words and photos by Anthony Boarman
Everyone loves a comeback story. LeBron James returning to Northeast Ohio to bring the Cavaliers their first championship in franchise history. WWII veteran Louis Zamperini’s journey from Olympic stardom to Japanese prisoner and war camp survivor was spotlighted in his book and major motion picture “Unbroken.” All of these stories tug at our hearts in different ways. Then there is the Beaver Marsh in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Now, I doubt that anyone will ever make a movie about the Beaver Marsh, but it too has a great comeback story that often goes unnoticed. A little over 30 years ago, the Beaver Marsh was a salvage yard.
Yes, a junk yard full of trash, tires, large pieces of metal and old rusted out cars.
I was floored when I saw the old pictures of this area compared to what it is today. Whenever I pass through on a bike or take pictures at the Beaver Marsh, I can’t help but think about how resilient nature is.
Throughout the nineteenth century, land development in the valley drained what was originally a wetland. According to the CVNP’s website, Ohio has lost 90% of its wetlands to development. The Beaver Marsh spans 70 acres and its significance is a result of its size and the diversity of wildlife. In the 20th Century, the land served as a part of the Ohio & Erie Canal and as a dairy farm. Most recently before its cleanup, it was an auto repair shop.
In 1984, the Portage Trail Group of the Sierra Club organized a cleanup of the site, hauling away car parts, old bed springs and anything else you could imagine. It was unknown as to what would be done with the land. Some even explored the idea of turning it into a parking lot.
Around that same time, beavers started to migrate back to the valley, an area they had been absent from for over a century due to large scale fur trapping. As time went on, beavers gradually built a system of dams that flooded the area that we now know as the Beaver Marsh. This is the CVNP’s epicenter of wildlife. Birds, frogs, beavers, blue and green heron, and if you’re lucky, you will catch the small family of river otters that reside there.
It’s a great lesson that human development has often tarnished the habitats of a diverse assortment of wildlife. I’m thankful today for the Portage Trail Group and the National Park Service for the foresight of those men and women to help restore the beauty in this area. The Beaver Marsh used to just be a transitional boardwalk from one end of the towpath to another for me, but now it is one of my favorite Northeast Ohio comeback stories.
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 and enjoys being around dogs more than humans.