words and photos by Anthony Boarman
It has been over 100 years since Big Falls in Cuyahoga Falls has been visible from behind the dam in the Gorge Metro Park. When the Northern Ohio Traction & Light Company constructed a power plant along Front Street, they accompanied it with a dam downstream that drowned out the falls. This dam took a free flowing river and turned it into a reservoir, massively changing the landscape of that area. What once was home to trails and caves is now a large body of water that gradually flows over the Gorge dam and makes its trek to Cleveland before it spills into Lake Erie.
What we miss out on with Big Falls we get to cherish with it’s smaller sibling, Little Falls, which flows just a mile north along the Cuyahoga River. These falls are not easy to see due to the amount of man-made structures like the Sheraton Hotel and Route 8 that surround it. The falls sit deep down in a gorge area that is pretty amazing in all seasons. In the winter, an ice palace forms along the rock-faced walls. In the summer, the combination of green moss and lush trees makes for a remarkable landscape. If you peak down into the gorge after a heavy rain or snow melt, you’ll be able to witness a few rare waterfalls that flow from above the gorge walls, often referred to as King and Queen Falls by local photographers.
One of the best places to view Little Falls is from the Prospect Avenue High Bridge, which was a functional traffic bridge until the extension of Route 8 forced Prospect Avenue to dead end into Main Street. In 2009, this bridge was restored and is a great place to get a panoramic view of the river. Another great viewpoint is from inside of the Sheraton Hotel in the restaurant area. Sitting by the windows after dark in the restaurant is a must. Although it is not safe or suggested, the absolute best place to view these falls is from down in the gorge area along the river.
When exploring here, I can’t help but think of the High Bridge Glens Park that was a major attraction slightly downstream from Little Cuyahoga Falls. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, this park featured a dance pavillion, mechanical rides, and even had a large staircase that led people down to the Cuyahoga River where they could cross a suspension footbridge in order to connect to the Chuckery Trail on the other side. This trail allowed explorers to walk all the way to Big Falls and gave visitors access to the gorge area in ways we have never experienced due to the way the Gorge dam changed the landscape behind it.
Once the power plant was built, along with reckless dumping of industrial waste and sewage into the Cuyahoga River by local companies, the High Bridge Glens Park closed in the 1920s. Luckily, our views on water quality have changed in the last several decades, but there is still a long way to go. I anxiously await the day in which the Gorge dam is brought down and the Big and Little Falls will once again flow together.
Check out more photos from this edition of NEO Outdoor Gems at thedevilstrip.com.
Anthony Boarman is a social studies teacher and coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He lives in Wallhaven with his wife Emily and his dog Ava. He is a lover of all things Akron. To check out more of his work, follow Anthony on Instagram at @aboarman.