Walkers at the Geauga Park District’s Rookery Park last Saturday had an opportunity to see up close the wetlands at the park where great blue herons nest and to walk on the former interurban rail line that is imbedded in local history.
The event was sponsored by Foundation for Geauga Parks at the Rookery in Munson Township and the walk was led by Geauga Park District naturalist Dottie Drockton. More than 50 walkers showed up for the hike that started at the Great Blue Heron Lodge. The walk was one of many hosted by the foundation. The next one is set for 10:30 a.m. March 7 at Beartown Lakes Park in Auburn Township.
As part of the foundation’s Explorer series, a different Geauga park is visited on a regular basis for walks that provide an opportunity to learn about the natural, historic and cultural beauty of the county.
The trail goes through wetlands and the Chagrin River. The 562 acres off Cedar and Rockhaven Road is located where there was a pre-glacial lake surrounded by rock ledges, according to Ms. Drockton.
Ms. Drockton led the walkers along the former rail line, which includes a kiosk constructed by the Cleveland and Eastern Interurban Society where visitors can read about the history.
Henry A. Everett and Edward W. Moore from Cleveland built the electric interurban railway from Cleveland to Geauga County. Their goal was to provide an access from the city to the country.
From 1899 to 1925, the Cleveland and Eastern Railway operated an electric-powered interurban train, transporting passengers, freight and farm goods between Cleveland and Geauga County. The trail in the Rookery leads to the site of the junction where the track splits into two branches.
The east bound track would continue to Chardon. Some riders would board a trolley at the junction to go to Burton and Middlefield. The rail line ran through Gates Mills Village and Russell Township on its way east to Munson Township.
There is also a separate interurban line that ran through Chagrin Falls Village and South Russell Township to Hiram. A portion of that line has been preserved in the South Russell Village Park, where visitors can walk on it.
While the interurban played an important revolution in transportation, it was also challenged by several factors including heat and energy recharging, ice covered lines, late schedules, derailments, snow and livestock on the tracks and high costs.
A bridge originally built by the interurban rail company was redone by the Burton Middlefield Rotary and made into a covered bridge in 1992.
Ms. Drockton pointed out to hikers that that beavers contributed to the establishment of the wetlands as did the construction of the interurban rail line. Great blue herons inhabit the Rookery, as they do at a heronry at the South Chagrin Reservation at Cleveland Metroparks in Bentleyville, she noted.
The heron nests at the Rookery once numbered about 125, but now because trees have died off, there are only about 25 nests, Ms. Drockton said.
In looking back at the Rookery’s history, she noted that TRW Inc. was going to expand its adjacent Fowler’s Mill Golf Course into what is now the Rookery in about the 1970s or early 1980s. That never happened, and Geauga Park District later acquired the property. It included a farm, which was located where the Rookery’s Great Blue Heron Lodge is now.
Along the trail, Ms. Drockton pointed out the bladdernut shrub that is unusual and found along the embankment of the interurban line and near the Chagrin River.
“We are blessed to live in Geauga County where wetlands and regeneration of forests take place,” she said.
She noted that woodcocks inhabit the Rookery, nesting in second-growth habitat and the park district is working to retain habitat for them along the park’s Woodcock Trail. Woodcocks are seen at several of the county parks, including at Burton Wetlands and Best Preserves.
Walking with Saturday’s group were South Russell Mayor William Koons and his wife Nancy. “It is another gem in Geauga County,” Mayor Koons said of the Rookery with its trails, wetlands, beavers, vegetation and the interurban line. “Many are unaware of all the wonderful things that are so close by.”
Mrs. Koons noted that the county parks are beautiful in the winter. It is fun to walk along the trails with vision unimpaired. “You get a different perspective and you can see through the woods and the terrain, compared to in the summer when the vegetation is so dense.”
“Between the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and the Geauga Park District, Geauga County is a wonderful area in which to live,” Mayor Koons said.
Adam Henry is the new president of the foundation’s board of trustees and he attended the walk on Saturday as well.
The Foundation for Geauga Parks is an independent nonprofit organization created to raise money to fund community engagement with nature through education, preservation, conservation and appreciation of the unique and natural character of Geauga County.
Its mission is to help preserve and conserve green space and enhance parks for passive recreation and enjoyment as well as to educate youth.