Exploring the Ritchie Ledges at Virginia Kendall Park
by M. Sophie Hamad
Editor’s note: I wrote this piece last year, in 2015. Yesterday, May 15, 2016, I graduated college. It was also my nine-year recovery anniversary. Therefore, I thought it fitting to post this story after hitting that double milestone. I’ll be hiking the Ledges trail again soon to celebrate. Life is precious, folks. Stay strong and keep moving forward. –Sophie H.
The Virginia Kendall Park Ledges Trail is my favorite hiking trail because it saved my life.
I’ve been hiking the Ritchie Ledges at Virginia Kendall Park for as long as I can remember. My dad and I visited them, usually at my request, on many of our weekend father-daughter visits. We would often follow our hikes with a meal of toasted zatar bread with goat cheese. After leaving Ohio as a teenager, I lived in other areas with abundant natural beauty and exotic cuisine, so I didn’t think I could miss the Ritchie Ledges or my dad’s goat cheese pizzas.
I was wrong, and when I moved back to my Dad’s house in Akron in May of 2007, broken-hearted and withdrawing from heroin, I realized how much I had missed them. I spent that entire summer on the Ledges Trail, sitting on boulders and thinking. Hiking gave me an escape and helped me rediscover my roots. It gave me the adrenaline rush I desired. It made me breathe, which I needed after sniffing toxic opiates for five years. When my anxiety started up, I would go hike the Ledges. When my legs and back started to feel restless, again the Ledges came to my rescue. When I felt sorrow and regret and guilt and time lost—again the Ledges, always the Ledges. Hiking the Ritchie Ledges was my private rehab.
This May marked eight years opiate-free. Of course I had to celebrate by going to the Ledges. My husband and I stopped at Sanabel Middle East Bakery and took our kids and my brother for a hike and picnic.
The Ledges Trail makes a big loop around the Ritchie Ledges and a large meadow. There are several shortcuts, as well as several connecting trails, so this hike can be as long or short as it needs to be. We had a short hike, because toddlers make everything take longer.
The Ledges Trail provides incredible sensory stimulation. It smells like wet earth. Trees take root on rocks and cliffs covered in moss and lichen. 320 million years ago, the Ritchie Ledges were part of a steamy swamp. The swamp deposited sand and pebble sediments that compacted and became Sharon Conglomerate, which was then shaped by erosion into its current state of pebble-speckled ledges and cliffs and boulders—a world of wonder.
Starting on the paved Ledges Road at the northeast end of the parking lot, we took the first connector trail down to the Ledges Trail. This section hits all the best Ledges, as well as the Ice Box Cave. Sadly, the Ice Box Cave is currently closed to the public due to a declining bat population. It didn’t matter, though. There is so much awe-inspiring beauty radiating from the Ledges themselves that I have never actually gone into the cave farther than a few feet. (Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with fear of dark, tight spaces filled with bats.)
The stone steps are another shortcut back to the paved Ledges Road. We hiked up the steps to the paved road and then to the parking lot, grabbed our picnic cooler from the car and headed toward the big meadow. We crossed the meadow to look for one of the surrounding picnic spots with a table.
All of the picnic spots have tables and grills, and several have nice views. The one with the best view is near the top of the Ritchie Ledges, behind the Ledges Overlook. We found it empty, and set up our feast.
We brought Sanabel’s fresh baked zatar bread, cheese bread, and pita, which we ripped into pieces in true Lebanese fashion and dipped into labne (strained yogurt), fresh hummous and baba ghanouje. We also tried spinach pies. The light, fluffy dough was stuffed with tangy spinach and onions.
We tried both kinds of stuffed grape leaves, and both were delicious. The tender leaves were stuffed with lightly seasoned fillings: parsley onions, tomatoes and chickpeas for vegetarians, seasoned rice and beef for omnivores. Sanabel’s tabbouli was light and fresh, as was the house salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and onions in lemon dressing.
We enjoyed our meal from what is quite possibly the best natural vista in Northeast Ohio. Then we stood atop the Ritchie Ledges and took in more beauty with full bellies and happy hearts. As I stood there, with one toddler in a baby carrier on my back and his big brother at my side, I felt deep gratitude for such beauty, and for all the Ritchie Ledges have done for my soul’s path to inner peace.