Saturday, August 17, 2013

Encounters with Animals: Seagull Alpha at Kinzua Dam, September 2012

I've seen bears, rattlesnakes, eagles, and hawks, but I've never been attacked by them. Alpha was different.

In September 2012 I spent a rainy day exploring part of north central Pennsylvania with my friend Judy. As part of our travels we drove to Kinzua Dam and the lake it created. The dam itself is an impressive piece of engineering, spanning the Allegheny River with one of the largest structures of its kind east of the Mississippi. Canoeing on the lake is a wish I never manage to get fulfilled, sadly, even though I've been in the area a few times.

Canoeing wasn't in our plans today either. Time was short and I was still fatiguing far too soon. So we walked and took photos. I must have tripped some invisible security alarm at the dam, for no sooner did I take out the camera and start snapping away than I was accosted by security.

The bird didn't say a word. Being a seagull and not a parrot, I wasn't surprised. But I was shocked at how seriously the avian agent took its job. The sign at the dam's gated, secure area said "Force Protection Level: Alpha", so I took that to be the seagull's name. Alpha shot me a dirty look and made gull noises at me. Not planning to trespass and assuming the gull would understand my intentions, I stood my ground taking photos. And then this happened.

Judy kept her distance, documenting the encounter. Not wanting to be strafed by the gull again, I retreated. As I did I had a bad flashback to Sea Isle City, New Jersey three decades ago, and my youngest brother getting hit by a rock he'd thrown to a passing seagull. That gull was just doing beach patrol. Who knew what this bird was carrying? I wasn't going to find out. 

Kinzua Dam is worth visiting. And worth photographing. Just keep in mind security watches over it from the air. Respect them. Don't fall afoul of the fowl.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Sippo Valley Trail, Massillon, Ohio

There are some trails you want to visit again and again. There are some you visit once and are done with. And then there are some you want to ride again if the problems are fixed. The Sippo Valley Trail is the last described. 

I tried to ride the Sippo in 2011. However, after riding through Massillon (which is pronounced "Mass-lin", I'm told) to the trailhead I didn't get very far before I came across a burnt out bridge. The arsonist's work was removed and replaced with a new wooden span, and on a rainy Saturday afternoon my friend Dan led me across it during our trail ride. I wonder how long its going to remain intact.

Even though the trail starts in an urban area, it immediately is surrounded by trees and aside from a couple of road crossings it looks wooded as it snakes out of town. Once in Ohio farm land the paved surface gives way to pea gravel, and then to a mix of gravel and dirt. The trail becomes narrow at times. Grass grows on the trail median. And it continues like this to the final couple of miles outside of the town of Dalton, at which point the trail surface is paved again. 

I was impressed with nature along the ride. The Sippo passes through some beautiful land. But then I found litter and graffiti and my mood sank. We paused at one defaced bridge and read the news aloud.

"Dan, did you know Ryan is gay?"

"No. But Kami is hot."

Before we reached Dalton the rain had stopped, and the sun began to emerge as we rode back. However, the trail remained muddy, and we both had close calls as our bikes slid through the mud. In addition the soles of my cycling shoes became very tractionless by the end of the ride, and I slid a little when I made the mistake of walking on a wet wooded bridge for photographs. Both the bike and I became muddy during the ride. Although my panniers took the brunt of it, I got dirty too. 

Our trip on the Sippo was 21 frustrating miles. I had a great time with Dan, as usual, but the trail itself has a problem. Why scribble calumny about Ryan and Kami on  a bridge over a stream? Or why burn a bridge? Why dump trash on a trail? All trails have problems of some kind, but the Sippo has the worst: people who have no respect for it, and no respect for themselves. Massillon has a lovely trail. I wish it had better people around it. 

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Viaduct Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Following my visits to Tinker's Creek Gorge Overlook and Bridal Veil Falls, I continued up Overlook Drive and turned north to Viaduct Park. This little gem is on the northeastern edge of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and sits in the suburbs of Cleveland. And it sits so quietly there that I missed the entrance when I was looking for it and had to turn around. The parking area looks like a company lot for the factory next door, so its an easy mistake to make.

Once I arrived I walked past the viaduct that gives the park its name. Once a railroad bridge, its now an overlook that gives you a spectacular view of the Tinker's Creek gorge. I decided I'd go onto the old viaduct after I walked the trail into the gorge, so I continued straight down the sloped, paved pathway. There were numerous interpretive markers to read. The gorge was once an industrial area, and I passed the ruins of a mill and a generating station as I walked into the shaded gorge.

Once I reached the end of the paved path I stepped onto the pea-gravel walkway along Tinker's Creek. There were the falls. I'd been hearing the crash of the Great Falls on Tinker's Creek as I walked down, and here they were. The spray was cooling on the hot day. I found multiple places to photograph from on the walkway, but the main observation platform provided the best angles. Unlike Brandywine Falls, its hard to see how a photographer can hike into the gorge aside from the trail. So unless you shoot from the viaduct for an 'up the gorge' shot all your photos of the falls will be from the right side. I've included two photos from different locations to show what I had to work with.

The whole hike was about a half mile round trip. Like most attractions in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Viaduct Park is easily accessible. And it was worth the small effort to see the falls.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Wingfoot Lake State Park, Suffield, Ohio

I refused to stay in during the one genuinely rainy day I experienced in Ohio. During the worst of the downpours I was inside my car or a building, but in between I was outside. One place I visited was the newest Ohio State Park, Wingfoot Lake. 

Located outside Akron, Wingfoot Lake has an interesting history. While American parks celebrate nature and the outdoors, their history is tied to the history of business. And often its not the Manicheistic struggle between 'good' Nature and 'evil' Man the media trumpets to us.

Wingfoot Lake State Park is on land previously owned by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, headquartered in nearby Akron. The lake and surrounding property were purchased in 1916 for the construction of airships for the US Navy. While the airplane was a weapon with potential, the airship was also of keen interest to the military, and for the next five decades Goodyear constructed both blimps and the US Navy's two dirigible airships, USS Macon and USS Akron. Goodyear's first corporate blimp was launched in 1925.

As the the navy's need for blimps declined following World War II Goodyear found itself with lots of vacant wooded land near their Wingfoot Lake facility. Since much of the workforce of the company was located near Akron, they opened Wingfoot Lake Park as a recreational facility for their employees. Park attendance peaked in the 1980s at 100 thousand visitors a year. But in 2006 Goodyear closed the park as fewer and fewer visitors used it each year. The state of Ohio purchased 600 some acres, and opened 121 acres along the lake as a State Park in 2009. 

The day I visited I was the only person their aside from park staff and a fisherman. I walked the paved pathways that ran along the lake, ducking into a picnic shelter or under trees as the rain waxed and waned. The lake is the main attraction at the park, and even in the rain it was pretty. I walked about a mile on the pavement, following the shore of the lake past a small marsh filled with frogs. Had it been a sunny day, the park would have picnickers and boats would have been on the lake. Now it was just the frogs, the birds, and me. 

The boaters and picnickers weren't the only ones affected by the weather. When Goodyear closed their employee park and sold the land, they kept their airship facility on the far side of the lake. There are four Goodyear blimps, three in the US and one in China, and the Spirit of Goodyear is based at Wingfoot Lake. Looking across the lake, one can see the hanger, the mooring mast, and, this day, the Spirit of Goodyear. The weather kept the airship grounded, and the Spirit of Goodyear floated at its mast, drifting as the wind blew. Yes, its an advertising icon, and some might object to seeing that on a hike or park visit, but the blimp is also a piece of history, much like a steam train. And floating across the lake the big balloon was an example of corporate 'good citizenship' as I walked the pathways at an Ohio State Park. 

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

"To me, fair friend..." - Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath and Old Muskigum Trail, Ohio, July 2013

January 2006. A super obese man had a health scare a couple of weeks before, and he finally gets focused enough to start making steps in the right direction. Posting to a support group online, he gets encouragement from a woman named Beverly, herself a weight loss success story. 

A year passes. That super obese man is now 125 pounds lighter, and he contemplates getting a bicycle. Beverly, having been encouraging him in his weight loss, now encourages him to get onto two wheels. 

July 2013. That man and Beverly finally meet.....

While I credit God, and many people, with helping change me from potato to potential, Beverly has an important role. While her fellow poster Matty was the person who showed me, by example, that weight loss was joyous, Beverly taught consistency. She's been at goal weight for a quarter century. She's led an active life, one that shows no signs of slowing as she enters into her eighth decade. And she's been busy sharing the joy she finds in activity, leading her Weight Watchers group, riding with a group in her local Metropark ..... and encouraging a fat Pennsylvanian years ago. 

Beverly and I had plans to meet over the years, but always something came up. However, my being in Ohio prompted her to drive three hours to ride with me. The ride was happening. 

Bev's interest in riding the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath caused me to select one of my favorite stretches of that trail for our ride. We started at Vanderhoff Road trailhead and headed south, towards Canal Fulton. The trail is paved for this section, and especially well planned to avoid the green tunnel syndrome that plagues many trails. We swooped up and down bridges, rises and dips, and I found myself pushed to keep up with a 70 year old rider on a 26 mile ride. 

As we neared Canal Fulton, we crossed from Summit County to Stark, and the smooth pavement became coarser gravel. We paused at the Visitor's Center to get water, look at exhibits, and chat. Once we had more water, we continued down to the turnaround point of the canal boat ride. Again we took photos. Beverly, to my delight, is a cyclist who understands the ride IS the destination, and who enjoys seeing things rather than riding past them. 

Our turn around was the bridge at Crystal Springs. We crossed the span, which is now restricted to cyclists and pedestrians, and rode back to Canal Fulton on the parallel Old Muskigum Trail. The trail surface was more dirt than gravel,and we had some mud patches to navigate, but it made a nice change of view being on the other side of the river. I saw a bald eagle flying low as we approached Canal Fulton, which only added to the good feelings I felt on the ride.

At Canal Fulton we crossed back to the towpath, and rode back to our cars. As rode, I realized Beverly was once again teaching by example. At an age when men and women are told they should stop being active, Beverly leads a life enriched by the outdoors. I was reminded of an elderly couple I knew a decade ago who explained their 62 year marriage was successful because "we always found something to talk about." Beverly is successful because she always finds something to DO. That's a lesson this "formerly sedentary man" is working to internalize so it becomes as natural as breathing. Perhaps, God willing, I'll be riding again with Beverly when I'm her current age. I'm pretty sure she'll still be riding then.

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Bridal Veil Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

A couple of miles up Overlook Drive is the trailhead to Bridal Veil Falls, one of the many attractions of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Like the bigger and better known Brandywine Falls and the Great Falls on Tinker's Creek, the hike to get to the falls is relatively short. The descent from the road is on a wide gravel path, wooden walkways, stairs, and a bridge. Once you cross Deer Lick Creek turn right on the trail and in a few steps you are in at the observation platform. From there you have a great view down into the gorge, and of the long path the water has carved over the slate. If you continue your hike Buttermilk Falls is further up the trail. I decided to stop at Bridal Veil today, having other places to visit in the park.
On this trip I found the shooting conditions from the platform to be difficult. I was getting lots of highlighting in the images, and nothing seemed to tame it. So I walked back to Deer Lick Creek and  took photos from the crest. Free from the deep green of the gorge my photos came out better, and I felt at peace as I watched water on stone. The creek was a summer trickle, and with some care I walked through the water on the rocks. I spent an hour on a hike of less than a half-mile total, and I could have spent another hour. It was time worth investing. 

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Tinker's Creek Gorge Scenic Overlook, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

There. That's a thousand-word title paragraph. 

I'm labeling this as a hike, although the hike was a few yards from the parking area to the wooden observation platform. Still, this was worth a few minutes before I continued on to Bridal Veil Falls, which is only a couple of miles up Overlook Road or the paved All Purpose Trail that runs alongside. The view was pretty, although overgrown. The best images are from the left side of the platform, which gives you a little more depth to the photo. From here take the trail or Overlook Road, and from there its a short drive to the Great Falls on Tinker's Creek. I'll write about both attractions in later posts. 

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A Taste For The Woods: 2013-08-11

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A Taste For The Woods