We decided to ride the rails for my granddaughter Maddy’s 8th birthday. So we drove through a blaze of fall leaves in Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park to ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR).
I last rode the CVSR nearly 30 years ago. I remember how excited Maddy’s daddy was to climb aboard the huge steam-driven train for a ride between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. We rode with the windows open and cinders flew into our faces as we stormed down the tracks towards the newly opened Quaker Square in downtown Akron. The old Quaker Oats factory is now used by students at the University of Akron but it was a fun destination back in 1985 where we bought balloons and cotton candy before re-boarding the train for home.
Times have changed and my sophisticated little granddaughter climbed aboard the train with the aplomb of an experienced traveler. We shooed folks out of our reserved seats in the panoramic car (if ticket-holders don’t show up, they are available to anyone who wants to sit there) and tucked into our comfy leather seats for a 4-hour round-trip adventure through the Cuyahoga Valley.
Our conductor turned up just as we were about to take off with a basket of complimentary treats and drinks. He is one of the all-volunteer force that welcomes passengers and shares stories about the Cuyahoga Valley. We packed snacks and food for the trip and no one seemed to mind when we snacked as we rode.
The National Park is part of the Ohio & Erie Canalway. The 110-mile canal extends from Cleveland south to New Philadelphia. We caught glimpses of the canal during our journey along with peeks at swamps, forests and ravines. We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife but we did spot a few bald eagles perched at the top of dead trees in a swamp and a great blue heron flew alongside the train like one of Harry Potter’s snowy owls looking to deliver mail.
Our ride was smooth as we moved at a leisurely pace through the national park. We saw an equal mix of families and athletes along the trails and frequently passed the tiny farms and villages reminiscent of turn-of-the-century rural Ohio.
The week before our trip, our conductor had bicycled the tow path with friends and he said he was happy to be in our air-conditioned car while bicyclers rode in the box car near the front of the train. “You don’t want to be in there,” he confided. “It stinks!”
The CVSR operates a Bike Aboard!, Hike Aboard! and Run Aboard! program for cyclists, hikers and runners to traverse the Towpath Trail in one direction and ride the train in the other (CVSR). Like most of the other 1,700 passengers scheduled on the day we traveled, we chose to ride in the comfort of a passenger car and enjoy the passing scenery.
Maddy was mesmerized for the first hour but we were all glad that I packed coloring books, crayons, puzzles and snacks to keep her occupied as the morning wore on.
As for me? I could have kept riding and looking out the windows for hours on end. Can’t wait to do it again.
For more information: www.cvsr.com, 800.468.4070