Planning at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Planning is an essential part of ensuring that the services, facilties, and experiences in parks meet the needs and expectations of a wide variey of visitors while providing for the protection of park resources. Implementation plans and actions are based on multiple factors including environmental impact, cost, public safety, and visitor experience This page will provide information on current and past planning efforts and provide you with information on how to get involved where possible. Visit for more project information.

Community Access Plan

Since Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s general management plan was completed in 1977, visitation has grown significantly. With this growth the uses of the park and needs of the public have changed. In 2020 the park began creating a Community Access Plan (CAP) to update guidance on providing visitor opportunities while protecting resources. The plan identifies actions that address current visitor use challenges (congestion, parking, and circulation), improve equitable access, and enhance the visitor experience and the park’s natural and cultural environment. It also updates the management zones for the park and identifies the plan for river access amenities. It follows the Federal Interagency Visitor Use Management Planning Framework.

The draft plan was open for comment in the summer of 2022. The hundreds of comments provided by the public were analyzed and incorporated into the final plan that included preferred options.

Circulation Environmental Assessment

The team then produced a draft Circulation Environmental Assessment (EA) and shared it for public comment in the summer of 2023. The purpose of this step was to analyze high-priority and near-term actions in the Community Access Plan for potential environmental impacts. High-priority actions included those that would improve visitor opportunities, address congestion, parking, and visitor circulation via trails and pathways.

The EA analyzed the planned actions and considered potential impacts on archeological resources, cultural landscapes, historic structures, soils, vegetation, and visitor experience. The analysis found no significant impacts, as described in the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) document.

Next Steps

The National Park Service will begin implementing actions outlined in the EA over the next few years. The timeline for implementation depends on when funding is available. Some of the actions are:

  • Rehabilitate Towpath Trail surface with chip-sealed asphalt. Based on public comments, the park will research options within chip-seal that best meet the needs of diverse recreational use groups, including runners, walkers and cyclists. Chip-seal was chosen:
    • To support maintenance and recreational use while visually representing the historic character of the towpath. The Ohio & Erie Canal Cultural Landscape Report calls for a consistent surface with a color closely matching natural dirt.
    • To improve public safety. Most Towpath accidents happen at points where the trail surface changes.
    • To maintain the trail in a cost-effective way. Planners compared cost estimates between crushed limestone and chip-sealed asphalt that included actual construction and life-cycle maintenance. Chip-sealed asphalt is more cost-effective.
  • Improve parking and access at East Rim Trail and Everett Covered Bridge. Remove parking spaces or entire lots in less utilized areas. Add time-limited parking in popular areas such as Brandywine Falls and Boston Mill Visitor Center.

  • Create a limited mobility parking area and accessible trail for Blue Hen Falls.

  • Enhance connections by supporting Cleveland Metroparks’ and Summit Metro Parks’ development of the multiuse Sagamore Connector Trail from Canal Road to the Bike & Hike Trail.

For the full list of actions in the final plan and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), visit the National Park Service Planning, Environment & Public Comment (PEPC) website.


Cultural Landscape Report: Ohio & Erie Canal

The Cultural Landscape Report guides the management of the Ohio & Erie Canal to ensure the continued physical and visual representation of its history. Outlining treatment recommendations and character guidance, the report supports future planning decisions. The report breaks up the park into detail areas of the Canal Exploration Center, Boston, and Peninsula. The guidance from the Cultural Landscape Report links with the Community Access Plan to incorporate modifications to provide visitors with the best experience of the canal. Work on the Cultural Landscape Report began in 2020 and completed October 2022.


Strategic Action Plan (2016-2021)

Cuyahoga Valley National Park began implementing its strategic action plan in 2016. The park developed a vision and main goal, then developed supporting goals and objectives to accomplish the main goal, or victory.

Park Vision:

In 2021, the Cuyahoga River Watershed, its communities, and Cuyahoga Valley National Park are international symbols of human and ecosystem renewal.

Supporting Visions:

  • The Resource Management team is a united force for the protection and restoration of the Cuyahoga River Watershed.

  • The Visitor and Resource Protection team is valued as proactive leaders in managing river use and watershed protection.

  • The Maintenance team is a champion and protector of the Cuyahoga River Watershed and its natural and cultural resources.

  • The Interpretation, Education and Visitor Services team is regarded as a powerful communicator of a compelling and unified message about the river’s story in human, urban, and ecosystem renewal.

To achieve that vision, the park developed a specific, measurable achievement called a victory statement.

Park Victory Statement:

By 2021, the Cuyahoga River is no longer listed as an environmental Area of Concern and this achievement is celebrated through national and international environmental awards and designations.

To support that work, each division and the park as a whole, developed goals and objectives that would help move the park toward that greater vision and victory.

Accomplishments to Date:

  • Designated the entire Cuyhoga River as an Ohio State Water Trail.

  • Began the reforestation and restoration of hundreds of acres of land within the Cuyahoga River Watershed.

  • Piloted innovative stormwater capture and management techniques.

  • Commemorated the 50th anniversary of the final burning of the Cuyahoga River and celebrated 50 years of environmental progress.

  • Improved recreational experiences on the Cuyahoga river.

  • The Brecksville Diversion Dam near Station Road Bridge has been removed. Learn more about the dam's removal, which occurred in 2020.

  • Partnered with Northeast Ohio Sewer District to dredge portions of the canal, improving the condition of wetlands and the historic resource along the Cuyahoga.

  • Evaluated eligibility of the Cuyahoga River within the park for inclusion under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Program.

Additional projects are in the works. Check out the river restoration project page for more information on some of the projects.


Trail Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement

The park completed a Trail Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement in 2012. Through that planning process, the park conducted extensive public involvement and internal scoping. The plan focused on developing a bluepring to guide the expansion, restoration, management, operations, and use of the trail system for the next 15 years. The plan proposed five alternatives, including a no action alternative. The preferred alternative as determined through the environmental process was Alternative 5, which focused on the following:

  • Limiting the increase in new trails to under 35 miles

  • Establishing new trail facilities.

  • Establish limited off-road single-track bicycle trail area of approximately 10 miles.

  • Limit expansion of equestrian trails, while improving facilities and existing trails for this use.

  • Provide trails that limit the overall impact to park resources.

A variety of new trails were proposed under this alternative as were additional amenities like paddle launch sites on the river, campsites, and improvements to parking areas and other facilities.


Foundation Document

A park foundation describes the core mission of the park unit by identifying the purpose, significance, fundamental and other important resources and values, interpretive themes, special mandates and administrative commitments, and the unit’s setting in the regional context. It also presents an assessment of planning and data needs that will guide future planning efforts for the park unit.

Park Purpose

The purpose of Cuyahoga Valley National Park is to preserve and protect for public use and enjoyment the historic, scenic, natural, and recreational values of the Cuyahoga River and its valley; to maintain the necessary recreational open space in connection with the urban environment; and to provide for the recreational and educational needs of the visiting public.

Park Significance

Significance statements express why Cuyahoga Valley National Park resources and values are important enough to merit national park unit designation. Statements of significance describe why an area is important within a global, national, regional, and systemwide context. These statements are linked to the purpose of the park unit, and are supported by data, research, and consensus. Significance statements describe the distinctive nature of the park and inform management decisions, focusing efforts on preserving and protecting the most important resources and values of the park unit.

The following significance statements have been identified for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. (Please note that the statements are in no particular order):

  1. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is an island of high ecological integrity within a densely populated urban region. Situated along a major river system at the southern edge of Lake Erie, and bordering the edge of Ice Age glaciation between the Appalachian Mountains and the Great Plains, the park’s location supports a high biological diversity and provides a vital habitat corridor for migrating species.

  2. Rooted in national environmental and social movements of the 20th century, the establishment of the park was a community-driven response to urban sprawl and ecological abuses epitomized by fires on the Cuyahoga River. The park continues to lead in restoring degraded landscapes, perpetuating environmental awareness, and promoting the ethic of stewardship and sustainability.

  3. Resources in the Cuyahoga Valley illustrate a continuum of transportation corridors from early Native American to modern times. Of national significance, the Ohio & Erie Canal was part of the first interstate transportation system in lands known as the U.S. interior to the East Coast. This opened up the entire region for industrialization and contributed to the growth of the economy at a critical time in U.S. history.

  4. Cuyahoga Valley National Park protects a large and diverse collection of cultural resources in the Midwestern United States, consisting of more than 600 examples of historic structures, cultural landscapes, and archeological sites. This exceptional assemblage conveys themes that include Native American and later settlement, transportation, agriculture, industry, and recreation.

  5. Cuyahoga Valley National Park came into being in 1974 as a unified patchwork of land ownership sewn together by an unprecedented grassroots effort of community partners. As an outgrowth of this partnership origin, the park has become an innovator and a national leader in shared stewardship models through its dynamic community engagement, nationally recognized partnerships, and one of the largest volunteer programs in the country.

  6. Located within a one-hour drive of over three million people, Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers in-depth, active, and innovative education and recreation opportunities that can provide a first national park experience to a large urban audience. These experiences are exemplified by a large community-connected trail system, a residential environmental education center, a scenic railroad, and a network of sustainable farms.

Interpretive Themes

The stories of a national park, a river, and two cities come together in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The park protects the Cuyahoga River and its valley between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. Beginning with Native Americans, this area was a critical link in a transportation route between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. During the canal era, Cleveland and Akron grew from frontier villages to industrial powerhouses. By the late 1880s, city residents began enjoying the valley for its natural beauty and outdoor recreation.

Efforts to protect the valley and develop recreational amenities began in the 1920s through Ohio’s first metropolitan park systems. National value for large parks in metropolitan settings emerged in the Civil Rights era through the Parks to the People Movement. Embracing local support, Congress created Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 1974. Congress brought further emphasis to outdoor recreation, historic preservation, and natural resource protection when it created the Ohio & Erie Canalway in 1996 as a national heritage area. The heritage area physically links the park to the cities.

Today, the park helps expand the definition of what a national park can be. Its stories reveal how natural and human forces can transform a landscape. They tell of survival, conflict, adaptability, ingenuity, hope, healing, and renewal.

The following interpretive themes have been identified for Cuyahoga Valley National Park:

  • A Crucial Transportation Link - The Cuyahoga River creates a crucial transportation route used by people and wildlife, linking the valley to other locations and interconnecting their stories.
  • A Lived-In Valley - Cuyahoga Valley National Park protects a large and diverse collection of over 600 historic resources, cultural landscapes, and archeological sites that have been shaped by over 500 generations of people. Their stories of building homes, making a living, and creating communities are typical of human experiences, but also specific to place.
  • A Park for People - The Cuyahoga River valley has provided metropolitan residents with access to the countryside for nature, scenery, and outdoor recreation since the time that Cleveland and Akron became major industrial centers in the late 1800s. Today, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a place where people seek personal health, wellness, and renewal. Located within a one-hour drive to over three million people, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has the potential to be a park for all.
  • A Refuge for Natural Diversity - The park provides refuge for a diverse variety of native plants and wildlife that survive in the Cuyahoga River valley. Its metropolitan setting makes the valley a case study of nature’s resilience, teaching us about the potential and limits for renewing nature within human communities.
  • An Icon of the Environmental Movement - The Cuyahoga River is a little river with a big story. The 1969 Cuyahoga River fire in Cleveland was an iconic moment that put a global spotlight on water pollution. Public response helped lead to environmental activism, new laws, and innovations in water protection. Established five years after the famous fire, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a symbol of what is possible when people work together.

Fundamental Resources and Values

Fundamental resources and values (FRVs) are those features, systems, processes, experiences, stories, scenes, sounds, smells, or other attributes determined to merit primary consideration during planning and management processes because they are essential to achieving the purpose of the park and maintaining its significance.

The following fundamental resources and values have been identified for Cuyahoga Valley National Park:

  • Cuyahoga River Ecosystem – As the largest stakeholder in the recovery of the Cuyahoga River watershed the park’s 228 miles of river, streams, and canal; floodplains; and more than 1,500 identified wetlands together provide an ecological buffer against impacts of development as the river connects to the Great Lakes Region ecosystem.
  • Forest Ecosystem – Cuyahoga Valley National Park contains some of the largest remaining stands of deciduous and mixed forests in the Northeastern Ohio region. It also supports a rare and large mix of biodiversity, providing corridors for migratory species and serving as a biological refuge in the context of development and climate change.
  • Ohio & Erie Canal – The Ohio & Erie Canal is nationally significant as part of one of the most successful transportation networks of its time that linked the U.S. interior to the East Coast. Historically, it served as a catalyst that spurred regional and national economic and industrial growth.
  • Valley Railway – The Valley Railway represents a significant transportation corridor for the state of Ohio, as it once accelerated economic development and fueled industrialization. Its role in the evolution of transportation in the valley and subsequent rise of communities along the railway is equally critical. The present-day role of the railway as part of the park’s alternative transportation program allows visitors to experience this resource, thus better understanding the railroad’s significance.
  • Agricultural Resources and Rural Landscape – The Cuyahoga River Valley has supported a rich agricultural heritage for more than 1,000 years. Through the innovative park farming program, these cultural landscapes are preserved and protected in active, ecologically sustainable farms. Today, agriculture within Cuyahoga Valley National Park continues to influence regional trends in the way food is produced and consumed.
  • Virginia Kendall State Park Historic District – This Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) site is Ohio’s prime example of CCC-era construction. With high historic integrity and one of the largest single CCC structures in the state (Happy Days Lodge), the district displays the concept of developing park landscapes for the use and enjoyment of surrounding urban populations and visitors.
  • Trail, Water, and Rail Network – The extensive trail system, anchored by the Towpath Trail and enhanced by the scenic railroad and the Cuyahoga River, supports active and diverse, year-round recreational opportunities and experiences for visitors. Multiple modes of transportation provide access and retreat to the open spaces the park offers.
  • Place-based Education – Cuyahoga Valley National Park provides educational experiences that involve engaging, place-specific programs that nurture future park stewards. These immersive programs and experiences, exemplified by the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Center, play a pivotal role in providing educational opportunities to the community.
  • Community Engagement – An engaged community fosters productive partnerships and encourages shared stewardship of the park’s resources. This engagement is fundamental to protecting the purpose and values of the park because the park was established in the context of an urbanizing landscape, with varied landownership and land uses within its boundary.

Last updated: May 7, 2024

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