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When Governor DeWine announced on March 13 that schools would be closing for three weeks for an extended spring break sponsored by COVID-19, I did what I imagine most parents of small children did – I panicked. How would I keep my seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son entertained while preserving my own sanity?
The next morning, the answer dawned on me – we’d go outside, of course. I’d been taking the kids hiking for years, but recently our family’s free time had been surrendered to the usual suspects: school and soccer, birthday parties and swimming lessons. We hadn’t been able to go on as many outdoor adventures lately as we would’ve liked. That was about to change.
On our first day of social distancing, we hiked the Ledges Trail at Summit Metro Parks’ Liberty Park in Twinsburg. The trail is one of our go-to spots, and though we’d walked through the sandstone ledges, climbed the rocks and explored Glacier Cave countless times before, that day felt different. I don’t know about the kids, but I was particularly grateful for the sunshine and fresh air.
The next week took us to Bridal Veil Falls in Cleveland Metroparks’ Bedford Reservation. I assumed we’d hike the trail and look at the waterfall, but my kids had other ideas – like creek walking in 50° temperatures and racing leaves over the falls. Sure, why not? What’s a little mud in the minivan in the name of fun?
At Deep Lock Quarry Metro Park in Peninsula, the kids insisted on climbing to the top of the quarry wall not once but twice, because they have too much energy and not nearly enough fear. In less nerve-wracking activities, they found a culvert by the side of the trail and decided to yell messages to one another from either side of it. I quickly found myself adopting a ‘whatever works’ attitude.
The Oakhill Trailhead in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park reminded me that sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery. About a half mile in on the Plateau Trail, you reach a tunnel of trees that feels a little bit magical. My kids spent a good 30 minutes racing and skipping from one end of it to the other. If I’d suggested they do that on the sidewalk in front of our house, they’d have looked at me with utter disdain, but since we were in the tree tunnel, it was, and I quote, ‘the most fun ever!’
CVNP’s Ledges Trail in Peninsula is one of the park’s most popular spots thanks to its stunning overlook and impressive rock formations. To beat the crowds, we ventured out early, which is a sign of how much the kids love that trail – if they’re excited to go somewhere at 8am, it must really be special.
Gorge Metro Park in Cuyahoga Falls took my breath away – from watching the Cuyahoga rush over the dam to seeing my kids dwarfed by Mary Campbell Cave as we hiked the Gorge Trail. And though we probably didn’t burn enough calories to justify it, we couldn’t not hit up the Swenson’s right around the corner for milkshakes and onion rings afterwards.
I’ll tell you a secret – if you see a pretty picture of a park that someone’s posted on social media, they’ll tell you where it is if you ask (us nature people are pretty friendly). That’s how we learned about the Richfield Heritage Preserve, a former Girl Scout camp with gorgeously shaded trails and a host of unexpected finds, like a rope swing and a secret waterfall.
The sprinkler and the kiddie pool in our backyard entertained the kids through June, but once July hit, it was clear we’d have to find new ways to beat the heat. We stopped at the pet store to get aquarium nets via curbside pickup (add that to the growing list of things I never thought I’d do pre-COVID) and headed to the Brecksville Reservation to catch minnows and tadpoles in Chippewa Creek.
Sulphur Springs Picnic Area in the South Chagrin Reservation has long been one of my favorite summer destinations, because what kid (or adult, for that matter) doesn’t want to play in a waterfall? Now that my kids are older and more adventurous, they insisted on hiking downstream on our most recent visit to see what else we might find, and we were treated to more kid-sized waterfalls and a number of fallen trees perfect for balance-beaming our way across.
On a recent morning we ventured north to Euclid Beach Park, and I foolishly thought we’d just walk the trails and maybe throw some rocks in the lake. As soon as the kids saw the waves, though, I knew I’d be going home with soaked children. I’d been missing our usual beach vacation this summer, but who needs the ocean when you have a great lake?
We can’t go on an adventure every day, of course, and there are plenty of times when I ask my kids what they want to do that day and they shout, ‘Not go for a hike!’ That said, we’re almost always happier on the days we get outside. Though the cause of all our newfound free time weighs heavily on me more often than not, as I watch my kids splash in the water or jump off a big rock or excitedly point out a cardinal, it’s easy to forget about the real world for a moment, and I find myself grateful that our lives have slowed down, allowing us to explore together.