Park Place: My Favorite Spot

Larry Blanchard has been railroading since 1959 and is currently trainmaster for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. He runs engines and supervises operations for the organization, which offers trips through Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

You should never ask an old guy about railroad stories, because they're unlimited. I'll tell you what — every day is a different day out here.

My dad was a trainmaster, and I didn't want to be on the railroad because of the lifestyle — gone all the time — but I couldn't find something I liked better. I've been here ever since, never changed jobs.

I came into this area in 1980, working on CSX, so I've been involved even before Cuyahoga Valley [National Park] existed. Later, I retired off CSX, and I moved up here. I just wanted to run engines and play around. I was asked if I would be the director of operations, which I did not want to do very bad because I've been in management so long that I was tired of it. But I did do it for four years, and then I became trainmaster to stay involved.

My favorite spot is down at [Station Road Bridge] in Brecksville. I'm a photographer also, and I've got this picture that everybody just loves. It's from the point of the walkway bridge across the [river], shooting up toward Route 82 where our trains come underneath.

One story that I used to always tell is one day I was patrolling track, and I saw something on the rail. As I got closer I could see it was a beaver: He was across the rail and he wasn't moving.

This one crossed the rail in the middle of the night, and the bottom of his belly was wet and when he crossed, he instantly froze to the rail. So I went down and poked him with a stick, and he was alive — he made a noise. I got him off of there, and I just put him off along the side of the rail and went on my way.

You have to be very, very alert all the time. ... Be very cautious, look way ahead, and look for anything that comes up. But it's fun. I mean, I wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't fun. — as told to Caitlyn Callahan

Tom Jones has photographed Cuyahoga Valley National Park for almost 40 years, and his work has been published in USA Today and National Geographic. But before there was a park, Jones built a house in the Cuyahoga Valley.

It's not Yellowstone or Yosemite, but it's ours, and it's very nice.

This used to all be Truxell Road until Virginia Kendall Park was established. My wife's father was born at the Truxell Farm where Camp Manatoc is now. He told me that when he was a little boy, he had to walk from where he was living all the way out to State Road to go to school and there was not one tree. It was all farm ground and all the trees had been cut to build the canal villages and the canal boats. All of this has grown up since 1907. That's right, in a hundred years a forest can grow.

My favorite spot is the Ledges. I take pictures within an hour of sunrise and an hour of sunset, before and after, in what we call the "sweet light." I'm out about 5:30, before the sun comes up. When that early light starts, it's just magical.

My luckiest shot happened on the east side of the Ledges, around 9 in the morning. Normally the first 10 days of June are when little deer are born, and I was out walking around through the ferns when I found them. The wind was just right, blowing from the deer to me. Had it been the other way, the [mother] would have smelled me.

It was too dark to take pictures, so I waited until there was enough light. She had twins. They were just a blob on the ground at first. ... She went over and licked their eyes, and they got them open and looked around. They walked around by themselves for about an hour before they knew that there were two of them. And then they saw each other, and they went over and touched their noses. As soon as they were born and standing, she fell asleep. They just played around and explored in the ferns.

The elements were just right. I took three rolls of film. I was standing about 40 feet away, and I was there for about three hours. They never knew I was there. It was pure luck.  — as told to James Bigley II

Deb Yandala grew up a half hour away from the thousands of acres she now works to promote and preserve. As CEO of the nonprofit Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Yandala leads the group's work to raise public support for the park.

I certainly spend more time in the park than many people, working here all the time.

If I only have time for a short hike, I love Blue Hen Falls. It's a very short jaunt — a 5- or 10-minute walk depending on how fast you go. But you get back in there and you just feel like you're a world away. It's lush. It's green. And even though the highways are close by, you can't really hear them because of the falling water and the leaves.

I grew up in Euclid. My grandparents lived in Akron, and we would drive through what is now the park on Route 8, and I remember this being a beautiful, out-in-the-woods area. I graduated high school in 1973, so I was gone from Northeast Ohio by the time the park was formed. But coming back to Northeast Ohio, before I was hired to work here, I just couldn't get over that we had national park land here and how wonderful it was that this area was preserved.

We first took our kids hiking to Blue Hen Falls. With younger kids, we liked the fact it wasn't a very long hike, and the kids got to see a waterfall. Part of what I like about Blue Hen Falls is it's accessible — it's not a long trail for people just being introduced to what this park means.

Green space is important for people's health. It's important for their souls. ... Part of what is so magical about Cuyahoga Valley National Park is you feel like you're deep in the woods, yet you're half an hour from downtown Cleveland and 20 minutes from Akron.

We often talk about how important parks are to Northeast Ohio. I always hear from corporate people that when they want to attract talent, especially young adults, to this area, they take them to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. You can live downtown and have this a short drive away. This is one of the great places in the country where you really can have both.  — as told to Jim Vickers

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