Fort Hill / Rocky River Cleveland Metroparks

March 23-24, 2023

I was stuck in Cleveland this past weekend for work and, since my work obligations did not start until 10 am (noon the one day), I had some time in the mornings to explore.  I knew that Cuyahoga Valley National Park was not far away but I was hesitant to get caught in traffic on the way back and, from my previous visits there, I know the Great Blue Herons that nest there are really cool but, of course, they aren't nesting there at this time of the year.

On the way to the hotel, I noticed a wide patch of green on the GPS screen so I banged on the touch screen, found "parks near my destination" and took a detour.  I'm glad that I did.

What I found was the Rocky River Reservation (South) which is part of the Cleveland Metroparks in what they term the "Emerald Necklace".  The Nature Center there was just closing when I arrived at 5pm but that was ok by me; I prefer my nature to be outside of buildings any way and there seemed to be lots of trails in the surrounding area.

As one might expect of a city park, there is an abundance of signs around the nature center and along the trails; some of which identify specific plants, many of which encourage gardening within the city and many more which point the way around the various trails.

Not far from the nature center I found a staircase leading me onto the Fort Hill Earthworks loop.  At 155 steps, it was a much easier climb than the Thousand Steps had been and I was soon overlooking the confluence of the east and west branches of the Rocky River from 90 feet above (hey, it's Ohio... 90 feet is pretty high in most of the state!).

I followed the smooth, packed gravel (feel free to imagine eye-roll emoji here) footpath to the left and soon came to the Fort Hill earthworks site.  Although my oldest daughter works as an Archaeologist, I am still sometimes amazed that anyone could be so attuned to the subtleties of landscape changes that they are able to identify such structures as having been man-made.

Personally, I'd have (probably) noticed the ditches and I may have even wondered what might cause such an irregularity so high up on the hill but I seriously doubt that I'd have recognized them as being the handiwork of the Early Woodland people nearly 2,000 years ago.  Nonetheless, they are now fenced off for our enjoyment and their preservation and there is a nice little elevated platform from which to overlook them after which one can quickly loop back to the steps or can continue on along the river bank trail to an overlook.

Naturally, even despite the light rain, I chose the overlook option and continued along the trail away from the steps. The smooth, gravel walkway continued to a nice vista of the river below and then continued through the woods (with a surprising amount of blow-down, none of which was on the manicured trail) until it reached a set of stone stairs going down the hill toward the West Channel Pond Loop which I had seen on my way past the nature center.

I followed the trail past the stairs until it reached the earthworks and then backtracked to the stone stairs as the rain intensified and abated sporadically.  While the wooden stairs are in better shape and are an impressive feat of engineering (they're built on a shale slope and shale is notoriously mobile), I preferred the stone steps (shocker, right?) as they just seem lesser used, richer in history and seem to be headed in the opposite direction of people.

There were several trails from which to choose when I reached the foot of the stairs but, with the rain once again intensifying, I followed the West Channel Pond loop back past the Nature Center, past the Ron Hauser Wildflower Garden and along the river to the parking lot.

I saw very few people throughout the hike and the extent of the wildlife were geese and squirrels but I did see my first ever black squirrel in the grove between the wildflower garden and the river.  It's very likely that the rain cut down on the number of humans in the park that day but I didn't mind having the place to myself

Day 2

I’m not going to lie, staying in a hotel was more comfortable than the accommodations on most of my overnight hikes. As the reason for my visit to Cleveland was not just random exploration, however, I only had the morning free until I had to work and, after check-out, I headed back to the Emerald Necklace.

This morning, I started at Wallace Lake which was formed from an abandoned stone quarry. The stone quarried here was Berea sandstone and was used for both construction projects and grindstones for the milling industry.

The quarry was transformed into a recreational lake in 1941 and derives its name from James Wallace an early quarry owner who donated generously to the community. He is also the “Wallace” from which Baldwin-Wallace University derives its name.

In my research, I discovered that the beach at Wallace lake is considered to be a hidden gem in Cleveland as few people seem to know that it exists and, naturally, I felt an instant affinity for this lake for that reason.

During the Great Depression, Cleveland Metro Parks acquired the land and began turning the old quarry into a recreation area and today, the lake is about 18 acres and is surrounded by picnic areas. The park offers fishing and swimming areas, kayak rental, a concession stand (in season) and restrooms. The hiking trail shown on the map was not to my taste as it was basically a road walk so I hopped back in the van and headed downriver to the Berea Falls area shown on the map.

The Berea Falls portion of the park includes an observation deck which overlooks the falls and the narrow valley downstream, quite a bit of informational signage about the history of the area and a short hiking trail that leads down to the river for a close-up look at the waterfall.

Although the trail would be easy to follow without them, unique blazes adorn the trees on the falls trail and are also painted on the rocks to which the trail leads. While I’ve never been a fan of grafitti and it certainly rubs against LNT principles, I found that the blazes here did not seem terribly out of place here and, in fact, even seemed friendly and endearing.

One interesting piece of history here was a kiosk that said the river had actually been rerouted several times to access new areas of the sandstone deposits. While there was a natural falls here prior to the quarries, I could not tell what was natural and what was due to the quarries nor did it really matter. The 163 acre site affords a nice slice of the natural world tucked away within city limits.