NPS Seeks Comment on Proposed Regulation for Off-Road Bicycle Trails
NPShas proposed a special regulation to designate and authorize off-road bicycle use on new trails constructed outside of developed areas in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The public is invited to provide comment until Monday, December 15, 2014. More »
Valley Bridle Trail south of SR 303, across from golf course, is collapsed by river. Hard closure. Plateau Trail Bridge, north of Valley Picnic Area is closed. No detours. Plateau & Oak Hill trails are open. More »
The grassy fields you see at Cuyahoga Valley National Park used to be forest. CVNP’s meadows were once farm fields, rock quarrying sites, or other land people cleared of trees. When the land was abandoned, switchgrass, bromegrass, timothy, and others grasses began to grow, creating meadow ecosystems. Once grassland plants take hold, the ecosystem’s food chain develops. Insects, voles, mice, and birds that feed on grasses, sedges, and flowering plants soon show up. Once there’s prey to eat, predators like hawks, owls, snakes, foxes, and coyotes quickly follow. The old field meadow ecosystems of CVNP are full of brightly colored life. Goldenrod, milkweed, and asters bloom with flowers visited by dozens of different butterflies. Grassland songbirds, including meadowlarks and savannah sparrow come to eat, breed, and nest.
Important Meadow “Weeds”
Two of the meadow ecosystem’s members have an especially close connection. Like many butterflies, black and orange adult monarchs drink the nectar of goldenrod and other wildflowers. CVNP is an important feeding and rest stop for monarchs migrating south to Mexico in early September. Summer breeding monarchs also take advantage of another of the park’s meadow plants—milkweed. Monarchs have a special relationship with milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed leaves. Without milkweed, monarch caterpillars can’t grow into butterflies. The secret is what’s in the milkweed. The plant has toxins that don’t hurt the monarchs, but builds up in the skin and makes them poisonous. When a bird eats a monarch, it has a minor heart attack and spits out its dangerous meal.
From Basketball to Bobolinks
One of CVNP’s largest grassland areas was once a basketball arena. When the old home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Richfield Coliseum, was torn down acres of asphalt parking lots were also removed. Now it’s a 327-acre restored grassland and wildflower meadow. The former Coliseum site is large enough to attract rare grassland birds, like Henslow’s sparrows. They come during the summer to breed and make their fragile nests down among the thick grasses. National Audubon has given the remarkable site Important Bird Area status.
One of the grassland birds you can see at the former Coliseum site is the bobolink. These birds winter in South America, where they are a dull yellow-brown color. In the spring, bobolinks fly to CVNP to breed and nest. The meadow ecosystem of the former Coliseum site has plenty of seeds and insects for bobolinks to eat, and the grasses they need to nest in. Before arriving in Ohio, a male bobolink molts into a new coat of glossy black and white feathers. This helps him to impress a mate. Once breeding season is over, he changes back to his dull coat.
If left alone, the meadow ecosystems of CVNP won’t stay grasslands for very long. Over time, bushes, thickets, and then trees will move in. This natural process, called succession, changes the landscape back to the forest it once was. It’s another example of the ever-changing ecosystems of the Cuyahoga Valley.
Did You Know?
American Indians in the Cuyahoga Valley were influenced by the Hopewell Culture, which created large mound complexes in central Ohio from 100 B.C. – A.D. 500? In the Cuyahoga Valley, American Indians built small mounds rather than large ceremonial centers.