Metroparks Trail Challenge: Garfield Park Reservation, an urban greenspace with a hidden waterfall

It was just a few minutes shy of 11 a.m. on July 21, a spectacular Northeast Ohio summer day, when my husband and I pulled into Garfield Park Reservation in order to complete my seventh installment of the Metroparks 2022 Trail Challenge Presented by Cigna.

Fair weather notwithstanding, we planned to do a relatively short walk, just two miles along the Iron Springs Trail and all purpose trail (APT) as designated by the trail list. Why the short hike? With most of our walks clocking in at five miles or more, we deserved a break. We'd be done in a half hour and then we'd belly up to a fitting lunch, maybe a two-fisted BLT and tall glass of iced tea.

A stone stairway leads into the park's interior. If you combine our ages, dear reader, the number of years my husband and I have been on the planet exceeds 120. Despite the fact that we've lived all of them in the area, we had a devil of a time finding the entrance to a park we had both previously visited. That would be one thing if the entrance were on some obscure residential street, but we're talking Broadway Avenue.

Granted, the snafu was an account of one wrong turn. But still, Broadway Avenue? Sad.

When we finally did park in front of the Garfield Park Nature Center, we had an equally difficult time finding the Iron Springs Trail, which I shall happily blame on the massive construction project going on in the dense urban greenspace: a $7 million effort that will restore a recreational pond and elements of Wolf Creek, a tributary of Mill Creek. Completion is scheduled for summer 2024.

For those of you sighing with exasperation, shaking your heads, and belatedly imploring me to "use the GPS!" we don't have GPS in either of our vehicles, so I was relegated to my smartphone for navigational authority.

"I can't see anything," I complained while executing the reverse-finger pinch on my phone, "it's too small!"

My husband was already studying the Trails Guide map we had picked up inside the center. I peered over his shoulder. "Maybe hold it upside down so Broadway is over there," I said, "or maybe like this?"

"But that's not the Iron Springs … is it?"

"Wait … what's this?"

"Is this that thing over there?" We blinked at the creased paper.

"Why don't we just walk this trail right here? The one we're standing on?" my husband finally said. He was referring, of course, to the main APT that surrounds the entire park. "It loops around," he said. "Seems to me we can figure out a circle."

I shot back a look of indignation. A circle? But I was on a mission. I had a specific trail in mind—not some simple circle! I opened my mouth to voice my indignation, then reconsidered.

"Okay," I said.

Mushrooms dot the all purpose trail in Garfield Park Reservation. The loop around the park was a mostly flat two miles. Like any great urban trail, it emerges from deep green wooded areas to edge up against residential streets. It also winds next to area industry. Beds of flowers, glimpses of intriguing, closed trails (we did find at least one old stone stairway in the woods), and the understated joy of this historic park made the two-mile loop feel like a warmup. I wanted more.

"Let's go up to the Falls!" I said as we neared the car.

Mill Creek Falls Trail is an offshoot of Garfield Park's APT. Just shy of one and half miles, it easily garnered my respect as soon as we hopped onto it. It weaves through residential areas, infrastructure, and dense greenspace. I loved it. And the best part is, obviously enough, the Falls.

Actually, the Falls are not so obvious.

Mill Creek Falls, also known as Cataract Falls, is one of the area's best kept secrets. Believe it or not, at 48 feet, the tallest waterfall in Cuyahoga County is a bit hard to find. Nestled beneath a railroad bridge adjacent to the intersection of Warner and Turney Roads, you really have to seek out the falls to find them. When you do, you'll sigh with nostalgia even if it's your first time seeing this fraught and historic waterway, which is worthy of so much more than the humble park surrounding it and the small viewing platform.

All purpose trail, Garfield Park Reservation. But lofty dreams of what could be for the area's secret waterfall will have to wait. For now, I only urge you get to Mill Creek Falls one way or another and become one of the Northeast Ohioans who has visited this little-known feature.

Knowledge of the Falls notwithstanding, by the time we got back to the car, it was after 1 p.m. My phone's "health" app (of which I am largely skeptical) indicated that we had walked nearly six miles.

"Great," said my husband as I reported the phone's data, "but I'm still not taking directions from it."

Some tidbits:
• Every Tuesday in August, enjoy a free line dancing session at Garfield Park from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

• Garfield Park was home to a popular swimming pool for decades, which sounds innocuous enough, but the pool's history is anything but. It's steeped in ugly racism that persisted for decades until the pool was permanently closed in 1970.

• The stone structures in the park, including the charming Boating Pond Bridge, were built in the 1930s via the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

• A captured German howitzer once greeted visitors to the park at its Turney Road entrance. Dedicated in May, 1932, it was ultimately removed and melted down for scrap.
 
The main entrance to the Garfield Park Reservation is at 11350 Broadway Avenue, Garfield Heights, Ohio.

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.