Though the entrance to Gorge Metro Park sits just off a bustling Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls, a short walk from the parking lot transports you into a peaceful and uniquely picturesque sanctuary bordered by towering rock formations with a cave carved into one side and dam with a cascading waterfall on the other.
This unique beauty makes this park one of the standouts on the list of Summit County Metro Parks, and well worth a visit, if you haven’t been there already.
Mike Johnson, chief of conservation at Summit Metro Parks, said the rock formations and rich history make the gorge a must-see destination.
“The cool thing about Gorge is that it is one of this area’s original parks,” he said. “It was established in 1930 but has been a recreational area for this community way before that. It used to have an amusement park and a dance hall.”
Indeed, the area boasted not one but two amusement parks dating as far back as 1879, said Megan Shaeffer, Ph.D., cultural resource coordinator at the Metro Parks. High Bridge Glens and Caves Park, located off of Front Street at Prospect and the High Bridge, boasted a roller coaster, dining room and grand promenade until it closed in 1895.
There was also River View Amusement Park and Roseland Dance Hall, located west of Front Street, on the north side of the river (near where the Gorge Shelter and skating rink are now), which was in operation from 1919 until 1932, according to Shaeffer. This park also had a roller coaster, a circle swing, an alligator pit, concession stands, a restaurant, walking trails, and a roller skating rink. It was badly damaged by two fires in 1927. In 1929, the land was donated to the Akron Metropolitan Park District (which would eventually become Summit County Metro Parks).
Today’s park features two walking trails. Glen’s Trail, which spans 1.8 miles, is known for the springs that flow from the ledges that create a “crystal palace” on the gorge walls in the winter. Gorge Trail, also 1.8 miles, offers access to the cave and features some rugged hiking through unique rock formations.
“The geology is amazing,” Johnson says. “It’s a very deep gorge and is carved into sandstone that is 300 million years old. It’s very old, strikingly beautiful and moss-covered. “
While many of the park’s features remain untouched, Metro Parks officials are currently in the process of making some improvements that Johnson said are designed to mitigate erosion and prevent further damage to the environment.
One of the projects involves removing the existing dam from the Cuyahoga River to make the river free-flowing again and also uncovering a little-known historical feature.
“It’s a very tall dam and one that has been there for over 100 years,” says Johnson. “It was originally built for hydropower but now it serves no purpose and could impact the water quality. It’s also hiding a geological feature that is the original waterfall that Cuyahoga Falls was named after. So, we are working with stakeholders to remove the dam.”
Exposing the original waterfall will also create an entirely new section of white water on the river that will be a boon to kayakers, Johnson added.
“When this dam comes down, it will give a rebirth to a section of the river that is really the most spectacular part of the Cuyahoga,” he says. “Underneath it is not only a beautiful waterfall but also Class Five rapids that are a mile long. If you are an avid kayaker, you will have white water conditions from the Burntwood Tavern areas and into Cascade Valley Metro Park.”
The dam project is a coordinated effort between several entities, including the Metro Parks, the City of Cuyahoga Falls, City of Akron, federal and state Environmental Protection Agencies, Summit County and First Energy Corp.
“Before the dam comes down, sediment at the bottom of the river that has accumulated over the last 100 years must be removed, which is an effort being designed and funded by the EPA,” Johnson explains, adding that the hope is for this part of the project to begin by 2025.
The cave, now known as Mary Campbell Cave, was named for a female settler that was believed to have been captured by native people and kept in the cave in the early 1900s. But because the historical record on Mary Campbell is unclear, the park district is currently in the process of renaming the cave Old Maid’s Kitchen, a common name in the 1800s for such rock shelters.
In addition to upgraded restrooms and a revamped, ADA-compliant parking lot area, Johnson said extensive forestry work is happening in the park to revitalize the ecosystem.
“All the trees we are cutting down are invasive species and harmful to the ecosystem,” Johnson says. “The biggest concern is the Norway Maple, which is terrible for the ecosystem. They push out other native trees and wildlife. We’ve been cutting them up and leaving them in our parking lots for the public to take for free. It makes good firewood and wood chips.”
Gorge Metro Park is located at 1159 Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls. To learn more about it, go to summitmetroparks.org.
Susan Pappas is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about the people and places that make Akron unique.
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