Looking for something to add to your bucket list?
You can easily add 18 items without cracking open your passport or draining your bank account:
Visit all 18 reservations in the Cleveland Metroparks.
In Jewish numerology 18 means life, and there is so much life going on all around us, the kind that renews the spirit and restores the soul.
Plus, the whole nation knows Cleveland has the best park in the nation.
Cleveland Metroparks just received the highest national honor in the parks and recreation field, receiving the 2021 “Award of Excellence in Parks and Recreation Management” from the National Recreation and Park Association.
The Metroparks also broke attendance records last year, with 19.7 million visitors. They might have counted me a few thousand times.
The park system was established in 1917. We’re so lucky it encompasses more than 24,000 acres, 300 miles to hike, eight golf course, eight lakefront parks and endless gorges, ravines, forests, rivers, creeks and lakes.
I love that it’s called the Emerald Necklace. When you look at a map, you see loops of green circling the city of Cleveland like a necklace.
It truly is a gem.
Actually, 18 gems: Acacia, Bedford, Big Creek, Bradley Woods, Brecksville, Brookside, Euclid Creek, Garfield Park, Hinckley, Huntington, Lakefront, Mill Stream Run, North Chagrin, Ohio & Erie Canal, Rocky River, South Chagrin, Washington and West Creek reservations.
And don’t forget the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. One of my best memories was taking my grandson there when he was 2. A pounding waterfall greets you when you walk into the Rainforest. My grandson immediately plopped down in front of it and didn’t move or make a sound for 10 minutes. It was a holy moment. His little soul was mesmerized.
When I moved to Cleveland Heights in 1996, I lamented leaving all the parks and hidden gems and small town life around Kent. Moving to an inner-ring suburb felt too suburban for me. Too much development. Too much concrete. Too many people. I need more nature around me, I whined.
My husband got tired of hearing me complain, so one day he drove me to Euclid Creek Reservation. We hiked along the water. I couldn’t believe a place this beautiful was just seven miles from our house.
The rock walls were breathtaking. The little waterfalls all along the creek were stunning. It looked like nature’s art museum. My husband never went back, but I haven’t stopped going back.
If you let it, the Metroparks become part of the fabric of your life.
My friend, Beth, was my constant hiking buddy before she died. Her second transplanted kidney had stopped working, but that didn’t stop her from finding the energy to hike. We bonded closer than ever on the trails in Acacia and Euclid Creek reservations, talking about life and death. I still feel her with me when the light pours through the pine trees or a deer darts out to say hello.
One of my best winter hikes was with my friend, Katie, when the wind chill dropped below zero. Not a soul was out in Acacia Reservation. Not even a bird. We felt so vibrant and alive, even though we couldn’t feel our toes.
One Sunday in February I fed chickadees at the Brecksville Reservation with my husband. We stood for an hour in the pouring snow outside the nature center as little birds pecked away at sunflower seeds in the palm of our hands.
I took a class on astronomy from the Metroparks. We learned how vast this universe really is. Every night I wave to the man on the moon and whoever inhabits Jupiter.
The Metroparks’ Adventure University taught me how to kayak in a swimming pool in Berea. I hated flipping over and over to learn how to get out and climb back in, but now I know how to save my own life. Getting out is the easy part, climbing back in when you’re surrounded by water takes some work. But it worked. Kayaking now feels like a meditation with nature.
It’s worth a drive up from Columbus, a drive in from Pittsburgh, a drive down from Detroit or a drive over from Toledo to spend a day or a weekend.
Because of COVID-19, people are once again having reservations about going out to restaurants and movies. Thank goodness we can still find refuge in the great outdoors, where the only kind of reservations are the kind that beckon you to explore.