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The eco-bucket list: 10 ecological experiences everyone should have in Northeast Ohio

David Beach  |  08/10/15 @ 1:00pm

Want to become more aware of your surroundings and more connected to nature in Northeast Ohio? Want to develop a deeper appreciation for the amazing diversity of life all around you? Then attempt these 10 items on my eco-bucket list. It might make you a better person!

Solar orientation<br />Get oriented where you live by watching the sun. See the geology<br />Euclid Creek cutting through layers of bedrock. Experience the natural communities<br />One of the natural communities of the region is a cool, hemlock and beech forest, seen here in Holden Arboretum. Identify some plants<br />It's important to really look at the structure of plants in order to know them. Go birding<br />World-class spring birding on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. Sample a stream<br />Stream sampling on a field trip led by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.Swim in Lake Erie<br />The beach at Mentor Headlands State Park.Visit an organic farm<br />Digging potatoes on a farm in the Cuyahoga Valley. Tour a wastewater treatment plant<br />The Westerly Wastewater Treatment Plant along the Cleveland lakefront.Ride the Towpath Trail<br />The Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the path through the diverse landscapes of Northeast Ohio.
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During 30 years of writing about environmental issues I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to explore the varied landscapes of Northeast Ohio. I’ve had some incredible guides -- geologists, archaeologists, botanists, birders, water quality experts, farmers, urban planners, and more.

I’m still no expert, but I have learned a lot about my bioregion -- my home territory. I have a deeper understanding of the uniqueness of this place and how to live here sustainably. I’m more sensitive about what’s important and what’s right.

After looking back on my experiences, I’ve attempted to identify 10 of the most important things to do to become rooted in this place. It’s a list that can be accomplished over a year of exploring and paying attention.

Watch the sun: First, you need to get oriented. One of the best ways to do this is to observe the path of the sun throughout the year where you live. Learn where the sun rises and sets on the summer solstice, fall equinox, winter solstice, and spring equinox (see dates). Remember how high in the sky the sun is in the summer and how low it gets in the winter. Get to the point where you can tell direction, time of day, and time of year just by looking at the sun.

See the geology: Geology is the foundation of our lives. If you know the bedrock geology, you also know a lot about the deep history of your home territory, the reasons the terrain is flat or sloped, the reasons why certain plants will grow or not grow, or why buildings were built of certain stones. Perhaps the best way to see the bedrock layers beneath us is to hike through the gorges of local streams. Two of the best stream cuts are along Euclid Creek and Doan Brook, where layers of Devonian sandstone and shale are exposed over a short distance. A later set of rock layers is accessible in Gorge Metro Park of Metro Parks Serving Summit County.

Experience the natural communities: Places have different soils, moisture levels, temperature, elevation, and other ecological parameters. Plants sort themselves according to these parameters into ecological niches. Insects, birds, and other animals follow the plants. And so places develop distinctive communities of living things. It’s truly enlightening to experience these natural communities. There are 14 basic ones in Northeast Ohio, and you can read about them here (along with suggestions for where to go). Then go out and get a feel for these natural building blocks of our region.

Identify some plants: Once you have developed a deeper appreciation for the diversity of natural communities in Northeast Ohio, it’s important to look more closely at individual species. I recommend using Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide to identify some plants. This guide has a simple yet ingenious classification system that allows you to key out a plant according to the structure of its flowers and leaves. Try to use it to identify a few plants. It doesn’t matter which ones. The important thing is to go through the process and be sensitized to the variety plants and structures. There’s no better way to go from seeing a vague green blur in nature to seeing -- really seeing -- a diversity of species.

Go birding: If you have never gone birdwatching during the spring migration you have missed out on one of the most amazing and beautiful natural phenomena of Northeast Ohio. To start, I recommend going on one of the many spring bird walks led by local birding organizations and park districts. It can be a thrilling introduction to the diversity of life in our region -- and an introduction to the ways our region is connected to other places around the world by the migratory journeys of birds.

Sample a stream: It’s a revelation to see how much life there is in a creek or river. You can find out by participating in a stream sampling workshop offered by local stream organizations or the Watershed Stewardship Center at West Creek. Once you know how many macroinvertebrates, fish, and other critters live in a stream, you will have a better appreciation for water quality and what you can do to improve it.

Go swimming in Lake Erie: Lake Erie is the region’s dominant natural resource, and you simply must experience it. Go to a beach, get in the water, feel the lake flow around you, and ponder how much you depend on the freshwater of this Great Lake. You need such an immersion-type experience to turn the lake from an abstraction to a profound part of your life.

Visit an organic farm: A big part of understanding Northeast Ohio is understanding farmland. While much farmland is planted in corn, soybeans and other commodity crops using industrial, chemical-intensive farming practices, an increasing number of farmers are adopting more sustainable practices. You can see this sustainable future in action by going on tours offered by organic farm groups, such as the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association and the Cuyahoga Countryside Conservancy. The important thing is to get out on the land and understand your vital relationship to soil and the people who produce your food.

Tour a wastewater treatment plant: In many ways, our connection to the environment is through infrastructure. It’s important, therefore, to understand how that infrastructure works, how society is investing in it, and whether it is doing a good job. An impressive introduction is a tour of one of the big wastewater treatment plants of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. The District’s Southerly plant is offering public tours on September 19, 2015.

Ride the Towpath Trail: The Towpath Trail, which follows the old Ohio & Erie Canal, is one of the great recreational trails in the country. And it’s one of the best ways to experience the history of the region and the varied landscapes of city, town, industry, woods, floodplains, river valley, wetlands, and fields. It takes you through the heart of things.

These 10 experiences have been especially meaningful in my bioregional education. And I would add one more: Take action for the environment. That can mean changing personal behaviors, attending a meeting, writing a letter, supporting an environmental organization, working for policy change, voting, or many other actions. It’s important to do something, for our actions are what change us the most.

What would you add to this bucket list? Please add your comments below.

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David Beach
2 years ago

Mark,
You are right about the Rocky River Valley being a great place to see exposed layers of bedrock. The only reason I didn't include it in my short list of examples is that it's more spread out. The other places allow you to see more layers in a short distance. But I love the Rocky, especially the area by confluence of the east and west branches near the nature center.

Mark Andrew Kearney
2 years ago

The Rocky River Valley encompasses multiple layers of exposed rock dating to the various periods, all within one valley.

Also, the three beach ridges [now major east west streets crossing the northern part of the city and county] which rest the ancient lake shores need to be experienced in person in order to develop a deeper feeling for the evolution of our Cleveland landscape!

David Beach
2 years ago

Another way to get rooted in this place will be to attend "The Soul of Cleveland" event at the Happy Dog, 5801 Detroit Ave., on September 21 at 5:30 p.m., sponsored by CWRU's Baker Nord Center for the Humanities. Hear storytellers Joe Cimperman, Jennifer Coleman, Jack Bialosky Jr. and others from the audience. David Giffels, award-winning Akron author, will share "The Lake Effect"ť from his book "The Hard Way on Purpose,"ť and David Hassler, Director of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University will read relevant poems. Dan Moulthrop, CEO of The City Club of Cleveland, will moderate.

Janice Patterson
2 years ago

Wonderful list...we are so fortunate to live where so many natural experiences are close at hand.

Anne Caruso
2 years ago

I love this idea of a local bucket list! Thank you.

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