Destination: Cleveland! Pt. 2 – Cuyahoga Valley, Loganberry Books, Happy Dog!

1 Aug

Pardon my insidious slackertude.  Discipline – that’s the thing I’m still wrestling with.  Fortunately I’ve been getting work done with my fiction, but I haven’t done enough with the blog.  So then, where was I?

Ohio-Erie Canal & Towpath Trail

Cleveland!  Right.  Hell of a town.  The lady friend and I were thus far impressed with this unsung destination.  But before exploring the city further, we wanted to experience some of the green and the wild of surrounding O-hi-o.  So we headed over to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which runs north and south between Cleveland and Akron, covering some 30,000 acres.  The Canal Visitor Center happened to be right down the road from our hotel in Independence, perfect place to start.  We chatted with a ranger about the history of the Ohio-Erie Canal, conservation efforts, and local fauna.  Within the Center’s large 19th c. building one finds numerous exhibits on the history of the canal area, a history I’d say is pretty underrated.  Us upstate New Yorkers are aware of how monumental the canal boon of the Transportation Revolution was.  The construction of our own Erie Canal, bisecting New York from Albany to Buffalo, connected the Great Lakes with the Atlantic, enabling an explosion of industry and commerce that spread across the northeast.  New York state would not have become what it is without it.

What I didn’t know was that Ohio owes a similar debt of gratitude to man-made waterways.  In the 19th century, there were two major canals in Ohio running north to Lake Erie, and we had stumbled upon the largest, the Ohio-Erie Canal.  It ran from Portsmouth in the south up to Cleveland, connecting interior Ohio to the Ohio River and the Erie Canal, and thus to the trade and industry of the rest of the country.  No small thing for a nation in the midst of an industrial revolution.  These days, the canal is a source of regional historic pride, and the axis of northeast Ohio’s outdoor recreational opportunities.

We asked the ranger where a first-time visitor should go to spot wildlife and were recommended Beaver Marsh at the southern end of the Valley, which also afforded an opportunity to drive through most of the park’s length.  We arrived at a parking area south of Everett where we could pick up the Towpath Trail, running alongside the canal (this is the path donkeys would use while pulling barges along the canal).  This segment of the trail would take us through Beaver Marsh, a thriving ecosystem designated by Audubon as an IBA (important bird area).  The marsh itself has a bit of history, having once been a dairy farm, and then later a field where used car parts were dumped.  Some time in the 1980s, the area was totally cleaned up, which attracted the beavers, who then reshaped the landscape into a waterscape with their industrious labor.  It was amazing to see just what beavers could accomplish!  They had turned a 70 acre  field into a 70 acre marsh.  We walked along the boardwalk, looking down into the water at massive carp gaping their mouths up at us, and glimpsed a huge snapping turtle swimming by.  But the biggest stars of the marsh were the Great Blue Herons.  As we arrived, a group had gathered to watch one perched and preening on a dead tree poking from the water.  As we walked on, we had another heron swoop low right over us, it’s large wings flapping slowly, an audible “whoosh!  whoosh!” -unforgettable.  We later saw another heron standing at the edge, being pestered by a little ol’ blackbird of all things.  It kept dive-bombing the big heron, which, despite its size, seemed at a total loss.  Eventually it flapped laboriously away, clearly confused and annoyed.  Who knew blackbirds could be so fresh?

Great Blue Heron

The Beaver Marsh was great, and we wished we could go there every morning.  The only annoyance is that the Towpath Trail is used heavily by bicyclists, and when one is not a bicyclist, the traffic gets irksome, bikes zooming by next to you, startling birds, threatening collision or a soggy tumble.  Like all National Parks, it’s good to go in as early as you can.  There were other activities at Cuyahoga that we passed up – a waterfall, a train ride, guided walks, so on.  The park region contains a bunch of small farms and quaint eateries, little villages and lots of trails.  It’s a nice thing for Cleveland, to have such a great green area right outside the city.

After the marsh we decided to head back into Cleveland proper.  For the unaware, I’ll mention that I happen to have a serious used book addiction.  Thus it wasn’t long before I discovered the existence of Loganberry Books in the Shaker Heights neighborhood, an “up-and-coming” (as they say) area with lots of shops and a walkable vibe.  I was just looking for my book fix, you know?  Maybe a little paperback or something on the history of the area.  But Loganberry turned out to be a very impressive shop, much larger than it looked from the outside.  They seem very involved with the community, and there was a steady flow of visitors.  Loganberry had some interesting collectibles (passed up a lovely illustrated antique volume of Russian folk tales), and a decent poetry section.  Grabbed some Seamus Heaney, the complete works of Percy Shelley, and an over-sized edition of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, solely because it included large prints of the Gustave Dore illustrations.  I could have spent the rest of the day there, but we were getting hungry and headed downtown to hunt down dinner.

Downtown Cleveland was… not my kind of scene.  There were a lot of restaurants, many that looked very good, but the atmosphere was a jarring blend of tourism and urban hustlin’.  We trekked all over, meticulously looking over menus and meticulously not-looking at the sketchy oddballs who loped around the city with strange looks in their eyes.  Maybe it was a full moon that night, I don’t remember.  Normally I love sketchy oddballs, but there was an unsavory vibe.  It didn’t help that we had a hell of a time deciding where to eat – everything seemed gimicky or over-priced or was already jam-packed.  We gave up and committed ourselves sight-unseen to the next place we came to, which turned out to be an Irish joint called Flannery’s Pub, where I had passable fish and chips and a draft of Old Speckled Hen.  They have an extensive Irish and English beer list, so if that’s your thing, this might be your spot.

Happy Dog!

Our dining experiences took an upswing on the next day, when we went to the acclaimed Happy Dog for an early lunch.  Now this place is awesome.  You can get either a quality hotdog or a vegan “sausage”, and smother it in as many of their fifty (FIFTY!) toppings as you can stomach.  I had the vegan sausage with black truffle mustard (yes, seriously), marinated mushrooms, onions, relish, and garlicky escarole.  Sounds like a hodgepodge, but somehow it all worked beautifully.  Most delicious dog of my life, hands down.  The staff is laid back and the beer selection is extensive, lots of craft brews on tap and bottled.  If I lived in Cleveland, I’d be here every week.

The main event of the day came next – the Cleveland Museum of Art.  That, along with Lake Erie and the West Side Market, coming up in the next post!


One Response to “Destination: Cleveland! Pt. 2 – Cuyahoga Valley, Loganberry Books, Happy Dog!”

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