Spending quality time at South Chagrin

Chagrin River
Henry Church Jr. carved a series of items into a large sandstone rock along the Chagrin River. (Julie Geiss photo)

My husband and I received a lot of advice when we started having children. Some of the advice we ignored. However, there were a few words of wisdom that were golden.

We had several people tell us to make sure to set time aside for just us, without the kids. It seemed manageable at first, finding a weekend to get away just for the adults.

Then, time did what time is so good at doing — it flew by in a blink. In June, on our anniversary, we agreed it was time to do something. The words were easily said, but we missed our chance and before we knew it, fall sports had started. Then, holiday commitments filled our calendar. Even Valentine’s Day didn’t mean a quiet dinner or a night away.

South Chagrin Reservation

Finally, we managed a night away the week before Easter. Usually, I am the planner in our marriage, but my husband had everything covered for this short trip. We went to Chagrin Falls and explored the South Chagrin Reservation. The Buckeye Trail passes through this Cleveland Metropark, and several trails follow the Chagrin River.

South Chagrin Reservation is located in Bentleyville, Solon and Moreland Hills. Looking at a map, the park has a unique shape. The northernmost point is the Burnett Historical House and the polo field. The park extends south in a narrow channel, until it reaches Miles Road where many hiking trails are located.

We accidentally arrived at the Polo field first, but made our way south until we reached our desired trail, the Henry Church Jr. loop trail. The air was cool and damp after several days of rain. The Chagrin River was swollen and murky, overflowing the riverbanks. The trail in its entirety is 2.3 miles, however the section we completed was just under a mile.

Henry Church Jr

I had read about Henry Church’s rock along the Chagrin River, but I wasn’t certain of the exact location. Henry Church Jr., born on May 20, 1836, was a blacksmith by trade and an artist by choice. He learned the trade from his father, one of the founders of Chagrin Falls. In the areas of painting and sculpture, he was self-taught.

Henry Church Jr. carved a series of items into a large sandstone rock along the river. Legend has it that he worked on the rock at night, trekking along the river in darkness and secrecy. He dated his creation under his signature with the year 1885, when he felt it was complete.

The trail to reach the rock starts out elevated, before lowering into the river valley. The rock can be seen from the upper part of the trail, but we almost missed it. My husband is not one to stop and read every sign on the trail. We walked past the sign designating the viewing area of the rock.

Curiosity got the best of me and we went back to the sign. I’m glad we did because the sign listed all the objects carved into the stone. The list included a quiver of arrows, the phases of the moon, a serpent, an eagle, a woman with a shell, a dog, a skeleton, a baby in a papoose, sailing ships and a log cabin with a settler. Many scholars believe his sculpture on the rock is a depiction of the progress of U.S. settlement and Native American oppression.

After reading the sign and viewing the rock from the top, we began the trip down to the rock. It was treacherous at times as we had to watch our footing on the numerous stone steps. A total of 67 steps led us down to the trail along the river. Some of the steps were eroded and washed away.

We spent longer than I expected looking closely at the 30-foot-tall rock. I couldn’t imagine the hours he spent working on the intricate design. We noticed a foundation at the base of the rock. The WPA created a stacked stone foundation to prevent further erosion by the river.

Waterfalls and ramps

Henry Church Jr. loop trail
There are several waterfalls along the Henry Church Jr. loop trail. (Julie Geiss photo)

The hike back up was strenuous, but packed with beautiful views. We saw several waterfalls along the way. There is a tall waterfall opposite the rock on the trail and another large waterfall that stretches across the width of the Chagrin River.

Waterfall views brought us to our second stop in the park, Sulfur Springs Picnic Area. There we followed a section of the Buckeye Trail along the river. To my surprise, we stumbled upon a large growth of ramps.

“Ramps” is a name taken from Southern Appalachia for wild leeks or Allium tricoccum. From mid-May to early June, they can be found growing in the Appalachian region, including eastern Ohio. Ramps have long, broad leaves that are dark green against the brown forest floor. A garlicky flavor makes them desirable to many chefs.

In recent years, ramps have been over-harvested. In many places foraging for ramps is prohibited. The Cleveland Metroparks system has a strict no-harvesting policy. We left the ramps just as we found them, but renewed my enthusiasm for finding some on our property.

Our time away was short and sweet. Luckily for us, we have many one-tank trip options in the tri-state area. We’ve only scratched the surface of the Cleveland Metroparks system and can’t wait to log some more hiking miles soon.


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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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