Category Archives: Metroparks

Getting out and Exploring Northeast Ohio

Scott, his family and I enjoying our Memorial Day weekend (somehow our only group picture – taken Monday at Debonne Winery)

For the three-day Memorial weekend, Scott and I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of traveling out of town like most of our previous weekends, we hosted Scott’s parents and grandmother.

I love having out-of-town guests because it means I can put on my tourist shoes and explore places in Cleveland I may not get to as often as I’d like. Call me a nerd, but I relish having an excuse to scour the Cleveland Scene or Plain Dealer’s Friday! section and think about the different things my visiting family or friends would enjoy doing.

I’M FREE!!!! (Scott may have enjoyed a little too much wine and open air at South River Vineyard)

Although it was Scott’s family visiting this time, I couldn’t help myself and still butted in on the sightseeing research. Because it was Memorial Day weekend, we had plenty of options to choose from (almost too many!).

We started the weekend out slow – with a leisurely drive out to Sandusky.

Besides taking a scenic drive down Route 6, we had a second reason to head out there – picking up our season passes to Cedar Point. Unfortunately, by the time we got out there the line for pass pickup was too long to justify making Scott’s family wait, so we piled in the car and headed back.

However, it wasn’t a wasted trip at all because we stopped in downtown Vermilon on our way home for a stroll and a bite to eat.

The Old Prague Restaurant serves up traditional Czech fare – along with some great Yellow Perch according to other restaurant guests

Scott’s Serbian grandmother loved the Czechoslovakian fare at the Old Prague Restaurant. It was difficult not to love – I will hardly ever turn down Chicken Paprikash, dumplings and spaetzles.

I also enjoyed the Shishki appetizer. The tangy apple mustard was a great complement to the spicy meatloaf rolls; though I found the batter the rolls were fried in ended up a bit hard to bite into at times.

To pair with their schnitzel, Old Prague offers a fairly decent selection of Czech beers – both Scott and I were happy with our Golden Pheasant Pilsner and Zatec Dark Lager.

Scott’s grandmother downed this entire Zatec Dark (kidding!)

Even though the Old Prague Restaurant offers homemade strudel and other desserts, we decided to save room for ice cream at Big Ed’s Main Street Soda Grill.

Big Ed’s is a very quaint, vintage-styled soda hop. When we got there the staff seemed a bit harried because of the Memorial Day crowd; however, we were able to grab a few seats at the counter and enjoy our ice cream sundaes, root beer floats and milkshakes.

I ordered the Red River which was a vanilla milkshake mixed with cherry syrup and 7UP. That brought me back to summers in Philly and our frequent visits to Rita’s Water Ice.

Although small, downtown Vermilion seems to pack a lot of restaurants, shops, and galleries within just a couple of blocks. It also has plenty of sightseeing to offer for boat and train fans, as Lake Erie is located on one side and the railroad (with a very cute depot) runs along the other.

It was our first time visiting Vermilion, but considering it’s a short drive from our house and on the way home from Cedar Point, Scott and I will probably be making pit stops there throughout the summer.

Scott and his grandmother read about the history of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad while we enjoy a ride through the national park

After Saturday’s drive, we decided on a different mode of transportation for Sunday’s sightseeing: the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Scott and I are HUGE train fanatics (thanks to both of our families) and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is one of our favorite things to do in Cleveland.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s Canal Visitor Center features a museum and a chance to experience the park’s natural beauty up close

Through a partnership with the National Park Service, the CVSR operates excursion trains along this railway that once carried passengers and freight back and forth between Akron and Cleveland.

This was my third ride on the CVSR so I knew from previous experience that Scott’s family would enjoy it. On Saturday, we made the drive to the small town of Peninsula and got some lunch while we waited for the train to depart.

The train comes into the CVSR’s Peninsula Station, as Tow Path cyclists wait to “ride aboard”

The train runs from Rockside in Independence all the way to Akron and back – Peninsula is the stop in the middle and my favorite because it’s an easy walk to a couple of antique and gift shops.

Because of the heat, we decided to save most of our sightseeing for the train. During the trip, there’s plenty of nature and other points of interest to enjoy right through your window – from meadowland, woods, rivers and marsh.

As the train crossed one of the streams in Cuyhoga Valley National Park, we caught this glimpse of kayakers enjoying their Sunday

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of some wildlife too (there’s an eagle’s roost in the marsh right before the Rockside stop). And cyclists can enjoy the train and the Towpath Trail through CVSR’s Bike Aboard! program.

However, the highlight for me of this weekend’s trip was sneaking a peek inside their St. Lucie Sound executive car to snap this photo:

The CVSR’s St. Lucie executive car is used for special events as well as their Ales and Wine excursions

Seats on this luxury car are reserved for special events, as well as their Ales on Rails and Grape Escape trips.

If you haven’t been, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s summer season starts this weekend on June 2 – making even more stops and giving you more reasons to go.

Scott – a former sousaphone player in his high school band – was happy we got to Avon Lake’s Memorial Day parade just in time to see the ALHS Marching Band

We decided to celebrate Memorial Day by sharing one of my new favorite daytrips with Scott’s family — Geneva, Ohio.

Before we headed out for a day of sipping wine, we went to Avon Lake’s Memorial Day Parade and paid our respects to everyone whose service allowed us the freedoms to enjoy this beautiful weekend.

We then packed up the car and headed for wine country.

Scott’s mom and I decked out in our reds and whites, while drinking reds and whites at South River Vineyard

Because it was a Monday, our winery options were somewhat limited (many of their kitchens and the wineries themselves are closed). Fortunately, two of our three favorites were open: South River and Debonne.

We enjoyed burgers and hot dogs at Debonne along with a couple of tasting trays and their Cellar Rats beer. Now that Summer is moreorless here, their calendar is filling with events including the 30th annual Hot Air Balloon rally on June 9th and the Model Airplane Club’s demonstration on June 16th.

Ever the ham, Scott stole a sip from my rootbeer float at Rees’ Corner

After a stop at Rees’ Corner in downtown Geneva for more rootbeer floats (because you can never have enough ice cream!), we headed to South River. Because Monday’s sweltering heat finally broke and a breeze picked up in the afternoon, we were able to take our glasses of wine and cheese & fruit plate out to the pavilion and just relax while looking over their vineyard.

Scott’s father, who loves a good glass of wine, enjoyed South River so much that he picked up a case to bring home and Scott and I snagged a few more bottles of their Riesling Reserve, Temptation and Chardonnay to add to our collection.

South River has started offering bourbon and beer flights for those looking for something different. Between this and our last visit, South River has proven to be a consistently great choice and has climbed to the top of our favorites thanks to the winning combination of both their wine and setting.

Oh to end every weekend with a view like this!

After three days enjoying Northeast Ohio’s small towns and scenic views, Scott’s parents and grandmother packed up and headed home yesterday morning with more than a few bottles of wine and memories of a wonderful Cleveland Memorial Day.

How did you spend your holiday? Share your favorite moments down in the Comments section.

39th Annual ZippityZooDoo: Take a Trip to Zoolin Rouge

This duct tape elephant celebrates the opening of the Cleveland Zoo’s African Elephant Crossing

 For a region whose cold weather is the punchline of a lot of jokes, it may be surprising at first glance that one of Northeast Ohio’s most visited year-round attractions is the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.  With 183 acres, this primarily outdoor venue welcomed 1.3 million visitors last year.

After our first visit to Cleveland’s Zoo a couple years ago, Scott and I immediately understood its popularity.  Home to nearly 3,000 exotic animals, the Zoo boasts a variety of habitats like the African Elephant Crossing, RainForest, Northern Trek, Australian Adventure (my favorite!), African Savanna, Waterfowl Lake and the Primate, Cat & Aquatics Building.

The fact that parking is free and Cuyahoga County and Hinckley Township get free admission on Mondays doesn’t hurt either.  Between their exhibits as well as fun programs like Rising Waters Safari Camp and Bowling for Rhinos, it’s a Cleveland institution that young and old can enjoy in equal measure.

In 1957, the Cleveland Zoological Society was established to partner with and advocate for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Their primary function is to raise awareness for and help underwrite the Zoo’s exhibits and programs.

41,000+ households of Zoo members and donors make the Cleveland Zoological Society the largest membership program in Northeast Ohio; and the organization works hard to create a slate of unique events that everyone will enjoy. From this Summer’s Date Night at the Zoovies to Twilight at the Zoo, the Zoological Society is giving us even more reasons to visit.

Fortunately, their next event – the 39th annual ZippityZooDoo – is only 2 weeks away.

Hosted by Cleveland Zoological Society, June 8

On Friday, June 8, Cleveland’s longest-running benefit returns. With this year’s theme of Zoolin Rouge, the Cleveland Zoological Society is bringing Paris to Cleveland with all of the extravaganza and indulgence you’d expect.

Starting with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at 6pm, the evening goes til midnight and features live entertainment, music, dancing and the chance to bid for unique Zoo experiences.

It culminates with ZippityZooDoo’s pièce de résistance (said in my best attempt at a French accent) — a filling five-course feast.

If you’re looking for a reason to go (besides supporting one of Cleveland’s great institutions), check out this menu:

  • First Course: Tuna tarter wonton crisp, Vegetable ratatouille cup, Duck prosciutto fava bean pistou crostini, Lavender vichyssoise, Mushroom ragout bruschetta
  • Second Course: Spinach greens, tarragon marinated tomato cucumber salad, champagne vinaigrette
  • Fish Course: Smoked salmon caviar, sea salt, crostini, dill crème fraiche
  • Entrements: Blood orange sorbet
  • Main Course: Steak au poivre peppercorn mélange cognac glace. Chive lemon oil asparagus. Saffron risotto gruyere cheese croquette
  • Dessert: Gourmet cheese plate

I’m seriously salivating just thinking about the smoked salmon caviar, steak and duck prosciut…..

Sorry…I dazed off dreaming about all of that food.  (A vegan menu is also available if that’s your preference.)

Photo from Cleveland Zoological Society

Tickets for the ZippityZooDoo cost $250 – $175 of which is tax-deductible — and include valet parking, along with everthing above.

Purchase tickets for the Zoo Society’s benefit here.

Donations to the Cleveland Zoological Society underwrite almost 50% of funding for major new exhibits and capital improvements, as well as 20% of the Zoo’s annual operating budget. It’s with events like the ZippityZooDoo that the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo can continue to offer the programs and services that make it so popular year after year.

Disclaimer:  I was offered one ticket to attend ZippityZooDoo in exchange for blogging about it. However, the decision to attend and post about an event is my own based on whether I think it’s something that may also interest others.  Scott has purchased his own ticket to attend.

All I Want for Cleve-Mas, Part 4: Fighting Cabin Fever

Have you entered the Clue Into Cleveland giveaway for a Dolce Gusto Piccolo coffee machine? Only a few days left to enter here!

From ice skating in University Circle, to the Zoo, Metroparks and Progressive Field, there are plenty of ways to get outside and fight cabin fever this holiday season.

Cleveland winters get a bum rap. Although I know I’ll complain about it when we’re in the throws of February dealing with endless snow, during this time of year I’m not quite ready to hunker down indoors.

In fact, with my holiday shopping and errands nearly done, it’s time to enjoy the season, throw on my coat and head outside in the brisk December winds for some of these festivities:

The Frozen Diamond FaceOff is just one of the new features at this year's Indians Snow Days.

Cleveland Indians Snow Days

Cleveland Indians Snow Days was one of my favorite parts about last year’s winter (here’s last year’s recap). So as soon as tickets went on sale for this year’s return of Snow Days to Progressive Field, I bought mine.

I think it’s a perfect example of Cleveland’s ingenuity — transforming Progressive Field, which would sit mostly empty during the off-season, into a unique and fun wonderland.

Back again this year are The Batterhorn Snow Tubing hill (loved launching down the slick hills last year!) and the Frozen Mile ice skating track (the first non-symmetrical ice skating path in the U.S.).

The Cleveland Indians also added The Frozen Diamond, a regulation-sized ice skating rink covering home plate and stretching down the first base line. On January 15, The Frozen Diamond will host Ohio’s first-ever outdoor college hockey match when Ohio State and the University of Michigan play each other in The Frozen Diamond FaceOff.

I grew up watching the Philadelphia Flyers and hearing stories of the legendary Broad Street Bullies, so hockey’s been in my blood since I was a kid. I’ve never been to an outdoor game, so I bought the Snow Days Bundle Package, which gets you tickets to the January 15 game and a good-any-day combo pass for snow tubing and ice skating fun between now and the end of Snow Days on Jan. 16.

Thrillseekers can shoot down the Cleveland Metroparks' Tobogganing Chutes throughout the winter.

Take a Hike in the Cleveland Metroparks

Cleveland’s “Emerald Necklace” glimmers even more brightly this time of year with plenty of winter recreation opportunities.

Top of my list to try this season is tobogganing at the Chalet in Strongsville’s Mill Stream Run Reservation. If I thought snow tubing down the Indians’ Batterhorn was fast, I don’t know what to expect from the Chalet’s 1,000-foot ice chutes. And when the thrills get too much, I can head indoors and enjoy the warmth of their fireplaces.

For those who like to get some exercise while enjoying the great outdoors, the Cleveland Metroparks are also hosting a series of Holiday Hikes. The next two will explore CanalWay Center on Dec. 22 and Bacci Park on Dec. 29, both in the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation starting at 1pm.

Other upcoming hikes include this Saturday’s Candlelit Hike and Caroling through South Chagrin’s Look About Lodge, as well as this Sunday’s Winter Blues Hike with Naturalist Kelly McGinnis along Deer Lick Cave Trail.

The Cleveland Metroparks Calendar of Events lists the dates and locations for all of their programs.  And before you take a hike, check out these two Metroparks articles to learn a bit about winter birdwatching and the animals living under winter’s blanket.

During December Days, the Cleveland Zoo is offering discounted admission and plenty of holiday activities.

Cleveland Zoo December Days

I love visting the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and after October I love it even more because I can save $3 when I want to visit my favorite exhibit: the tigers, bears and wolves in the Northern Trek.

Starting this coming Monday, Dec. 19 and running until Dec. 30, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is hosting December Days at the Zoo. Admission is discounted even further to $7 for adults, $4 for children 2-11.

In addition to all of the exhibits, the Zoo is hosting a number of festive activities during December Days. From cookie decorating and holiday crafts in the Welcome Plaza’s Exhibit Hall to live music and visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus, it’s another low-cost way to spend the holidays with your family, especially if you have children.

Wade Oval lights up with lanterns from the Cleveland Museum of Art and festive trees and gingerbread houses at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.

Find Yourself (and the Holidays) in University Circle

My final favorite winter spot is the eastside’s University Circle. From more ice skating to winter lights and holiday treats, there are plenty of things to enjoy in the museum neighborhood.

The Cleveland Botanical Garden WinterShow boasts gingerbread houses made by professionals, amateurs and local families. Other festival highlights include the beautiful WinterShow Tree, holiday plants, trees decorated in the themes of children’s tales and fables, and Christmas cacti. It runs through Dec. 31st.

After the Botanical Garden, head over to the Cleveland Museum of Art for their Winter Lights Lantern Displays. Even though I missed the Procession of Lights during Holiday CircleFest, the Environment of Lights installation in Wade Oval is on view through this Sunday, Dec. 18.  The 5 indoor lantern displays will continue inside of the Museum of Art until January 16.

And for those who haven’t gotten their fill of ice skating at Progressive Field or in the Metroparks, there’s always the Rink at Wade Oval Circle. It’s free if you bring your own skates, $3 for skate rentals.


As the season wraps up, I have to remind myself to relax and go out and enjoy these seasonal festivities. I hope you also find some free time this holiday – whether it’s enjoying the outdoors at one of these events or inside with a warming hot chocolate or glass of wine.

Check out Parts 1-3 of All I Want for Cleve-Mas 2011:

Pictures from,,, and

Maple Sugaring at the Cleveland Metroparks


Maple Trivia: It takes 40 Gallons of Sap to Make 1 Gallon of Syrup


 The Cleveland Metroparks – nicknamed the ‘Emerald Necklace’ of Cleveland – are a system of beautiful nature preserves throughout the region.  In addition to giving Clevelanders access to scenic walking, bicycle and horse trails, golf courses, picnic areas and fishing holes, the parks also host numerous events throughout the year for nature education.    

On the Maple Trail


This past weekend, Scott and I joined a couple of friends at the Cleveland Metroparks’ Rocky River Reservation to check out the last weekend of their History of Maple Sugaring tour. Each year, from the end of February until the beginning of March, the temperatures in the Northeast Ohio region are the perfect condition to produce sap. For just a couple of weeks, the temperatures are above freezing in the daytime and below freezing at night which triggers the circulation of the sap throughout the trees’ sapwood. And with the trees’ production of sap comes the production of some of the purest maple syrup.  

Our group stopped by the Maple Grove Picnic Area in the Rocky River Reservation to check out the sap-to-syrup process. The first stop on the tour was the Sugarbush Trail during which our tour guide demonstrated the sap-collecting methods from early Native Americans and pioneers to modern sugar farmers. Each stop showed the progression from reeds and bark to wooden buckets, metal containers and finally the plastic tubing that is used today. At the end of the hike, we visited the Sugar House where we got to watch sap that had been collected from the area’s trees boiled into pure maple syrup.  

The highlight of the entire visit, however, was the opportunity to chat with Bill Miller — or as he jokingly referred to himself, ‘S.O.B.’ (Sweet Ol’ Bill). At 79 (though he didn’t look it!), Bill is an expert at the intricate process of boiling the sap into syrup. When the tour ended we hung around to look at the evaporator used to boil the sap. Bill walked up, introduced himself, and we spent the next 40 minutes learning everything we wanted to about maple syrup — from the role of photosynthesis in producing the sap to what causes the different grades of maple syrup. Chatting with Bill wasn’t just educational, but also entertaining — a definite don’t miss.  

One Way to Collect Sap from a Maple Tree


To cap it all off, we ended our visit with a sampling of the syrup that was extracted and made in the park. Volunteers served silver dollar pancakes with a dollop of the local syrup and sold delicious maple candy for a quarter a piece.  

As with a number of the Metroparks’ events, the entire tour was free — providing a great afternoon of engaging and educational storytelling for nothing.  

Unfortunately, this weekend was the final weekend of the Metroparks’ Maple Sugaring for the year. With the first signs of Spring appearing and temperatures (slowly) rising, the maple trees have stopped readily producing sap — which means it’s time for the Sugar House to pack up until next Winter when Maple Season resumes.  


Cleveland Metroparks 411:    

Plan Your Visit to the Metroparks’ Rocky River Reservation
About the Reservation
Reservation Map

Events and Volunteering at the Metroparks
About the Maple Sugaring Demonstration
Upcoming Events Calendar
Getting Involved at the Metroparks   

Twitter: @CleveMetroparks