Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Step Into the Future

Early morning in the Cuyahoga Valley backcountry

If you could plan a trail in a national park, what would be your criteria?
Last evening the Greater Akron Audubon Society chapter hosted Lynn Garrity, trail planner for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Garrity has the monumental, and somewhat envious job of putting together a new trail management plan for our 33,000-acre gem. The last plan, such as it is, was done 25 years ago. It’s time for a makeover.
Times have changed, people have changed and national parks have to change. Change is, allegedly, good. The challenge is preserving the historic reason for the park, yet satisfying the needs of its visitors.
The CVNP, one of 50 national parks (there are many more sites administered by the National Park Service) and consistently in the top 10 of “Most Visited” with its 1.5 million annual visitors, has 106 miles of trails. Add in connecting trails of county and city parks that surround this outstanding facility between Cleveland and Akron, and you come up with about 184 miles of recreation trails. Currently, there are multi-use trails, bridle paths, specific hiking trails, plus the waterway itself.
“In the last 25 years,” said Garrity, “things like mountain bikes and trail running have come into existence. Things that planners could not foresee.”
Her mission, which she has enthusiastically accepted, is to come up with a plan that will make everyone happy—or make as few people as possible, unhappy.
“Our number one goal,” she said, “is to provide a trail network that creates a high-quality visitor experience for a variety of trail users.”
Her job sort of reminds me of a juggler who balances six spinning plates on five different sticks. On one hand is preservation of historic sites, while on the other hand is preservation of the natural beauty of the park; non-consumptive use, I’ll call it. On the third hand is the need to provide space for activities that (aaaammmm, I have to be careful here) tend toward consumptive use, in the sense of damaging trails or distracting from the experience of others. Right, I’m talking about off-trail bicyclists and equestrians. It’s an application of the 80/20 rule: 80% of the problem is caused by 20% of the people.
So, what do you think? How should Garrity and her team tackle, and wrestle with this octopus? Some public hearings have been held and more input is needed. If you’ve hiked, or biked, or ridden your trusty steed in this, or any park, you’ve no doubt said, “why don’t they …” or, “If I was designing a trail …” Well, here’s your chance. For more on the planning process and how you can participate, check out the Web site, If you want to contact Garrity and get on her newsletter and email list, drop her a line, with your ideas, at
Meanwhile, get out and enjoy the summer. Daylight only gets shorter after June 21st, you know.

Yellow Warblers abound in the CVNP

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Just One of Those Days

Peregrine Falcon, up close and personal

It started out to be just another day of bird census work in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park for Susan and me. It turned into one of the more exciting days of the summer—so far.
Heading south on Riverview Road near Peninsula, we spotted some of our birding friends standing in the middle of the road where it passes beneath I-80. This is a spot known for nesting Peregrine Falcons the past three years, so our assumption was that they were looking at a bird high above in the superstructure of the bridge.
Not so. The bird was sitting on the guard rail next to Riverview Road. I have to remember to wait for the car to stop rolling before I jump out at one of these exciting happenings. Especially when I’m the driver. But that’s another story. Sitting there, posing like it was an everyday happening for Peregrine Falcons, was a fledgling. The bird seemed to be mostly talons and big eyes. Terrifyingly cute like most juveniles. Cautiously blocking any attempt the bird might make to get on the road, was Cuyahoga Falls resident Pat Haddad. Along with Pat were veteran birders Bill Osborne, Bob Furst and Judy Tisdale.

Chad and Chris Saladin approach—cautiously

The bird seemed unconcerned about our concern for its welfare. While we discussed what to do and who to call, it checked out the local starling population that seemed to be part of the brunch menu. Bob jumped in his SUV and headed for the park ranger station at the nearby Boston Store. Far below, on the valley floor, we saw two people photographing something above them on the bridgeworks. We discerned it was Chad and Chris Saladin, Peregrine Falcon nest monitors in this area. After more jumping and yelling on our part than the Cleveland Browns do in a daily workout, we got their attention.

Chad and Chris do a quick inspection to be sure the bird is not injured. Bill Osborne looks on.

They immediately recognized our plight and headed up to resolve the issue. With expert handling, including really thick gloves, Chad and Chris captured the wayward fledgling, a female Chad said, then released the bird. He said she just started flying two days before and this was the fifth time he had to rescue her from the guard rail. The bird flew off as best it could in the general direction of its parent who waited above with a tasty Rock Pigeon treat.
When most of your views of this species are while it’s perched hundreds of feet away, or flying at 200+ miles per hour, having one sit for a portrait turns any day into something special. Chad and Chris are just a couple of the many unsung heroes in this area helping to protect these special birds.

Happiness is freedom of flight in a national park as Chad releases the falcon

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rainy Days and Mondays …

Rainy Monday morning solitude

I glanced at the leaden sky as I loaded on my gear. I rationalized the dreary weather with the thought that it was not quite 7 a.m. and maybe the sun decided to sleep in. It was Monday, after all. Today was day-four of the annual Akron Audubon/Summit County Nesting Bird Census. And while any excuse to get into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is good, this study is particularly important. It’s been going on for more than 30 years and is beginning to show some trending data regarding birds in this region.
Since birds can’t do much about weather, I figured the least I could do was play the game on their terms. Most people take a rain check when it comes to birding in the rain. I think it offers a whole different perspective and provides another window on nature.
Although it wasn’t raining as I started, I prepared. These days, I carry so many electronic gadgets, I feared if it rained hard enough, I might electrocute myself. In the end, I did not have enough small plastic bags to protect all my stuff. I opted to sacrifice my wallet since the plastic cards will endure and what little bit of paper money I had could be laundered—so to speak.
The first hour went well. Adequate numbers of birds were about, including an Orchard Oriole, always a special sighting in this park. About the time I reached the furthest extent of my tether, so to speak, the rain started. It was just a light drizzle, the kind that lulls one into thinking maybe rain gear isn’t necessary. Next thing you know you’re soaked and scrambling to protect your valuables.
I was glad that I paid the few extra bucks for the GoreTex rain jacket. It actually seemed to be working as advertised. Although the humidity was certainly rising, I seemed to be relatively dry, at least from the waist up.
While most birding activity shut down, or moved to the interior of the forest where it was more sheltered, it seemed obvious that life goes on, even in the rain. A Yellow Warbler stood on a branch with a large insect; lunch for the kids. A Gray Catbird passed in front of me with nesting material. Two American Robins copulated on a wood fence post.
I thought of the many times, fishing with my dad in the rain (he never stopped) when he’d respond to my whining, saying, “You won’t melt.” And he was right, of course. He was also wise enough not to add, “and you might learn something.”

In case anyone shows up today ...

Monday, June 07, 2010

Learning from the Locals

Hmmmm, looks like dinner.

On our way home from the recent trip out west, Susan and I stopped in St. Louis for a few days to visit with her relatives. As a way of keeping me happy (We have a prenuptial agreement that I do not have to go to St. Louis in June, July or August when heat and humidity are off the charts.), I was invited to fish a private lake while in town. And since it doesn’t take much to lure me into fishing, I graciously accepted the invite. According to my host, the fish in this lake were (alternately) dying of old age or had to take turns swimming there were so many.
I was hoping one of the locals might be about so I could ask what the fish were hitting, but as luck would have it, I was fishing alone that first morning. Apparently I’d have to fall back on my 60-plus years of experience, not always a reliable source.
As I lined my rod I was keeping one eye on the dark clouds scudding overhead, one eye on a Great Blue Heron at the end of the earthen dam, and one eye on a Scarlet Tanager that had flown into the tree above the heron. The lightning-strike flash of the heron, instantly followed by the clap of thunder splash made by the fish it had just pinioned with its beak, served to focus my attention on the task at hand.
The heron seemed to be out matched by the large catfish. The bird wisely tossed the fish to its side, higher up on the dry land at the top of the dam. At nearly the same instant, two young raccoons dashed out of the cover of weeds at the edge of the woods. The frightened heron bobbed when it should have weaved, as one raccoon nimbly grabbed the fish in its mouth. The pair of thieves, both wearing black masks so identifying the perpetrators will be tough, dashed into the woods.
Not to cave in to personification, however, the heron looked right, then left and seemed a bit bewildered.
Okay, I thought. First lesson from the locals is not to toss onto the bank any fish you’re planning to have for dinner.

Teeth marks on your thumb at the end of the day is the best indicator of some great bass fishing.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Gimmie the Road Less Traveled

Some roads are not built for sissies

When I told a friend we were going to be birding in the Pawnee National Grasslands in northeastern Colorado, his comment was a distinct, “humph.” That can translate several ways: Why? What’s there? Or, don’t you have something better to do with your time?

Western Meadowlarks for entertainment

It is a stark, desolate and beautiful place. The day Susan and I spent in this windswept corner of the country was gorgeous. We saw one van full of what might have been birders, two women on horseback and a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer. We also watched a majestic Golden Eagle on its throne that looked like a windmill, numerous Swainson’s Hawks hunting, Pronghorns doing their Pronghorn thing, and a colorful array of a couple dozen bird species. It was a busy day for that part of the world.
As usual, the beauty is in the details. From 30,000 feet above, the area does look rather abandoned. Even from five feet above it’s tough to see much. You have to get down and dirty to see the real thing.

Beauty in the details

And, as with most other things in life, if you stop and look and listen, it’s a whole different story.

Rattlesnake playing defense. Photo by Susan Jones