Metroparks Trail Challenge: Center Park loop and rubies in the sky at the West Creek Reservation

Erin O’Brien has accepted the Cleveland Metroparks 2022 Trail Challenge. She will be chronicling her adventures on the trails throughout the year.

My husband and I pulled into Center Park in Parma at 11:35 a.m. on April 10 to embark on my third installment of the Metroparks 2022 Trail Challenge Presented by Cigna. It was 43 degrees.

The route out of the ravine to Dentzler Trailhead is steep.We dutifully followed the instructions on the trail list for this 2.7-mile adventure on natural trail in the West Creek Reservation—sort of.

The out-and-back route takes you down the steep Greenbriar Trail into the West Creek ravine for a perfect stroll through this unexpectedly secluded forest, which is one of Parma's most significant greenspaces. And like so many of these hikes, you'd never guess you're in the middle of an urban surrounding if you had dropped into the park from the sky.

Skinner's Run Trail served up quiet woodsy views, lots of mud, chirping birds and squirrels, and plenty of rustic bridges traversing West Creek. It concludes with a somewhat steep incline back out of the ravine that emerges at the Detzler trailhead, which like Center Park, is situated in a pleasant residential neighborhood on Parma's east side.

On the return, however, we did not turn left back onto the Greenbriar Trail to head back to our car. Instead we ended up exploring almost all of the trails and paths in the 326-acre reservation, as well as the inviting Watershed Stewardship Center. We found a couple of surprises, even if they were about 1,000-feet tall.

As a kid in the 70s, whenever Dad would drive the Vista Cruiser along I-77 at night, I'd gaze out from the backseat at the red blinking lights of the TV and radio towers. I had no idea what they were, and I didn't care. They looked like magical strands of rubies reaching high into the night sky. Glittering on and off, the mysterious structures were real and fantastical all at once. Whenever I asked about them, I was told they lived in far-off lands called Parma and Seven Hills (we lived in Lakewood).

Yet another view from the trail.Hence, during our trek a couple of weeks ago when my husband and I emerged from the short Jewelwing Loop Trail where it meets the paved all-purpose trail (APT) and came upon the staggering radio transmission tower, I looked up at the impossible red and white needle piercing the sky and sighed. Even though I'd been tangentially aware of the radio/tv towers my entire life, I basked in the novelty of walking right up to such a dramatic real-life giant.

"I love this," I said in wonder.

That tower is flanked by the WOIO tower just to the northeast. Both are sequestered behind substantial fencing with their associated buildings and equipment. For some reason, seven-year-old Erin always thought the guy wires holding up the impossibly tall towers had to be connected to the earth far and away from their hosts. Of course, they are not, but each tether point is a feature in its own right. What a pure delight it was to get close to these weird infrastructure details.

The surreal transmission towers add a contrasting element to the quirky park, which was teeming with visitors by the end of our hike/walk that Sunday afternoon. The spacious APT loops around to the Watershed Stewardship Center, the Bluebird Point Overlook, and also extends to the park's main West Ridgewood Drive entrance. Dogwalkers and families were taking advantage of the clear sunny day on the wide and mostly flat trail.

We also poked around the Watershed Stewardship Center, which features a host of educational displays, a small gift shop, and cozy seating areas. It was a welcome haven after all the hiking and walking.

When we finally got back to our car at Center Park, we had logged six miles, according to my pedometer. It didn't feel like we'd gone that far, perhaps because the individual trails are short, mostly measuring less than a mile, but put them all together and it was no wonder we'd been out for more than two hours.

We were surprisingly hungry, and while a better person might have packed a healthy lunch of salad and smoothies, stopping for fast food burgers and fries felt like a perfect way to close out this Parma adventure.


Several pedestrian bridges cross West Creek throughout this hike. Some takeaways:

• The unsung charm of this reservation is the contrast of hiking through the rustic wooded ravine versus walking the paved APT in open areas—so much visual diversity in one compact greenspace.

• West Creek Reservation has a network of single-track mountain bike trails. Check the Metroparks' dedicated @CMPmtb twitter feed to verify open/closed status.

• If you do choose to round out the day with a picnic, the park is peppered with tables and pavilions. For a bigger bash, rent the Keystone Shelter.

• Fun fact: Once home in part to a landfill, the reservation underwent major improvements before opening in June 2013.

• And a not-so-fun fact: In August 2012, Kevin Hitchcock, 27, of Cleveland, climbed the WOIO tower and fell to his death. Authorities subsequently determined the incident was an accident.

The main entrance to the West Creek Reservation is at 2277 West Ridgewood Drive, Parma, Ohio. The Watershed Stewardship Center is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and closed on major holidays.

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.