Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Natural World


Just a short drive from the major metropolitan areas of Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park covers 33,000 acres along the banks of the Cuyahoga River. Though such a short distance from the urban environment, the park is worlds away. The winding Cuyahoga—the “crooked river,” as named by Native Americans—gives way to rolling floodplain, steep valley walls and ravines, and lush upland forests. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a refuge for flora and fauna, and provides both recreation and solitude for northeastern Ohio’s residents and visitors.

Twenty-two miles of the river wind and weave through the Cuyahoga Valley, forming the backbone of the park. The Cuyahoga River, with its associated riparian habitat, is just one element of the park’s habitat mosaic. From deciduous mixed-mesophytic forests to wetland habitats, from currently cultivated agricultural lands to older field habitats in various stages of succession, the park’s habitats provide opportunities for plants and animals to flourish. Over 900 plant species are found in the park, as well as 194 species of birds, 91 aquatic macroinvertebrates, 43 fish, 32 mammals, 22 amphibians, and 20 species of reptiles.

But Cuyahoga Valley NP is much more than a list of species. It contains a truly unique physical environment, formed by the mingling of two diverse geographic regions—the Appalachian Plateau and the Central Lowlands—modified by the comings and goings of multiple glaciations. High above the Cuyahoga River, the landscape is rugged, with steep-sided valleys backed by high, narrow hills. Closely spaced ravines funnel tributaries, some of which drop up to 600 feet in a distance of only a few miles, toward the crooked river.

Ohio’s only national park is a remarkable place—a place where native flora and fauna thrive, and where people come to learn, relax, and experience the natural world.

Environmental Factors

Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s proximity to large urban areas, long history of use, and high visitation make it vulnerable to a variety of environmental concerns. More than two million people live within a short drive of the park, and the traffic, nearby development, and associated pollution can affect park resources.
Water quality in the park’s rivers and streams varies from good to poor. The Cuyahoga River, although much improved from its days as the “river that burned,” is still not clean enough for recreational activities. Air pollution in northeast Ohio, especially unsafe amounts of ground level ozone, can become an issue on hot, hazy summer days.

The Cuyahoga Valley has a long history of human habitation and use. It is, therefore, no surprise that disturbed lands are common in the park. Lands now within the park had many different uses in the past, including conventional agriculture; mining of topsoil, sand, and gravel; quarries; dumps; industry; and residential development. The park has often initiated actions to restore degraded areas to a more natural state when natural succession processes are insufficient. Many of these areas are now in various stages of succession, giving visitors the opportunity to see butterflies, birds, and other animals taking advantage of plentiful food and shelter.

Nonnative species are another threat to the park’s natural and scenic resources. Frequent disturbance probably contributed to the park’s approximately 186 exotic plant species, ten of which are considered invasive and a threat to native plant species. The park is working to inventory, monitor, and control invasive plants. Gypsy moths, an exotic insect species from Europe, defoliated over 4,000 acres of forest in 1999. The park has since implemented a suppression program to help minimize and mitigate further moth defoliation effects.

Park staff, volunteers, university researchers, local organizations, and other agencies help monitor these and other environmental concerns to identify problems, establish trends, and assist in management decisions.

Nonnative Species

With its long history of disturbance, Cuyahoga Valley National Park contains a number of nonnative species. A 1986 study found 186 nonnative plant species in CVNP, nearly 20 percent of the park’s 943 plant species. Ten species of nonnative plants are currently considered threats to the park’s natural ecosystems and native flora. These species have the potential to form large stands that crowd out native plants and provide only limited habitat value for wildlife. Purple loosestrife, garlic mustard, honeysuckle, Russian and autumn olive, reed canary grass, giant reed grass, Japanese knotweed, Japanese multiflora rose, narrow-leaved cat-tail, and European alder buckthorn can become so permanently established that their populations are extremely difficult to eradicate. Resources management staff uses a variety of control and management techniques to keep nonnative invasive plant species at levels that do not threaten natural conditions. Natural areas of the park are monitored periodically to ensure the efficacy of control measures.

The nonnative insect of most concern is the gypsy moth. An exotic insect species from Europe, gypsy moths defoliated over 4,000 acres of forest in CVNP in 1999. Defoliation directly affects trees by decreasing their health and vigor, which can result in an increased susceptibility to disease and parasites and increased tree mortality. Defoliation and the loss of mature trees can change forest and understory composition, water quality in streams and lakes, and quality and availability of food for terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. These changes can alter the abundance and distribution of wildlife. The park has implemented a suppression program to help minimize and mitigate further moth defoliation effects.

These and other nonnative species in CVNP are evaluated and monitored by resources management staff. As directed by the park’s general management plan, exotic plant and animal species are controlled or eradicated when possible.

Air Quality

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is situated between Cleveland and Akron, two urban centers with major industries. Much of the area’s existing air pollution originates in these cities. From 1985-1993, CVNP monitored ozone and sulfur dioxide to identify the presence of air pollutants in the park. Results showed that air quality sometimes violated federal EPA standards. These violations are likely due to combined effects of land configurations, prevailing winds, and a variety of pollution sources in the heavily industrialized areas north of the park.

Air pollution affects natural resources, reducing visibility and causing injury to vegetation. Studies of the ecological effects of air pollution on biological resources (specifically, leaves) have confirmed ozone as a regional problem. Ozone alerts are often issued during hot summer months for the counties within the park. While ozone monitoring stations are located near the park in Akron and Cleveland, future plans include re-installing an ozone monitoring station in the park that will provide information about ozone concentrations and the resulting risk to sensitive vegetation. Based on the park’s vascular plant list, 22 species occur here that are known to be very sensitive to ozone and 13 species occur that are known to be slightly sensitive to ozone. At this time, the effect of ozone on these plants is unknown.

Water Quality

Twenty-two miles of the Cuyahoga River, bordered by a fertile floodplain, wind through the park. In addition to the river and its floodplain, CVNP’s aquatic resources include 220 miles of perennial streams, 1,200 wetlands, and 70 human-made ponds, all supporting a wide diversity of aquatic biota.

The Cuyahoga River, the primary aquatic resource in CVNP, had a pivotal role in the birth of the environmental movement. The river experienced several fires, beginning in 1936 when a spark from a blowtorch ignited debris and oil on the river’s surface. Although the river burned several times after 1936, it was the 1969 fire that focused attention on the state of water bodies throughout the United States. Groundbreaking environmental legislation, including the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the Clean Water Act, followed in the early 1970s. Since the passage of this legislation, large point sources of pollution have received significant attention both locally and nationally. For its role in the environmental movement, the Cuyahoga River was designated an American Heritage River in 1998.

Although much progress has been made since the early 1970s to improve water quality in the Cuyahoga River, sections of the river remain on the list of impaired waters as established under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. Portions of the Cuyahoga River Watershed, including the section of river that travels through CVNP, have been classified as one of the 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern, necessitating the development of a Remedial Action Plan (RAP). The Cuyahoga River RAP works to plan and promote restoration of beneficial uses (e.g., fishing and canoeing) of the lower Cuyahoga and near-shore Lake Erie through remediation of existing pollution problems and prevention of future ones. Beneficial use impairments were identified in the Stage One Remedial Action Plan. Stage Two, implementation and restoration of beneficial uses, is only partially completed. Extensive research and monitoring by numerous agencies have been funded to improve understanding of water quality impairments within the watershed.

Currently, impairments to the water quality of the Lower Cuyahoga River, including portions within the park, are being addressed under the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program. A TMDL is a written, quantitative assessment of water quality problems in a water body and contributing sources of pollution. It specifies the amount a pollutant needs to be reduced to meet water quality standards, allocates pollutant load reductions, and provides the basis for taking actions needed to restore a water body. The TMDL will cover impaired river segments from the Munroe Falls Dam in Summit County (upstream of CVNP) to the start of the ship channel in Cuyahoga County (downstream of the park). Several tributaries to the Cuyahoga River will be included as well.

The water quality of the Cuyahoga River within the park is of particular concern to park managers. The river receives discharges of storm water, combined-sewer overflows, and incompletely disinfected wastewater from urban areas upstream of the park. These discharges result in a threat to the health of visitors who come into contact with river water during recreational use (e.g., wading or canoeing). Because park managers are concerned about the threat posed to human health by sewage and pathogen contamination, the park discourages any canoeing, swimming, or wading in the river.

To address concerns of fecal bacteria contamination of the Cuyahoga River, the National Park Service is working with the United States Geological Survey to complete a study that will provide more information on concentrations of indicator organisms associated with the presence of pathogens. The park hopes to gain a better understanding of the ability of indicator organisms to predict the presence of human pathogens and, consequently, risks to human health. This information will improve our understanding of waterborne pathogen occurrence and assist the NPS in making informed decisions about when the water quality in the Cuyahoga River will be safe for recreational use in the future.


The weather in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is typical of Northeastern Ohio: four distinct seasons offering something for everyone. Winter is cold, cloudy, and sometimes snowy, especially in the northern portion of the park, located in a secondary lake-effect snow belt. When cold north or northwest winds blow across warm Lake Erie in late fall or early winter, lake-effect clouds bring several inches (sometimes even several feet!) of snow to areas near Cleveland, while the southern end of the park may see little or no snow at all.

Spring's rain and warming temperatures bring new leaves on trees, blooming wildflowers, and visitors anxious get out on the trail after a long winter. Summer is often hot and humid, with frequent thunderstorms and hazy skies. Fall offers some relief from the heat, as nights cool and leaves change to vibrant red and yellow hues in preparation for the annual display of fall colors.

Average annual precipitation (including rain, snow, and all other forms of moisture) is approximately 35 inches, 20 inches of which normally fall from April to September. Cleveland receives an average of 61 inches of snow per year, but actual amounts vary greatly from year to year. Normal temperatures range from the teens to the mid-80s and 90s, although below-freezing and 90-100+ degree temperatures occur occasionally. Because the weather at CVNP can be unpredictable, visitors should be prepared for any condition.


The diverse plant habitats of CVNP create perfect settings for enjoying wildflowers. In the springtime, the park's forests come alive with ephemeral (short-lived) wildflowers, especially in moist areas near creeks. Before the trees spread their leaves and block sunlight, the forest floor is a living canvas, painted with a variety of native wildflowers. Our woodlands are home to spring beauty, yellow trout lily, toothwort, hepatica, bloodroot, dwarf ginseng, Virginia bluebells, spring cress, purple cress, rue anemone, foam flower, twin leaf, bishop's cap, squirrel corn, violets, jack-in-the-pulpit, several species of trillium, and a host of others.

In mid-to late-summer, park fields transform into vibrant patches of blooming goldenrod and asters. Most commonly, Canadian goldenrod, grass-leaved goldenrod, New England Aster, and callico aster enliven the fields with their colorful blooms.


Cuyahoga Valley National Park's fields, forests, and wetlands are home to over 90 species of grasses and over 70 species of sedges. A walk through any particular field will generally yield the patient observer a long list of grass species, including Kentucky bluegrass, black bentgrass, redtop, annual ryegrass, timothy, velvet grass, poverty grass, switchgrass, bromegrass, orchard grass, fowl meadow grass, and many others.

While the natural vegetation of this region is forest, CVNP has one prairie, which was planted before the park was created. Situated on a disturbed area that was used as a borrow pit during construction of the Ohio Turnpike, this prairie is home to many species not commonly found in the area. The grasses of this area include big bluestem, little bluestem, switchgrass, and Indian grass.

When walking in wetter habitats, including forested wetlands, the visitor is likely to encounter sedges. Golden-fruited sedge, fox sedge, needle spikerush, hairy-fruited sedge, radiate sedge, pennsylvania sedge, wood sedge, wool grass, burr sedge, and more can be found in these areas.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park includes a diverse mosaic of natural vegetation types alongside various human-developed land uses. The park’s natural vegetation is composed primarily of mixed-mesophytic forest (approximately 80%), which is characterized by a variety of deciduous tree species growing in conditions that are neither too wet nor too dry. The oak-hickory association is the most widespread; others include maple-oak, oak-beech-maple, maple-sycamore, pine-spruce, and hemlock-beech associations. Several large semi-contiguous tracts of forest remain, but most forested areas are heavily fragmented.

Interspersed among these forests are other natural habitats, including older field habitats in various stages of succession, wet meadows, and other wetland habitats. Additionally, a variety of developed lands, including residential areas, golf courses, ski areas and other suburban lands, exist within park boundaries. Agricultural activity, once widespread, continues at low levels within the park.

Many different plant species are able to survive in the park’s diverse habitats. A walk though any field or forest provides visitors with the opportunity to see many of the park’s 943 plant species. In the spring, bloodroot and spring beauty blanket the forest floor, while late summer stands of goldenrod and wingstem line the roads with gold. The park’s diverse habitats support 21 state-listed rare plant species, including sedges, grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and one tree species.

Nearly 20 percent of the park’s plant species are exotic (not native to the area). This high percentage is in part due to the longstanding history of human alteration of the Cuyahoga Valley landscape. Ten of these species are considered invasive, posing a significant threat to native plant communities.

Surrounded by urban areas, Cuyahoga Valley National Park provides a refuge for wildlife. The park’s 33,000 acres contain forest, field, river, and wetland habitats that offer food, water, shelter, and open space to wild animals. The park’s fragmented configuration and land use history have a strong effect on the types of wildlife found here.

The park’s diverse wildlife is readily apparent. Any trip to CVNP offers opportunities for viewing wild animals in their natural setting, from painted turtles sunbathing on submerged logs to wild turkeys wandering across open fields. With populations that have increased an average of 9% per year over the past 12 years, white-tailed deer are the most visible mammal in the park, congregating in the early morning and late afternoon hours. Previous park studies have discovered 194 species of birds, 91 aquatic macroinvertebrates, 56 butterfly species, 43 fish, 32 mammals, 22 amphibians, and 20 species of reptiles.

Since CVNP’s establishment as a national park, several species that were extirpated from the park long ago have naturally reestablished themselves. Industrious beavers build their lodges and dams on many of the park’s streams and ponds. Coyotes, the masters of adaptation, have made their way back to the Cuyahoga Valley after a long absence. Other species are using the park in ways they haven’t in the past. Great blue herons, never before known to breed in the park, now raise their young in two boisterous rookeries along the Cuyahoga River.

In its role as a refuge, CVNP provides a home or a stopover point for several threatened and endangered species. A federally endangered Indiana bat was found within park boundaries in July 2002, the first instance of that species ever recorded in the park. Non-breeding bald eagles, which are federally threatened, have been seen perched high above the Cuyahoga River during winter months. Nineteen bird species that are considered threatened or endangered by the state of Ohio breed in the park or pass through during migration.


Cuyahoga Valley National Park's diverse landscape provides habitat for 194 species of birds, 105 of which breed in the park. A total of 15 of these species are "of concern" for conservation (either listed as federally or state-endangered). The park provides important habitat for such species.

Songbirds are found in CNVP throughout the year, though large numbers migrate through the area in spring and fall. To learn more about these songbirds, researchers are currently performing two studies. A study of the relative abundance of forest songbirds and their specific habitat requirements within the park is underway. Another study focuses on the potential value of electric utility corridors for migrating songbirds.

The park's riverine and wetland habitats support many different bird species. Great blue herons, not known to nest in the park before the 1980s, now raise young in two heronries within or adjacent to the park boundary. Starting in April, visitors can observe herons carting sticks to repair or build nests at two sites along the Cuyahoga River north of Route 82 and just south of Bath Road. Heron nest monitoring has found hundreds of nests perched high above the river and filled with squawking, awkward young from May to July. Wood ducks, Canada geese, and other waterfowl are found throughout the park.

Ten raptors are either summer or year-round residents of the Cuyahoga Valley. Hawk and owl nests have been monitored annually since 1993 to collect data on habitat, seasonal nesting periods, and reproductive success of known and newly reported nests. From 1996 to 1999, raptors were surveyed using broadcast calling techniques to determine distribution and relative abundance and to locate more nest sites. The survey found that turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, and red-shouldered hawk species were the most abundant and widely distributed raptors in the area.


Amphibians (frogs, toads, and salamanders) are an important part of the ecological balance of many habitats. They are like sponges, soaking up water and air through their skin. Anything found in their environment becomes a part of them, making them prone to localized sources of contamination. They are, therefore, good indicators of environmental health. Current research efforts are ongoing to identify and quantify threats to amphibian populations and to provide useful information to park managers on environmental conditions.

A baseline inventory of the amphibians in the park was prepared through field studies from the summer of 1982 to the fall of 1983 and from park and literature records. This early study identified nine species of salamanders, eight species of frogs, and one toad in CVNP. Most of these species can be heard or seen along remnants of the Ohio & Erie Canal that run the length of the park and in many of the wetlands and ponds that dot the landscape. A short walk on the Towpath Trail on a late spring morning allows visitors to hear the quick "peep-peep-peep" of the spring peeper or the low resonant "rumm-rumm-rumm" of the bullfrog. The park's salamanders are harder to find, hidden in the forest near small temporary ponds or other wet depressions. Occasionally, however, migrations of salamanders are observed during rainy spring nights as they cross roadways to reach their breeding ponds.   

Park staff and volunteers have monitored frogs and marsh birds since 1995 as part of a long term Marsh Monitoring Program (MMP). The MMP established by Bird Studies Canada and Environment Canada in 1994 is a bi-national, long term monitoring program that coordinates the skills, interests, and stewardship of hundreds of citizens across the Great Lakes Basin to help understand, monitor, and conserve the region's wetlands and their amphibian and bird inhabitants. The program receives support from Environment Canada, U.S. Great Lakes Protection Fund, U.S. Environmental Protection Fund, and Great Lakes 2000 Cleanup Fund.

The MMP has been monitoring trends in marsh birds and calling amphibians using data provided by more than 600 volunteer participants. Recent population trends for certain Great Lakes marsh birds appear to be emerging. Only two marsh bird species, common yellowthroat and mallard, are experiencing a significant increase in abundance while populations that appear to be declining are the American coot, black tern, blue-winged teal, common moorhen/American coot, pied-billed grebe, red-winged blackbird, sora, tree swallow, and Virginia rail.

Marsh birds and frogs are monitored at two sites in the park (Lock 29 and Ira Trailhead Beaver Marsh) as part of this long term monitoring project. Marsh birds are monitored twice each spring using broadcast calling surveys. Frogs are monitored three times each spring using point counts.

Additional research on amphibians in CVNP is being performed by Cleveland State University, John Carroll University, and the University of Akron. Researchers are examining changes in amphibian abundance and species richness with the goal of identifying and quantifying important threats to amphibian populations in CVNP.


Observant visitors exploring the Beaver Marsh or other wetlands along the Cuyahoga River are sometimes rewarded with the sight of a northern water snake sunning itself on a half-submerged log or a common snapping turtle peering through the duckweed covering its head like a veil. Twenty species of reptiles are found in CVNP including 11 snakes, 8 turtles, and 1 skink. All species are native with the exception of the red-eared slider, an exotic turtle species.

No poisonous snakes have been found in the park, although two species—northern copperheads and Massasauga rattlesnakes (an endangered species in Ohio)—have been identified in nearby counties. The stocky, dark-colored Northern water snake is sometimes mistakenly identified as a water moccasin, a poisonous snake not found in the state.

None of the park's reptiles are threatened or endangered. However, three species of turtles—the eastern box turtle, the spotted turtle, and Blanding's turtle—have been designated species of special interest in Ohio. These species, like all species of animals and plants within CVNP, are protected.


Small mammals make up the majority of the mammal population in CVNP. With much of the park covered with fields or forests, mice, moles, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, and other small mammals are abundant. If you hear rustling leaves while hiking through the woods, one of these small critters is usually the culprit.

Along roadsides, white-tailed deer and woodchucks graze on grasses and forbes in open fields. At night, you may catch a glimpse of raccoons or opossums scurrying across the road, in a hurry to find food or shelter before the day begins.

Many of the park's wetlands are filled with beaver and muskrat activity. Where a tree once stood, there may be nothing left but a stump and woodchips, signs of the beaver's need for food, shelter, or a dam. Mink, in search of fish, snakes, or other foods, often visit wetlands or streams but are rarely seen.

The ground is not the only place to look for CVNP's mammals. Seven species of bats have been found in the park, three of which were identified in a 2002 bat survey. A federally endangered species never before identified in the park, the Indiana bat, was found during the survey.

Insects, Spiders, Centipedes, Millipedes

Despite being the most diverse and abundant animals in natural ecosystems, insects and other related invertebrates (e.g. spiders, millipedes, etc.) are greatly under appreciated. More species of insects exist than all other animal species combined. They have survived on earth for more than 300 million years and may possess the ability to survive for millions more. Insects are vital to the complex cycle of life, furnishing food for other creatures and breaking down natural materials to chemicals and nutrients for recycling into new life. Whirling, buzzing, singing, chewing, vibrating with energy, they are all around us.

Studies of invertebrates in CVNP include butterfly monitoring and inventories of dragonflies, bees, ants, and spiders. Butterflies are important pollinators and are also significant in nutrient recycling, both as consumers and as prey for other species. Many species are restricted to unique ecological conditions, making them valuable indicators of ecosystem quality and change. In 1996 CVNP was invited to participate in a long term butterfly monitoring program initiated by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. After eight years of monitoring, a total of 54 species of butterflies have been recorded along the selected transect in CVNP. The long term project has grown to over 65 transects in 22 counties in all parts of Ohio.

The 10 most commonly seen butterflies in CVNP are the European Cabbage White Pearl Crescent, Alfalfa (Orange Sulphur), Great Spangled Fritillary, Common Wood Nymph, Eastern Tailed Blue, Clouded Sulphur, Silver-spotted Skipper, Zabulon Skipper, and Viceroy.

Dragonflies (Order Odonata) are among the best insect fliers, capable of hovering and even flying backwards. They have four silky transparent wings and huge wrap-around eyes. With names like jewelwing, dancer, rubyspot, damsel, and bluets, dragonflies are considered beneficial insects that feed on mosquitoes, gnats, and flies and are harmless to humans. The biggest threat to dragonflies is the loss of wetland habitats and pollution of streams.

A statewide census of dragonflies and related damselflies has identified 157 species in Ohio, approximately one-third of all species found in North America. Little is known about the dragonflies and damselflies in Northeast Ohio; information on abundance, distribution, and identification needs to be updated. Researchers are searching the Cuyahoga River and wetland areas within CVNP to establish the existence of rare or previously unknown dragonfly species of Northeast Ohio.

Spiders are generalist predators and play an important role in the food web by stabilizing insect populations and providing an important food source for birds, amphibians, and other small vertebrates. Spiders are very sensitive to small changes in environmental variables and habitat structure. Therefore, spiders are good ecological indicators of contaminants, disturbance, vegetation complexity, and the diversity of other taxa. The Ohio Spider Survey reports that more than 580 spider species have been recorded in Ohio. Several hundred species may reside in the park. To learn more about the role that spiders play in the park, a preliminary spider inventory in major park habitats was initiated in 1999.

Insects and their relatives, along with other species of plants and animals in the park, can be enjoyed through such activities as observation, study, and photography. They are protected from collection, harassment, or other activities that may injure or alter their environment.

Natural Features & Ecosystems

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a surprise for many visitors, as most people do not expect such an array of natural features so close to the city. Twenty-two miles of the Cuyahoga River, fed by more than 190 miles of perennial (permanent) and ephemeral (temporary) streams, flow through the park. The Beaver Marsh and other wetlands, many lined with cattails and thick with duckweed, provide a home for many of the park’s reptiles and amphibians and help filter pollutants from the water.

Bounding many of the rivers and streams are steep valley walls topped by deciduous forests and open meadows. Several waterfalls are tucked away in the midst of the forests, hidden from view until you round a bend. Brandywine Falls is the largest, with water rushing over the 65-foot falls to meet the boulders below. Water formed another of the park’s outstanding geologic features—the Ritchie Ledges. Here, visitors wind along the base of a towering sandstone rock formation, eventually arriving at an overlook that provides a remarkable sunset view of the Cuyahoga Valley and its striking natural features.


Cuyahoga Valley National Park is contained entirely within the Cuyahoga River watershed, which takes on the shape of the "v"-shaped river. The Cuyahoga River begins in Northeastern Ohio’s Geauga County as two bubbling springs that join about 10 miles to the south near Burton. The river flows to the southwest, through thick forests and past rich farm fields, until it reaches the more populated urban areas near Akron, Ohio. At this point, the river hits an east-west continental divide and turns sharply northwestward, forming the bottom of the "v." The Cuyahoga then flows through CVNP—alongside remains of the Ohio & Erie Canal, through the Historic Districts of Peninsula and Boston, and under the historic Station Road Bridge. The river reaches its terminus in downtown Cleveland, 100 river miles from its source, but only 30 miles as the crow flies.

The Cuyahoga River watershed drains over 810 square miles of Northeastern Ohio. Thirty-seven named tributaries and many unnamed streams, totaling over 1,100 stream miles, enter the Cuyahoga throughout its course. Within CVNP’s portion of the watershed (about 6.5 percent of the total watershed), perennial (permanent) and ephemeral (temporary) streams total over 190 miles in length. Some of the larger tributaries (e.g., Tinkers Creek and Furnace Run) drain areas larger than 50 square miles, while most others range between 2 and 20 square miles.

Land use maps show a landscape as diverse as individual tributaries. Forested areas cover much of the watershed, about 56 percent. Agricultural lands and urban open space account for 22 percent, while wetlands, rivers, and streams are found on 16 percent. Urban areas cover 6 percent of the watershed.

Though the Cuyahoga River watershed makes up less than 2 percent of Ohio’s land area, nearly 15 percent of Ohio’s population lives within the watershed. Most of this population is found along the lower Cuyahoga. Though a few small communities are located in the park, Akron and Cleveland, the urban centers at the southern and northern ends of the park, contain most of the watershed’s population. This high concentration of urban areas, along with heavy industrialization along its banks, stresses the lower Cuyahoga, which has been troubled by pollution since the 1800s.

Rivers and Streams

The Cuyahoga River is the central natural feature of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Twenty-two of its one hundred miles run the length of the park from south to north. The river is fed by more than 190 miles of perennial (permanent) and ephemeral (temporary) streams.

Known internationally as the "river that burned," the Cuyahoga River is on the rebound. Where at one time no living thing could survive, now there are spawning fish and rare insect species. Today the river looks like a river should; it no longer flows in colors of the rainbow. Instead, the river flows lazily past forests, fields, and towns, occasionally erupting in white ripples where rocks and pebbles interrupt its flow. The Cuyahoga is not completely healed, however. Even today, combined sewer overflows, runoff from fields and parking lots, and sediments continue to impair the river’s water quality (see water quality section for more information). Throughout Northeast Ohio people are looking out for the river, as government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and volunteers work together to return the Cuyahoga to an acceptable state. Someday, visitors to the park will once again be able to recreate safely on the river.

Park streams, tributaries to the Cuyahoga, are diverse in character. Some are so small they flow only in times of heavy precipitation and remain unnamed to this day. Many are gently flowing streams wandering through forested ravines. Others are more assertive, flowing rapidly toward the Cuyahoga and sometimes dropping suddenly over scenic waterfalls. At over 28 miles, Tinkers Creek is the longest of the Cuyahoga River’s tributaries.

Where there is water, there is life. Streamsides are lush, with water-loving vegetation and colorful spring wildflowers surrounding flowing waters. These areas provide excellent habitat for park wildlife. Insects and amphibians thrive in moist, shaded conditions. Birds and mammals take advantage of easy access to food and water.

Wetlands, Marshes and Swamps

National parks, including Cuyahoga Valley NP, protect wetland areas throughout the country. Healthy wetlands provide many environmental benefits, including improving water quality by filtering out nutrient loads and pollutants before they reach rivers and streams and moderating floodwaters. Wetlands provide habitat for a diversity of plants and wildlife and often serve as important stopover areas for migrating birds. While large wetland complexes serve an important ecological role, small isolated wetlands can be considered just as crucial for maintaining regional biodiversity (e.g., as important breeding areas for salamander metapopulations). In addition to their ecological significance, wetlands exhibit a variety of educational, recreational and aesthetic values.

Despite their importance, wetland habitats in the United States have declined dramatically since European settlement. Wetland habitats in Ohio decreased in area by 90% since the 1780s, mostly due to draining and filling for agricultural use.

Because development and urban sprawl continually threaten the wetlands that remain in northeastern Ohio, CVNP wetlands are valuable both as park and regional resources. A recent park-wide wetland inventory found more than 1,200 wetland areas encompassing approximately 1,700 acres in CVNP. Most of the wetlands are small, with only 190 larger than one acre and only 35 larger than 10 acres. Additional small wetlands may yet remain undetected.

Wetland types found in the park include marshes, wet meadows, scrub/shrub wetlands, and forested wetlands. Small emergent wetlands occurring in isolated depressions fed by surface water are most common. Small wetlands are also often found at the head of small, intermittent drainage ways, adjacent to ponds, or as seeps where groundwater flows out of a hillside. Many wetlands are partially or completely forested or include a shrub component. The largest wetlands are located within the Cuyahoga River floodplain and include emergent, shrub, and forested areas.

In addition to providing habitat for many plants and animals, special characteristics exist in some wetland areas. Vernal pools, temporary wetlands found during the rainy spring season, serve as breeding areas for many amphibian species. Potential roosting trees for the endangered Indiana bat exist in some of the wetland areas. Two great blue heronries are located in wetland areas along the Cuyahoga River.

Wetland systems in CVNP have been greatly affected by many years of disturbance and land use changes within the Cuyahoga Valley. The Ohio & Erie Canal, railroad and road beds, dredging of stream channels, utility corridors, filling and grading activities, topsoiling, landfills and gravel pits, and drainage for agriculture have all profoundly influenced the current configuration of this large wetland system. Not all human-caused disturbances have resulted in a decrease in wetland area. Instead, some, such as watered remains of the Ohio & Erie Canal, have increased the size of wetlands.

Humans aren’t the only living things that influence wetlands. By damming free-flowing waters, beavers have affected the size and distribution of wetlands throughout the park. The Beaver Marsh, created by beavers that built a dam along remnants of the Ohio & Erie Canal, offers visitors the chance to explore a wetland first-hand. Walking along the Topwath Trail boardwalk over the marsh, you can sometimes see beavers venture out of their lodge to search for food or repair the dam. Other animals, including Canada geese, northern watersnakes, and muskrats, are often seen taking advantage of the food, water, and shelter offered by this and other wetlands throughout CVNP.