengage from the irritations of city life, and restore its capacity to wander. Let us preserve our parks and enjoy them for the benefit of ourselves and our health.