Fitting into North America
We are at 41 degrees north latitude, almost midway between the Equator and the North Pole. We are in the flat middle of a vast continent, far from the oceans and mountain ranges. In the big ecological picture, we are in the Eastern Temperate Forest ecoregion, which encompasses much of the eastern United States. Left to nature, Northeast Ohio wants to grow forests.
Regions of Ohio
After nearly two million years, the last great Ice Age ended 10,000 years ago. Two-thirds of Ohio had been buried under glaciers, which scoured and shaped the landscape, then covered it with thick layers of glacial till, comprised of sands, gravel, and clay. In contrast, the southeastern third of the state—where the ice didn't reach—remained a rugged, wrinkled land, providing an entirely different home for plant and animal life.
Northeast Ohio lies within the glaciated portion of the state. It is at the intersection of three of Ohio's five physiographic regions, each with its own geological profile and distinct communities of plants and animals.
- Once the bottom of a much larger ancient lake known as Lake Maumee, this region is an extremely flat plain.
- A narrow strip of land along the Lake Erie coast in northeastern Ohio, it broadens significantly west of Cleveland.
- As water levels rose and fell, sandy beach ridges and dunes formed along the shore.
- The northwestern area of the region was called the Great Black Swamp, marked by rich, black soils and poor drainage.
Glaciated Allegheny Plateau
- To the east of Cleveland the Allegheny Plateau is separated from the Lake Plains by the steep rise of the Portage Escarpment (for example, Cedar Hill or Mayfield Hill).
- Carved by glaciers and ancient streams, this region is less hilly rugged than the unglaciated Appalachian Plateau.
- Following glaciation, many streams reversed their flow, cutting new paths throughout the region.
- Evidence of the region's glacial past includes bogs, kettle lakes, and a landscape marked by small hills of sand and gravel called "kames."
- Today, the area is marked by smaller tracts of forests, ranging from a few acres to hundreds of acres.
- This fertile region located south of the Lake Plains is not as flat and is characterized by gently rolling hills.
- Most hills are a series of moraines, which are glacier-created mounds of rock and soil that are up to 100 feet high and 6 miles wide.
- A hilly belt of bedrock in Bellefontaine rises 1,549 feet above sea level - the highest point in the state, called Campbell's Hill.
- Glaciers created terraces along valley sides and new drainage patterns including today's Ohio River.
Adapted from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Buildings of the future >
See videos from the Museum's amazing Building with Nature Symposium
The best bike trails >
Find out where are the most interesting bike rides in Northeast Ohio
Where's the best urban stroll? >
From Shaker to Hudson, here's our list of favorite places to stroll