Cascade Park holds the same wondrous awe that our great National Parks elicit, yet on a much reduced scale with rivers, rocks, waterfalls, forests thick with hemlocks and birds singing over rushing waters. Situated near the hustle and bustle of downtown Elyria, this 135 acre plot where the twin branches of the Black River cascade over crests of Berea Sandstone merge into the economic heart of the area. Lorain County Metro Parks assumed operations of Cascade Park in 2014 through a partnership with the City of Elyria.
The East Branch and the West Branch of the Black River, drains a watershed of more than 400 square miles from parts of Lorain, Medina, Ashland and Huron Counties and merging into the main stem of the Black River. The rivers water has powerful, erosive strength that cuts through the sandstone creating beautiful gorges.
Closer to the northern end of the park, just downstream of the ford the flowing waters are recorded: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?04200500
Even though the watershed of the Black River is comprised of more than 50% agricultural farmlands the bedrock forms the backbone of Cascade Park. Berea Sandstone, a medium grained grey to buff color sandstone common throughout northern Ohio, forms the crest over which the two large waterfalls cascade. The massive rock has been eroded, frozen, cracked, split and weathered into the narrow gorges over the past 13,000, since the receding of the glaciers.
Additionally, portions of the sandstone are underlain by the omnipresent Bedford Shale and Cleveland Shale which can be viewed along much of the main stem of the Black River as it courses its way north, toward Lake Erie. The bedrock was formed 320 to 345 million years ago, during the Mississippian period when much of Ohio was covered by a shallow inland, tropical sea.
Geologic Field Guide of area: https://kb.osu.edu
The river transits south to north creating smaller creeks and runoffs that enter the park from both east and west. These small tributaries form deep cuts into the bedrock with overcasting shadows of the tall oaks and hickory’s lining the upper edges of the valley. These smaller streams form micro-climates in which more northerly species of plants may survive in the cooler damper environments. Hemlock is one of those species which is considered a northern tree, yet appears within these special habitats.
Sycamores grow in the bottom of the floodplain near the river along with Buckeye trees, Cottonwoods, Tulip Poplars, Black Walnuts and Willows. Not many of the large Ash trees have survived the recent onslaught of the invading Emerald Ash Borer, a non-native insect which has decimated the Ash within much of the northern Ohio landscape. These forests are perfect habitat for species of song birds. Portions of Cascade Park have been planted with Crab Apple trees and other urban landscape plantings.
Cascade Park has three main picnic areas within the valley. The “19 Acres” is at the northern end of the park, between the switchback runs of the Black River as it flows through the bottomland. There is a small playground and restroom facility accompanying Shelter #3. This area is accessible from the North Entrance off Floradale Street.
Shelter #2 is situated in the Elywood Park portion of Cascade. This shelter is also accompanied by a small playground and restroom. Elywood Park is accessible from Washington Avenue on the east side of the valley.
The largest portion of Cascade Park encompasses Shelter #1, which is near a large playground and just off the base of the sledding hill. The Nature Center and park offices are also located here. This area is accessible from Hillsdale Court off of Furnace Street.
Cascade Park and the surrounding area have a long and storied past. Fortress sites along the Black River, created by native peoples, are thought to be built thousands of years ago. The protection of the valley and its available natural resources has attracted Native Americans, European Explorers, Pioneers and Settlers for centuries.
Recent recorded history of the area begins in 1755, some 60 years before the first settlers were attracted to this area. Young James Smith at the age of 18, was working along the road being built from Virginia to Fort Pitt when he was captured by a tribe of Indians and was subsequently adopted into the tribe. This party spent the winter in the vicinity, gathering berries, fishing in the river and hunting game. Smith eventually escaped his captors and later wrote a diary of his years as a captive.
Heman Ely, from Massachusetts, arrived in the Western Reserve in 1816 and settled the area between the two branches of the Black River, establishing a boarding house and a gristmill. From this early settlement emerged the present day Elyria. Cascade Park came to fruition in 1894 when members of the Ely family deeded a portion of the valley to the city of Elyria. The park has since grown to encompass nearly the entire stretch of valley from the East and West waterfalls at the southern end of the park to the Route 57 bridge overlooking the flow of the Black River in the North end.
Cascade Park’s modern history has included a cable bridge crossing the West branch of the river just upstream of the confluence, a cage where three Black Bears were penned for many years and a couple of roads fording the river at various stages, one of which exists still to this day.