The Story of the Beaver Marsh

Gray tree trunks rise from the water of a wetland reflecting blue sky; green lily pads float on the water and a wooden boardwalk railing stands in the foreground.
The Beaver Marsh can be viewed from the Towpath Trail, which becomes a boardwalk over the marsh.

© Jeffrey Gibson

Throughout the year, the Beaver Marsh teems with life. Depending on the month, you may be serenaded by choirs of countless frogs, watch turtles swim among lily pads, glimpse a beaver nibbling on a willow branch, or hear northern cardinals call from snowy trees. The Beaver Marsh is among the most diverse natural communities in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The exceptional scenery and wildlife make it one of the park’s most popular destinations. Here you can enjoy photography, bird watching, and sharing nature with family and friends.

A two-bay garage stands along a rural road, marked by a sign hanging on a high pole.
Burl Tonkin's auto shop on Riverview Road, circa the early 1980s.


Marshland Restoration

Starting in the 1800s, land development drained the original wetland. The Ohio & Erie Canal came through. Darwin Carter had a dairy farm near Lock 26 in the early 1900s. Later, Burl Tonkin ran an auto repair shop on a nearby property along Riverview Road. Burl loved to tinker, so it was surrounded by old cars and worn-out parts. The extended Tonkin family lived in three homes across the street in what is now Howe Meadow. Two other families had homes by what is now Ira Trailhead.

During the establishment of the national park, efforts by humans and beavers transformed this site back into a wetland. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the federal government purchased land here and removed the buildings. The young park envisioned a special event site on the west side of Riverview Road and considered building a parking lot for it on the east side. Around the same time, beavers started returning to the valley. They had been absent from Ohio for over a century, trapped out for their fur. Beavers gradually built a system of dams that flooded the area. By altering their environment and creating deep water, beavers can enter their lodge underwater and swim to gather building supplies and food, avoiding the dangers of land. Beaver dams and lodges were well established by 1985 when the land tracts were inventoried.

Four people, two in a canoe and two on land, lift a large rusted hunk of metal from a marsh surrounded by green trees and shrubs.
The Sierra Club helps clean up the area in 1984.

© Tom Fritsch

In the mid 1980s, the park began cleaning up small dump sites throughout what was now called "Beaver Marsh." The largest was organized by Sierra Club volunteers in 1984. Together with the National Park Service, they hauled away car parts, bed springs, and accumulated trash.

Humans cleaned up and preserved the land. Beavers restored natural water levels, awakening long-dormant seeds in the soil. Wetland plants returned, creating habitat for diverse wildlife.

Close-up of dark green, round lily pad leaves floating on water; a white blossom with yellow center partially covered by one of the leaves.
Sweet-scented water lilies bloom in summer.

© Bruce Winges

A Vital Resource

Ohio has lost nearly 90% of its wetlands to development. Nationally, 46% of endangered or threatened species need wetlands. Cuyahoga Valley National Park protects nearly 1,500 individual wetlands covering over 1,900 acres of parkland. Many of these are less than one acre. The 70-acre Beaver Marsh is significant because of its size, rich seed bed, complex water chemistry, and diversity of life.

To measure wetland health, resource managers use the Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity (VIBI). Scientists found highly sensitive wetland plants such as hairy fruited sedge, skunk cabbage, marsh fern, speckled alder, buttonbush, and sweet-scented water lily. In some degraded areas, invasive plants such as narrow-leaved cattail, common reed, and purple loosestrife are crowding out other species.

The VIBI plant surveys also confirmed that there are several microhabitats within the marshland, supporting distinct plant communities. This mosaic, in turn, supports a greater variety of wildlife.

The Beaver Marsh reminds us of what can happen when natural places are protected and natural processes are allowed to occur. However, we must remain vigilant to threats that could undermine its pristine qualities. As you enjoy the serene beauty and abundant wildlife, consider your role in ensuring that the Beaver Marsh has a bright future.

Five people, two wearing bike helmets, peer down over the railing of a wooden boardwalk; green cattails and trees in the background.
Cyclists and other visitors can stop at the Beaver Marsh to view wildlife.

© Jeffrey Gibson

Visiting the Marsh

The Beaver Marsh is located a quarter mile north of Ira Trailhead along the Towpath Trail. The easy walk is accessible by wheelchair or stroller. For a longer walk, start at Hunt House Trailhead and walk three-quarters of a mile south. The Towpath Trail can be congested here. Please exercise caution by staying to the right and watching for passing cyclists. If you are out at night, wear reflective clothing and carry a flashlight.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Last updated: June 29, 2022