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Coyote tracks, lanterns hanging from snow-covered trees, tales of a haunted manor house and learning to snow shoe . . . this is winter weekend fun in Northeast Ohio.
I love Cleveland history, and I love exploring the fun things that Northeast Ohio has to offer. I thought I’d share some of my favorite winter (or spring) activities with you, providing a little historical context to help you appreciate how these wonderful treasures came to be.
For years, while driving on Lakeshore Boulevard toward Bratenahl, I saw what looked like an abandoned military installation and wondered what it was. In searching for a winter nature hike, I stumbled upon my answer and discovered a beautiful nature retreat.
The government installation was the old Nike Missile Base built during the cold war to counter an airborne threat from the Soviet Union. The base is inactive and today, the Defense Contract Management Agency is located there. The missile control area was located in Gordon Park, which is where the rest of the story continues.
William J. Gordon, a wholesale grocer and iron-ore dealer, believed that everyone should have access to our beautiful lake. Gordon accumulated 122 acres of land along the shoreline near the Doan Brook entrance to the lake. In 1893, he willed his land to the City of Cleveland, stipulating that the park always be open to the public and remain Gordon Park. Imagine a millionaire doing this today!
In 1962, the shoreline of Gordon Park would change forever when two old freighters were sunk offshore to create a break wall to protect the park’s beach. Formerly known as Dike 14, the land mass began when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers disposed of sediment dredged from the Cuyahoga River in a walled-off area. After the dumping stopped in 1999, nature took over! In 2012, the Cleveland Metroparks took over the administration of this land and the Cleveland Lakefront Nature preserve, an 88-acre man-made peninsula, opened to the public. I knew that I had to check it out!
I went on a free hike with two naturalists from the Metroparks, hoping to see a red fox or coyote, known to inhabit the shoreline peninsula. Our guides pointed out deer, bird species and coyote tracks. Along the one-mile hike, we even saw an ice fisherman! We reached the overlook on the western side of the peninsula and the view of downtown and the frozen lake was breathtaking. The contrast of the blue sky against the white ice was striking. I can’t wait to go back and hike there again.
I’ve been on a horse drawn sleigh ride a few times in my life, so I was excited when I stumbled upon Ma and Pa’s Gift Shack in Burton, Ohio. From Solon, it was a short drive. On the property, the owners had moved a 1820s log cabin up from Zanesville, Ohio. Once inside the charming cabin, we enjoyed a cup of maple coffee out on the screened-in porch. In front of a small fireplace, covered with a faux, bear-skinned blanket, I admired the décor—canoe hanging from the ceiling, a small wooden cart filled with pinecones and rope fish netting hanging from the wall.
As we boarded the sleigh, Harry, our Amish driver, greeted us (first Amish Harry I’ve ever met). We started off into the snow-covered woods on a path dotted by kerosene lanterns hanging from the trees. The trail opened into a clearing, and I looked up at the clear, dark, star-filled sky. Harry said that an earlier passenger proposed to his girlfriend—how romantic! The entire ride lasted about 25 minutes. I was so glad that we took an evening sleigh ride instead of one of the day rides. As we were leaving, the owner told us to come back for one of the maple syrup gathering weekends in March.
I love a good ghost story, and the stories about Punderson Manor don’t disappoint! One of the spookiest stories supposedly occurred in 1979 when three employees were talking late at night near the front desk in the manor house. One employee went for coffee in the kitchen and returned a little later, asking the other two to follow her. The three went to the room that’s now the Manor lounge, where they saw an apparition dressed like a lumberjack hanging from a rope that disappeared into the ceiling. The three watched for hours as the apparition dangled from what appeared to be nowhere. As the sun rose, the figure disappeared.
Punderson’s history isn’t one of tragedy or scandal. Lemuel Punderson and his wife, Sybal, settled the land and built a small estate there. They constructed a dam on the south side of the lake and used the outflowing water as a power source for their gristmill and distillery. After their deaths, the property was sold to W.B. Cleveland, whose heirs sold it to Detroit millionaire, Karl Long, in 1929. That same year, construction began on the English-Tudor manor house that was believed to be for Long’s wife. However, Long lost his fortune during the Great Depression and died before the home was completed. The property reverted back to its original owners, the Cleveland family, and eventually to the State of Ohio, which finally completed construction on the mansion in 1956, making it into a lodge with dining.
The day of our visit, it was snowing quite a bit, so the manor house looked gorgeous. During our stay, we went on a hike on the trails around the property. If you have snowshoes or cross-country skis, you can use them on the trails as well. We spent most of our time on the sled hill –it’s steep and fast. After sledding, we returned to the manor house for some hot chocolate and then we were off to the indoor pool to swim. The bad weather continued, so we actually ended up staying another night. What a great place to get snowed in! We had a lot of great experiences at Punderson, but unfortunately none were paranormal.
The Holden Arboretum is one of my favorite places to visit. First, let me share the Holden story with you.
Albert Fairchild "Bert" Holden was born in Cleveland in 1866. His mother, Delia Bulkley, was instrumental in founding the Cleveland School of Art, precursor to the Cleveland Institute of Art. His father, Liberty Holden, founded The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Although the family moved to Utah before 1880, like many of us from Northeast Ohio, Holden felt connected to Cleveland. He made his fortune in mining and was a mineral collector and botanist. Holden wanted to create a memorial for his eldest daughter, Elizabeth Davis Holden, who passed away in 1908 from scarlet fever. Holden’s sister, Roberta Holden Bole, convinced him to create an arboretum for Cleveland (instead of Harvard University). And so—The Holden Arboretum began in 1931 with a bequest from Albert Fairchild Holden. Thank you, Roberta!
Snowshoeing is one of my favorite activities at the Arboretum. Just pay admission and the snowshoeing is free. There are organized hikes or you can just go on your own. If you have never walked in snowshoes before, it can be awkward at first. After the hike, we went up to the lobby of the Thayer Center. It’s super cozy in there with a fireplace and a large window with bird feeders right outside. I peeked in the adjacent classroom, which had a great view of the pond outside. Every time I visit, I walk away thinking about how beautiful this place is. I was excited to learn that The Murch Canopy Walk, a 500 feet long elevated walkway built 65 feet above the ground, will open in fall 2015. I can’t wait to check it out!
Eighty-eight acres on Lake Erie. Audubon Ohio designated as an Important Bird Area. The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority manages the preserve,...