When snow finally comes this winter, you won't want to miss your chance to get outside to play and enjoy the natural wonder of winter with your kids. Consider taking them sledding at the Virginia Kendall Hills in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. For kids, there is nothing quite like the thrill of speeding down the hills on a sled. For adults with kids, the remarkable setting of the hills can turn the trudge back to the top into an opportunity for natural discovery. At the Virginia Kendall Hills, great scenery and natural diversity combine to enhance a day in the snow.
The wonder of the hills will become apparent from the moment you arrive. Some of the most panoramic scenery in Cuyahoga Valley National Park can be viewed right from the parking lot. Try to pause a minute to take in the view -- a challenge with the lure of steep hills calling to your young sledders.
The hills overlook an area whose history includes farming by the Ritchie family and then development for recreation by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Virginia Kendall Lake -- created by a CCC-built dam -- sits at the bottom of the hills. Look into the distance to see the variety of oak, hickory, and beech trees that have reclaimed the former farmland. Mixed in, you can see the dark green of stands of white and red pine forests that were planted by the CCC to hurry forest regeneration. The open views atop the sledding hills are also a great place to look for red-tailed hawks sailing high overhead.
The shape of the hills is typical of slopes in the Cuyahoga Valley, but the absence of trees makes the contours more apparent. Water erosion gave the slopes their shape. As your kids launch on their trip down the hill, can you get them to image themselves as a raindrop rolling down the hill, carving the landscape? Can they trace the route the water took, creating gullies in a pattern of joining branches?
Walks back up the hill, when your pace slows down, become the chance to really look around. How many animals or signs of wildlife can you find? When the snow is soft and wet, it is often possible to find many different animal tracks, ranging from the tiniest meadow vole trails to the large footprints of coyotes. Along the forest edges, you might discover raccoon, opossum, and red squirrel tracks leading to and from the woodlands. In addition to looking for tracks, listen for sounds of red squirrels chattering high in the pines. Bluebirds -- easily identified by their bright blue feathers and rust-and-white chest -- may also dart around the forest edge.
Your visit to the Virginia Kendall Hills should be an escape from your everyday life into the rush of speed, the inspiration of spectacular views, the wonder of nature, and the awe of the power of water to create a landscape. A final, seemingly simple question reveals the story of a family trying to find similar values in the past.
The question: How did the hills get their name? The answer: Hayward Kendall, while trying to escape the hustle and bustle of city life in Cleveland in 1913, purchased 15 acres and built a simple cabin for weekend retreats on the Ritchie farm. He later ventured into the coal business and became a millionaire. He continued to purchase land in the Richie farm area, acquiring 430 acres. When he died his will established a trust fund to maintain the property as a park in memory of his mother Virginia. His will gave first option to the National Park Service, which declined it. The State of Ohio accepted the gift and Summit Metro Parks agreed to manage the park land. In 1978, the State of Ohio transferred the land to the National Park Service.
The Virginia Kendall Hills can be accessed from the Pine Hollow parking area (5465 Quick Road, one mile east of Akron-Peninsula Road in Peninsula). For more information, call 330-657-2752 or visit www.nps.gov/cuva.
Editor's note: Vasarhelyi is Chief of Interpretation, Education and Visitor Services for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.