words and photos by Anthony Boarman
As I make my way through the 1.8-mile loop along the Deer Run Trail in the Summit Metro Parks O’Neil Woods, all I can say to myself is “So. Many. Stairs.” It isn’t that the downhill portion is hard, but it was the foreshadowing of what was to come on the way back.
It’s been a while since I visited O’Neil Woods. I’m not sure why I took so long to get back there because it’s a really unique park site. I set out on an early Saturday morning with my dog Ava to explore this beautiful piece of land that was gifted to the Summit Metro Parks decades ago by a family name that you might recognize.
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In 1972, William and Grace O’Neil donated their family farm to the Summit Metro Parks. William, the founder of General Tire & Rubber, started his infamous Akron company in 1915 and eventually became one of the biggest names in the business before selling it in 1987 as the rubber industry was fading away in Akron. William was also the son of Michael O’Neil, the co-founder of O’Neil’s, the popular downtown Akron department store.
Named for the path forged by local white-tailed deer, the Deer Run Trail at O’Neil Woods provides multiple scenic overlooks of the Cuyahoga Valley. As you make your way down to and across Bath Road, you will enter a new landscape that includes Yellow Creek, one of the cleanest tributaries to the Cuyahoga River.
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Just around the bend from Yellow Creek is the picturesque O’Neil family barn. This massive barn was constructed in 1944, but was not always the vibrant red color that we see today. In 2014, the O’Neil barn was given given some tender loving care when it’s exterior underwent a facelift and was updated from a rustic, worn out white to the vibrant red with white trim that transforms it into a centerpiece along Bath Road today.
After you explore around the barn, you have no choice but to head back uphill along the Deer Run loop (unless you want to hitchhike). This is where the trail becomes difficult, but rewarding at the end. You’ll finish on the opposite end of the parking lot from where you initially entered the trail.
O’Neil Woods is one of those park locations in our area that often goes underappreciated, but it provides us the perfect amount of scenery, history and a great leg-burning hike.
The 55th annual Fall Hiking Spree is here! It is the largest and longest-running event of its kind in the nation. Trails range from easy to challenging. Choose the trails best for you. Learn more at http://hikingspree.summitmetroparks.org.
Anthony Boarman is a social studies teacher and coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He lives in Wallhaven with his wife Emily, daughter Sadie 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.