It would be a stretch to say we went looking for a groundhog, but the furry creature was on our minds as we visited the Cascade Valley Metro Park’s Chuckery area. That’s Chuckery as in woodchuck, another name for the large rodent whose shadow, when seen on Feb. 2, is said to harken the first signs of spring. Its other names include land beaver, whistlepig and, of course, the Latin marmota monax.
The name Chuckery is attributed to Col. John Nash, an early settler of Akron’s oldest neighborhood, Middlebury, according to historian Samuel Lane, who once joked that the population of Summit City (now Akron’s North Hill neighborhood) was about 10,000—one man and 9,999 woodchucks.
Another early name for the area north of what is now downtown Akron was Cascade, a community established by Eliakim Crosby in 1833, the year he built the Cascade Mill Race, the waterway that powered mills and businesses along the Ohio & Erie Canal. Cascade became part of Akron three years later.
Crosby built the Chuckery Race in 1844 in the area artist Chuck Ayers and I came to explore 164 years later. The sun was shining when we arrived, and we could see our shadows. But because it was weeks before Groundhog Day (and we’re not groundhogs), we knew we could count on a bit more winter weather.
As if to punctuate that thought, a light snow began to fall as we began our exploration. The Chuckery area is at the south end of the park off Cuyahoga Street, just north of Uhler Avenue.
We could hear but not see the river from the parking lot, so we headed toward the sound. Our footprints were the first in the freshly fallen snow, and there were no footprints in the snow-covered wooden staircase to the right of us that led to the 3.2-mile Highbridge Trail. To the right of the stairs the trunks of at least a dozen downed trees formed another staircase of sorts.
Instead of taking that trail or the 2.4-mile Chuckery Trail, we walked down a long driveway marked “Service Vehicles Only” and soon came to the river, where many of the trees growing along both banks seemed to be stretching like arms trying to touch each other across the chilly water.
Benches at spots along the river bank and nearby picnic tables were piled with about six inches of snow, and looking across the water, we could see the sledding hill at the park’s Oxbow area, which also runs off Cuyahoga Street to the north.
Beyond that in the distance we caught a glimpse of the park’s Overlook Area, which runs off Sackett Avenue, and looking east through the bare trees we could see the high-level bridge that connects State Road in Cuyahoga Falls with Main Street in Akron.
We had seen these views before on earlier visits, the first of which we wrote about in July 1988, just four months after our walks-around-Akron feature began in the Akron Beacon Journal.
Our focus of that first visit was the Signal Tree, which we saved for last this time. The burr oak, said to be some 300 years old, has two thick branches growing near the bottom of its equally thick trunk. The branches, bent like arms extended upward at the elbows, are believed to have been shaped like by local Indians to serve as a marker on the canoe portage trail between the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas rivers.
The Signal Tree was as enjoyable as ever, but seeing the Chuckery in winter was a special treat and we wondered why we hadn’t done it sooner.
To our surprise, the Chuckery and Oxbow park entrances have addresses: 837 Cuyahoga St. and 1199 Cuyahoga St., Akron, respectively. For park information, call 330-865-8060 or visit