Run through Mill Stream Run Reservation ignites new passion

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Mill Stream Run Reservation
Mill Stream Run Reservation is a part of the Cleveland Metroparks. (Julie Geiss photo)

On the coldest morning yet of this season, three members of my family, including myself, were embarking on a journey. The frosty air cut right through my clothes and I headed back to the house to get more layers. Moisture-wicking, water-repellent and wind-resistant — I added all the layers I could think of before heading out the door again. 

We were traveling a short distance to Strongsville, Ohio, for a half-marathon race on roads within a park. Two of the three in our party were running; one of us was going to alternate between walking and sitting in a warm car. Thankfully, I was the person with access to heated seats and extra blankets.

My oldest daughter was going to run her first half-marathon. Long-distance running is a family affair; however, her uncle had conflicting advice. 

“Don’t start,” he told her with a solemn face. He was adamant that once someone starts, they can’t stop. The next race or a faster time keeps them committed to discontentment and the fickle sport of distance running. 

History of marathons

When the modern Olympic Games began in 1896, a new distance event for running was introduced, the marathon. Historically, a long race was never included in the ancient games. The longer distance for the race was based on a legend of a Greek messenger. 

Across many cultures, ancient people mainly ran to hunt game or to escape danger. Another reason for running was to relay messages. The legend that planted the seed for the modern marathon centers around Pheidippides, a Greek messenger who raced against time from Marathon to Athens. 

Traversing nearly 25 miles, he carried the news of a Greek victory over invading Persians. After delivering the news, he collapsed and died. From this atrocious ending, an audacious new distance in running was created. The irony is often overlooked by overzealous participants. 

People are often drawn to extremes. Why run a 5k when a bigger goal is out there? I am again reminded of a certain uncle’s advice. Many runners jump right into the marathon, but my husband and I insisted that our daughter should run a half-marathon before attempting the longer distance. 

She registered for the race when it was 70 degrees in October. A few weeks later, the temperatures dropped to a high of 19 degrees with the wind chill bringing the real feel temperature down 10 more degrees. Luckily, the weather was the only thing that did not go well. 

Mill Stream Run

The location of the race turned out to be the most positive component of the race. Mill Stream Run Reservation is a part of the Cleveland Metroparks. Often referred to as the Emerald Necklace, the Cleveland Metroparks system is a ring of 18 reservations containing more than 24,000 acres. 

The race began and ended at the Bonnie Park Picnic Area within Mill Stream Run Reservation. The picnic area pavilion, where piping hot soup and hot cocoa were provided after the race, was created with federal funding from the Works Progress Administration in the early 1940s. 

People had been using the land along the East Branch of the Rocky River for several decades for recreational use, mainly swimming and fishing. The WPA also built retaining walls, diving areas and a wading pool. 

Long before it was a swimming hole, a dam and gristmill were built around 1820. The dam drastically changed the ecological features of the area over the decades. Eventually, pollution brought an end to swimming and threatened the aquatic life that lived in the river. Fish were unable to swim upstream and the delicate ecosystem for macroinvertebrates was disrupted. 

A grant-funded project began in 2017 to remove the dam and restore the natural flow of the river. In addition to removing the dam and an old concrete pad, the wetlands and floodplains were restored allowing for the natural ebb and flow of the waterway. The project took three years and was completed in 2022. 

The area now meets standards for the EPA’s clean water act. An accessible overlook, paved trails, and interpretive signs along the river’s edge bring the project full circle making enjoyment of the area possible year-round. 

Hooked

It turns out that her uncle is prophetic. When she finished the race she said, “I don’t feel too bad. I think I can run faster. Let’s find a spring race.” Apparently, I need to start training because I am supposed to run the spring race too.

That’s what distance runners do, they talk other people into joining them on crazy goals. This winter I will have to alternate between hiking boots and Hoka running shoes. It is hard to stay mad about imposing running goals on others. 

Running has made local trails at Mill Creek Park in Youngstown a second home for me. Marathon running has also taken us to Chicago in the fall and Boston in the spring. It is a way to stay connected to nature without disrupting it. 

My ability to train and complete another marathon might be muddy, but my thoughts on returning to Mill Stream Run Reservation are pretty solid. I hope to return even before the spring thaw.

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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