After living the last 26 1/2 years in Portage County, I finally took the time to visit the 167-acre Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park, which is located on Route 282 in Nelson Township. It is a fascinating place.
To say there are a lot of ledges in the park is an understatement. Walking through the woods, one treads upon a lot of huge rocks and past a lot of deep crevices and high rock walls, some of which are 50 to 60 feet up or down.
The state first purchased land at the site in 1940, and a 101-acre purchase in 1948 brought the park to its current size. The spectacular rock formations on one side of the road are fun to explore, and families can enjoy a picnic on the other side.
The sandstone and quartz cliffs resulted from erosion caused by wind and water freezing and thawing. As soft layers eroded, large blocks of rock called slump blocks fell away, leaving more resistant layers to form ledges above.
All this happened during the Ice Age, and the area was vitally important to Native American tribes (mostly Delaware). The ledges lie near one of the highest points in the state and close to the watershed divide between Lake Erie and the Ohio River.
There are about 3 miles of main hiking trails, plus a few unmarked and risky paths. Giant rocks and trees on the main paths are color-coded to indicate their risk -- white for easy, yellow and blue for medium difficult and red for extremely difficult with some climbing involved.
I took a relatively easy path, but occasionally ended up blocked by a large gap from rock to rock which I couldn't leap over, so I had to retrace my steps and find another route.
As I walked on top of some large rocks, I could see down into narrow fissures, where some of the more adventurous hikers were walking and climbing. I could hear some voices echoing, but could not see the hikers.
Beech and maple trees are the most common varieties, and some of the trees cling to the rock faces as their roots push into the crevices.
Other species that are more common in cooler climates include yellow birch, Canadian hemlock and Canada yew, while Christmas, and maidenhair, ferns also are abundant. Marginal, shield, grape and wood ferns and polypody occasionally can be seen.
The park is open from dawn to dusk, but because of the cliffs and fissures, night hiking is not recommended. It's tough enough to maneuver around the rocks in daylight, let alone try to tackle the paths at night.
QUARRY PARK IS NEARBY
At the western edge of the state park, I walked along a high fence for a ways, but couldn't find an opening to get on the other side. That's because the other side is part of Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, which is privately owned.
The entrance to that section is down the road, and admission is charged, so I decided not to pay just to walk around for a half-hour or so.
The quarry operated in the 1940s and 1950s, mining sand and quartz. According to historic accounts, machines struck several springs in the late 1950s, causing about 30 acres to fill up with water and creating peninsulas, rock shelves and an island in the middle.
After mining ceased, the quarry became a hangout for motorcycle riders and hippies, so local authorities erected gates to block access. In 1972, a man purchased the acreage, eventually opened a campground and allowed scuba diving and swimming.
The management of the quarry changed hands a couple of times until the current owner took over and made many improvements.
In addition to the swimming quarry, the site now includes two fishing lakes, picnic areas, charcoal grills, a new large playground area, basketball court with adjustable hoops, 250 acres for hiking, biking, exploring and nature, a volleyball court and game room.
Live musical performances also take place from time to time. A few years ago, the site became a bit controversial when the Insane Clown Posse performed there for several summers.
Bands such as Lotus, Badfish, Ekoostik Hookah, the David Nelson Band, Jimkata, Dark Star Orchestra, Big Leg Emma and the Rumpke Mountain Boys have played there. Around Halloween, a Gory at the Quarry festival and costume ball takes place.
CONCORD TOWNSHIP SITES
On the day I photographed Aurora High School runners in the Berkshire Earlybird cross country meet a couple of weeks after visiting Nelson Ledges, I headed up into Lake County to check out some attractions that I had never seen before.
I had read about a place called Chair Factory Falls in Concord Township along the Lake Metroparks Greenway Corridor, a rails to trails hike/bike path which runs from Painesville south into Geauga County.
A 0.3-mile dirt trail off the paved corridor leads through a dense woods and down a considerable slope just to the south of Interstate 90 to the beautiful 20-foot falls. The branch trail opened in summer 2010.
The falls got its name from a chair factory which operated in the early 1900s and used water -- via an iron waterwheel -- from the creek to power its lathes. The 4.5-acre parcel was donated to the Lake Metroparks in early 2010. Traffic on busy I-90 can be seen and heard through the woods.
Accessing the Greenway Corridor was easy from a parking lot at Concord Township's Old Stone School on Painesville-Ravenna Road (old Route 44).
The old schoolhouse would have been an interesting place to check out, but it was not open that day. It is open the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, and serves as the history center for the township.
The one-room schoolhouse was built in 1840 and is one of only a few stone structures still standing in Lake County. It housed students until 1923, then became a home and later the office of a local builder.
Concord Township purchased the small lot in 2001, and the building opened in 2004 after three years of renovation.
The 4.8-mile Greenway Corridor is built on the old Baltimore & Ohio rail bed, which was laid through Lake County in 1870. Some 5 million tons of coal and iron ore moved annually to Painesville over the line.
PERRY VILLAGE, MADISON
Heading over to Perry Village, home of the Perry schools -- an Aurora Greenmen rival in the Chagrin Valley Conference -- I came across the Perry Historical Society's museum at Main and Center streets.
The red brick building erected in 1875 was the original Town Hall for the Perry community, and is leased to the society by the Perry Township trustees. The museum is open on the second Saturday of each month, but unfortunately I was there on the fourth Saturday.
While photographing the building I came across a historical marker which unveiled an interesting tie between Perry and Aurora.
Hugh Mosher, born in 1819, grew up in Perry, which at that time was part of Geauga County. He served as a Fifer Major in an Ohio infantry unit during the Civil War and is depicted in a famous painting.
Longtime Aurorans know that Archibald Willard, who painted the patriotic "Spirit of 76," once lived in the East Garfield Road building which now houses Young Explorers Montessori School.
It turned out that Willard chose Mosher to depict as the fifer for the painting. Mosher was considered the finest fifer in Ohio, and after the war he performed at many veterans' reunions and celebrations. He died in 1896 and is buried in Lorain County.
Heading into Perry Village, I could see the massive cooling towers of the Perry Nuclear Generating Station off to the north along Lake Erie, with steam pouring from them. I pulled into the Perry Library parking lot to shoot a photo.
The power plant is located on 1,100 acres. FirstEnergy put it online in November 1987, becoming the 100th power reactor licensed in the United States. At $6 billion, it is one of the most expensive power plants ever built.
Perry was supposed to be a two-unit installation, but construction on unit 2 was canceled in 1994 after all of its major buildings and structures were completed, including a second 500-foot tall cooling tower.
The original core power level of 3,579 megawatts thermal was increased to 3,758 megawatts in 2000. It is one of the largest General Electric BWR-6 boiling water reactor designs in the country.
Heading east to Madison, a community of about 3,200 people, I enjoyed the old-fashioned atmosphere at Cornerstone Brewing Co. in a building across from the square, and later stopped at Chalet Debonne Vineyards on a country road southeast of town. Cornerstone also has a location in Berea.
It was a hot and sunny day, and Debonne had an open-sided shelter and plenty of patio space to enjoy a live band and beer brewed at its Cellar Rats Brewery.
Debonne Vineyards was founded as a winery in 1972, and that is when the charming chalet was built. The business has 170-plus acres of vines and produces more than 85,000 gallons of wine annually.
The Debevc family, owners of Debonne, has the distinction of being named the first "Wine Family of the Year" by Vineyard & Winery Management magazine.
The site hosts many special events at the scenic property -- progressive dinners, live music, a hot-air balloon rally, jazz festivals, kite days, a classic car show, radio controlled airplane rallies, an ice wine festival and bocce ball tournament.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189