History of Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley is one of America’s newest and smallest national parks, but the region has a long and storied history of human habitation, development and conservation.

Native Americans began farming in the Cuyahoga Valley as far back as 800 B.C., planting corn, squash, beans, melons, apples and other produce. When American settlers came to the region, they pursued an agrarian lifestyle as well. Corn crops were of particular importance, as were fruit orchards and the raising of livestock.

Tracks to Anywhere

Industrial development helped the Cuyahoga Valley prosper, beginning with the construction of the Ohio & Erie Canal in the 1820s. Canal construction brought immigrant workers from Germany and Ireland to the region, creating boomtowns that precipitated the rise of small factories. Trade flourished as the area’s robust economy grew, forever transforming what had been the American frontier into an idyllic haven of small towns and family farms.

By the late 19th century, railroads supplanted canals as the transport of choice for people and goods. However, the Cuyahoga Valley remained a destination for urbanites looking to escape the pressures of city life. The early 20th century saw the first attempts at organizing the scenic valley into a park. The first major contribution was a donation of land by the estate of a wealthy Cleveland businessman, Hayward Kendall. Named Virginia Kendall Park after his mother, the 430-acre land grant was outfitted with a lodge and shelters by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

As the population of Ohio continued to grow throughout the mid-20th century, residents felt that industry, urban sprawl, and pollution had begun to encroach on the valley. Local activists and government lobbied for protection of its natural beauty, an effort that culminated in the establishment of the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in 1974. However, conservation and restoration efforts would not stop there.

In 1985, the National Park Service acquired the 45-acre Krejci Dump site, intending to reclaim it for incorporation into the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area. However, soil analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency proved it to be one of the most toxic sites in the region. It was declared a Superfund site, and has been the subject of an extensive decontamination project since 1987. To date, significant recovery has been made, with much of the site restored to its original wetland ecosystem.

Cuyahoga Valley was made a national park in 2000.