Down Day and Some Reading

Published: June 4th 2018
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Grafton, Ohio

Let’s see - we were tired after two big days of exploring the park; we were out of some food items and needed to make a run to the grocery store; and the forecast was for a massive rain storm which was going to make touring the park a muddy mess. So the plan was obvious - we declared a down day and stayed home. We slept in and even took a short nap later in the day. Made it to the grocery store in Grafton and restocked the fridge. And it did rain, in fact, it rained so hard we almost lost the awning to the downpour. The campground is still littered with puddles and the grounds are so wet that you sink in an inch with each step. We definitely made the right choice.

When not actually exploring a park, or managing essential chores, like grocery shopping, I like to fill my travel time with reading. I think I’ve mentioned that I try to purchase a book in every park bookstore that goes into detail about some aspect of that park. At newer parks, like Charles Young, there might not be any books available, but generally parks have books about the history, geology, or biology that the park is trying to preserve. Usually I try to ask a park ranger which book they found most interesting about the park. Of course, park personnel aren’t allowed to give direct recommendations (don’t bother asking for lunch spots), but they will give several ideas about which books address what kinds of topics and that can be helpful in picking one to read. I think I’ve started six different books so far on this trip and only managed to finish two of them so far. The problem, of course, is that I don’t finish one book before I get to the next park. And then I want to read about the park I’m in, instead of the one I left. So I put one book down and start another one. Eventually, I hope, I will get them all done, but it might be after we get home... I wish I was a faster reader.

Here at Cuyahoga Valley, I bought two books - one on the history of the canals in Ohio and the other describing the geography of different sections of the towpath. The second one we read before doing a hike or exploring a section of the park.

The book about the canals in Ohio (Ohio Canal Era: A Case Study of Government and the Economy, 1820-1861 by Harry N. Scheiber) isn’t exactly an easy read, but it is fascinating in places. Given the ongoing debate about what the role of government should be in directing the economy, I like finding sources that debunk the pervasive myth that private enterprise is the engine for American success. I don’t think that’s ever been true and, when that belief is embraced with unbridled enthusiasm (like the Koch brothers), it results in damaging impacts to both the environment and the social system. Free enterprise mythologists like to suggest that private industry propelled America to its successful status starting in the 1800s and that we only need to return to those ideals to ‘make our country great again’.

This book makes very clear that the free enterprise myth certainly wasn’t operative in the building of the canals. And, although the canals were only viable for a couple of decades, they had a significant effect on moving the country westward and of stimulating a vibrant national economy that achieved worldwide recognition in the early twentieth century. The building of the Ohio Erie Canal was conceived, administered, and completed as the result of Ohio State government agencies. It is true that private citizens bought the bonds issued to finance the effort, but it is also clear that private financiers wouldn’t have touched those bonds without the backing ‘with the full faith and credit of the State of Ohio’. Scheiber goes into detail about how the bonds were structured and sold and how the planning and administration of the effort proceeded with almost no corruption scandals, all as a public effort. It is true that the state contracted with private companies to actually complete the project, but they did so in a large number of small contracts, dividing the canal into multiple segments. The result is that no single large company was able to milk the contract and unduly benefit from government funding. Today, of course, large companies are so melded into the government structure, that modern efforts are severely mismanaged and subject to varying degrees of corruption.

Now I’m up to the point in the book where the canals are starting to be used. It should be interesting to see in the book how the economy is affected by this massive government enterprise.

Another book I bought some time back is a massive, and expensive, text, on the geology of each of the 57 National Parks. So yesterday I read the chapter on Cuyahoga Valley, and learned some interesting new stuff. In yesterday’s post I mentioned how there was this mini-continental divide the runs horizontally through Ohio at just about where Akron is today. The rivers north of that divide flow into Lake Erie and on into the North Atlantic. The rivers south of it flow into the Ohio River and then the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Part of the problem in building the Ohio Erie Canal was to bridge this summit and is one of the reasons there are so many locks on the canal.

What I didn’t know yesterday morning is that this big pile of land that makes up the divide is actually the result of the glaciers that existed in this area during the Wisconsin(most recent) Ice Age. These massive glaciers - estimated at 2.5 miles thick in points, are the mechanism for carving out the Great Lakes. As these rivers of ice scraped the continent, they built up massive quantities of rock and dirt and pushed that mass outwards, including southwards. But then, when the temperatures warm up and the ice starts melting, all of this material doesn’t retreat with the ice. Instead it just drops there. And that is what happened at this point in Ohio - that ridge is the southernmost point of the glacial advance and is the result basically of a massive terminal moraine.

The result was to re-route whatever rivers were forming, as the ice continued to melt. In fact, the Cuyahoga river actually makes a ‘V’ shape. It starts just east of Cleveland and flows south until it hits this moraine right around Akron. There it turns and runs north emptying into Lake Erie.

These glacial deposits make up a key feature of the park. In fact, most of the land surface in the park comes from glacial deposits made at the end of the last ice age. Below that, and exposed only in certain places where erosion has worn away the glacial stuff, is the original valley which was carved by earlier glaciers. Below that are deposits dating way back to Paleozoic times when this entire area was a deep sea bed. Around 325 million years ago, the North American craton collided with Europe raising the Allegheny mountains. The seabed was uplifted at that time to become the Allegheny plateau. Forces of erosion, and, of course, the glaciers, carved out ravines in that plateau and laid down moraine deposits to create the landscape that we see now. And so a canal had to be built across the deposits.

Kind of cool how forces at work tens of thousands of years ago can impact today’s events.


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