Monday, May 25, 2015

Trail circles 320 million-year-old formation

The Overlook on the Ledges Trail. Photo courtesy of Cuyahoga Valley NPS.
Topo map for Ledges Trail.

Ledges Trail runs 2.8 miles through national park

Families can traipse across rock formed when great coal swamps covered the earth via the Ledges Trail at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The Ledges Trail plus the stem to it runs 2.8-miles. Autumn and late spring mark the best times to visit this national park; expect snow in winter and hot, humid weather in summer.

To reach the trailhead, from Boston Heights head south on Ohio Route 8. Take the Ohio Route 303 exit and continue driving south on Akron Cleveland Road. Turn left/west onto Kendall Park Road then right/north on Ledges Road. Park at the lot for the Ledges shelter. This puts you at about the center of the Ledges Trail Loop.

Monument to the chestnut
The Ledges Shelter dates to the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps built the facility from American chestnut cut on site. Though the chestnut once covered large swaths of the East and South, a fungus nearly wiped out the species during the mid-20th century.

These days, the Eastern hemlock with a good amount of yellow birch and yellow poplar dominates the Ledges. If you spot a dead tree, it’s probably an oak killed when drought and gypsy moths struck the area during the late 1990s.

From the end of the road in the Ledges Shelter area, take a dirt path that heads due north; this is not the Ledges Trail proper but a connector trail. In 0.2 miles, you’ll reach a four-way trail intersection; go right/east. In 0.3 miles, you’ll arrive at the main trail. Once there, turn right/south.

For the next half-mile, the largely shaded dirt trail crosses two footbridges and Ledges Road as circling east. One of the bridges goes over a seep that runs from the base of the Ledge to nearby Haskell Creek, whose waters ultimately make their way to Lake Erie.

Several songbirds call the Ledges home. Among them are the Acadian flycatcher, blue-headed vireo, hooded warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, ovenbird, tufted titmouse, and the wood thrush. if hiking near sunset, you may hear the barred owl.

The trail next turns hard south, passing an overlook. As curving east again, you’ll quickly drop about 50 feet in elevation to almost below the ledge.

Ancient estuary
The Ledges sit atop 320 million-year-old sandstone called Sharon conglomerate, which consists of sand embedded with erosion-resistant quartz and pebbles. During the era before the dinosaurs, swamps of tree ferns and primitive conifers covered the landscape. Amphibians and the very first reptiles ruled the earth. Much of the coal used today for fuel was formed in that era.

Fast-running streams likely carried the sand, quartz and pebbles off nearby ancient mountains into a delta or estuary that stood where the Ledges now rises. With each new layer of sediment, the wetlands dried off, and the sandstone cemented together under the pressure.

The trail runs for about 0.7 miles up the west side of the Ledges. Along the way are three more footbridges.

At the loop’s north tip, you’re about 0.4 miles to the Ice Box Cave. The tight passageway that makes up the cave runs about 50 feet deep. The interior is remarkably cooler than the outside, sometimes by up to 20 degrees, hence its name. In years past, the cave marked the highlight of the trail, but the park service recently closed it to protect bats from contracting a deadly fungus that may spread on the soles of shoes.

Just south of the cave is the stem trail used to reach the loop. Turn right/west onto the stem and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Learn about other great national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.