get out! (and be one with nature)

Cleveland has been experiencing a particularly chilly start to spring -- not to mention a brutal winter. But rest assured that summer indeed is just around the bend, and for proof of that fact one need look no further than Cleveland Metroparks’ upcoming programming schedule.

Dana Smith, Outdoor Recreation Manager at Cleveland Metroparks, is looking forward to the time when Clevelanders of all ages and abilities will take advantage of 22,218 acres of outdoor fun at 17 area reservations plus seven partner locations.

Since the park was established in 1917, conservation, education and recreation have been the park system's three primary objectives. Those lofty goals are promoted through the Cleveland Metroparks Outdoor Recreation program -- formerly known as the Institute of the Great Outdoors -- which helps park consumers better connect with nature through dozens of activities.

Among the topics on this year's syllabus are classes in kayaking, hiking, biking, birding, digital photography and stand-up paddle boarding.

What's SUP?

If the latter activity sounds strange, you’re not alone. SUP is a Hawaiian sport birthed in the 1960s by photographers looking for a better way to take pictures of fellow surfers. Cleveland Metroparks was the first to bring it to the region.

“We introduced the sport two years ago to the area,” Smith explains. “It’s one of those things not many people know about.”

To the uninitiated, SUP might appear to be a leisurely glide atop the water's surface. Not so, says Smith. “It teaches you balance, and builds your core muscles. What’s so great about SUP is that you don’t even realize you’re exercising because you’re having so much fun!” Though, she admits, paddlers might be sore the next day.

Sights for SUP classes include the shores of Lake Erie, Wallace Lake at Mill Stream Run Reservation, and Hinckley Reservation. For those who fall in love with the sport, Nalu SUP & Surf, a stand-up paddle board outfitter at the mouth of the Rocky River, both sells and rents gear and offers lessons.

For those who prefer a more traditional on-the-water experience, Cleveland Metroparks offers two kayaking classes that take beginners from very first launch through skill development. After gaining some basic training, Smith recommends taking part in a kayaking excursion. Best of all, they provide the equipment and expertise.

“We do tours at different sections of the Cuyahoga River,” she explains, adding that launch points include the Lower Cuyahoga by Wendy Park and Rivergate Park and the Upper Cuyahoga in Geauga County. “It’s a chance to experience Cleveland from a waterfront view that’s incredibly unique.”

Hiking, Biking and Birding (Oh My!)

Hikers, cyclists and birders are in good hands, too, thanks to a variety of expert-led programs. Hikers can select from routes designed around exercise or the natural history of a particular area. Birding groups are kept small and fill up fast, says Smith, so that participants can “get that one-on-one network with the naturalists.”

Regardless of objective, most visitors to Cleveland Metroparks bring along a camera to chronicle that perfect, memorable moment. With that in mind, the park system also offers a digital photography program that teaches outdoor enthusiasts how to use popular point-and-shoot cameras.

“We’re very excited about the digital photography program,” notes Smith. “It’s a great way for people who are just starting out to get to know their camera.”

Much like the rest of the Metroparks’ programming, the digital photography classes are all about getting outside and enjoying nature. “We want you to have fun and capture those experiences in nature, so you want to get out in nature again, and again, and again,” says Smith.

For hikers, few people are as inspirational as Jennifer Pharr Davis, who has hiked over 12,000 miles on long distance trails across six continents. She currently holds the endurance record on three separate trails, including the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail, which she completed in just 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes -- or a mind-boggling 47 miles per day.

On June 17, the North Carolina native and author of three hiking books will share her story and give a workshop on multi-day, long-distance backpacking.

“We will go over gear, mental and physical prep, budget and nutrition,” Davis explains. She’ll also recount the “difficulties and joys” of her Appalachian Trail record. “I will also emphasize that the most important aspect of time spent outdoors is not found in speed or distance. Rather, the value of the wilderness is found in its ability to positively affect lives, form strong personal bonds, and create lasting memories.”

Around the Bend

As exciting a line-up as all of the above sounds, it only promises to get better for outdoor enthusiasts living in Cleveland. Wendy Weirich, Director of Outdoor Education, is thrilled to confirm rumors that Cleveland Metroparks will be taking over a pair of park properties currently owned by the state.

Due to a myriad of reasons (namely tight budgets), state-operated gems like Edgewater Park and Wildwood Park have fallen into disrepair. Because the state hasn't been able to provide the required services, Governor John Kasich currently is working on a deal to transfer the properties to the City of Cleveland. The city, under a plan currently being negotiated, would then transfer ownership to Cleveland Metroparks. “That should happen in the next month or so,” states Weirich. “It’ll be a 99-year lease to the Metroparks.”

Don't expect programming to begin until this fall, adds Weirich, as maintenance and security will have first dibs to ensure the parks are “clean and green and safe” before introducing any events. “We’re going to stay out of the way over the summer,” she says. “In the fall, we’ll start to introduce programs, like stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and sailing.”

Would you like to see something new at the Metroparks? Weirich says she and her team encourage feedback.

“We’re open to ideas, and a lot of people have ideas about what they want to see on the lake.”

For a complete listing of Cleveland Metroparks offerings, head to the Cleveland Metroparks website and check out the events and programs calendar.

Photos Bob Perkoski except where noted

Joe Baur
Joe Baur

About the Author: Joe Baur

Joe Baur is an author, writer and filmmaker who has worked for a variety of local and national publications including Matador Network, Yahoo! Travel, National Geographic and BBC Travel. In addition to freelance writing, he is the author of Best Hikes Near Cleveland and director of numerous travelogues from across the globe. You'll currently find him working in Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica, because spending the first year of marriage where others vacation seemed like a good idea.