This summer, people find Cleveland synonymous with two national spotlights: the Cavaliers’ NBA title and the Republican National Convention. The quieter, simpler attractions in Northeast Ohio are often overlooked by the teams and museums that make The Land famous (or infamous); however, there are scores of natural exhibits that, in my mind, Trump the city’s headline-earning events.
(Feel free to pretend that I didn’t even
attempt to make Trump’s name into a pun.)
Just outside the city in Kirtland, Ohio, a hidden treat (or, should I say,
treet) rests beneath the treetops on more than 3,500 acres of land. This nature conservatory is known as the Holden Arboretum, named after Albert Fairchild Holden who funded the project as a memorial for his daughter.
As the thirteenth-largest public garden in the United States, the Holden Arboretum is home to over 20 miles of hiking trails in addition to its two more popular attractions: the Judith and Maynard H. Murch IV Canopy Walk and the Kalberer Family Emergent Tower.
The lifeguard gods managed to grace both Emma and I with a day off on one of the hottest days of the summer, so we opted to spend it beneath the shade of more than 120,000 different trees and other vegetation that cover this 3,600 acre plot of land.
The Holden Arboretum charges visitors for entrance into the conservatory: $6 for children ages 6-18, and $14 for everyone over the age of 18. I checked their website before we left and discovered that they do offer a student discount with a valid college ID, though I was still feeling a twinge of jealousy as I handed over my $13 while Emma only paid $5– getting old can be a bummer. However, the moment we set foot on the trails, I knew that this minor expense would soon be forgotten as we took in the natural wonders that our fees work to maintain.
Our first trail took us to the 500-foot long Judith and Maynard H. Murch IV Canopy Walk that is constructed from four suspension bridges and viewing platforms. The ramp that took us from the ground to the treetops started to trigger our mutual fear of heights, but the views were nothing compared to the Canopy Walk itself.
At 65 feet above the ground, the holes in the Canopy Walk’s floor allowed us to peer down through the leafy branches at the habitats below. The bridge’s gentle sway in the breeze made me feel like I was on an enormous hammock, but I was grateful for the security the fenced-in railings provided.
Signs are posted several feet from the entrance urging visitors to spend less than 30 minutes on the Canopy Walk to ensure that every guest has enough time to peacefully experience the walk, but the heat advisory managed to keep the crowds to a minimum; Emma and I were free to explore the canopy for as long as we wanted. The bridges loop around the trees so the path ends on the same platform on which it begins, but the vast expanse of wildlife ensures that no matter where you stand, you never experience the same view twice.
Several signs are sprinkled throughout the walk that provide insight into the forms of wildlife visitors can view from the Canopy Walk. Others, like this one, commemorate quotes from the very people who helped make the attractions at the conservatory possible. As the sign suggests, there are few better places to pause for reflection than a shaded path among the trees.
After completing the Canopy Walk, Emma and I followed the signs toward several other trails before we made our way to the Emergent Tower.
Unfortunately, the heat did make it less enticing to properly appreciate all of the hiking trails.
However, the few we managed to explore offered an abundance of beautiful surprises around every bend.
Just as our sweat became unbearable, we made it to the Kalberer Family Emergent Tower– a 120-foot-tall structure housed in the oak-maple forest.
Visitors reach the tower’s 12-story peak by ascending the 202 stairs that wind through six resting platforms.
Although the structure provided a sense of shelter and shade, the sunlight peaking through the trees was a constant reminder to take our eyes off of the stairs ahead and instead look out at the birds and butterflies that fluttered through the endless expanse of green.
The higher you climb, the narrower the staircase becomes. The final slim metal stairs made the trek rather unnerving…
…until we reached the top.
As we paced around the upper platform and took in the 360 degree view of the seemingly never-ending forest, we couldn’t help but pause and gaze in speechless awe because we were comfortably standing above the treetops. Even the intense sunlight couldn’t keep us from pausing to take in the views– it made us savor the cooling breeze that otherwise would have only drawn us to notice the consistent sway of the tower. Again, I was more than thankful for the railings!
It was almost unfathomable that we could be standing atop the miles of vegetation that would otherwise be overlooked– or underlooked— simply because of the extraordinary height of the trees.
Although we avoided the crowds by visiting on a 95-degree day, I must admit that these outdoor attractions might be more enjoyable on slightly cooler days. We decided that we would have to return some day in the fall to experience a more colorful version of the already breathtaking views. Another great excuse for an adventure? Yes, trees! Err– please!