The Tree Farm Trail is a favorite winter destination in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This 2.75-mile loop trail attracts walkers, people on snow shoes, and cross country skiers. The setting of the trail is lovely year round, but takes on a special feeling in winter.
The trail passes through parts of the Robert Bishop family tree farm that were acquired by the National Park Service. Trees planted as part of this Christmas tree farm now tower above visitors and create tunnels of green that become laden with snow.
The trail starts at the Horseshoe Pond parking area on Major Road in Peninsula. Horseshoe Pond is a small farm pond named for its shape and is a nice fishing spot. The National Park Service maintains a fishing platform for wheelchair access. A non-reservable picnic shelter is also available near the pond's edge.
The trail itself follows farm lanes through the former Christmas tree farm. The trail is relatively wide, accommodating shared use for different winter activities and offering plenty of room for cross-country skiers to maneuver. The terrain is gently rolling. Short hills offer a challenge, but are not overly difficult. The National Park Service does not groom trails for cross country skiing, but enough people use the trail so that it can feel groomed.
The trail takes you through evergreen forests that owe their existence to the area's farming past. You can still notice how the trees were planted in rows. Yet, the red pine, white pine, scotch pine, red spruce, and blue spruce now also create ideal feeding places and shelter for many animals. Appreciation for nature's wonders can overtake you along the trail.
Deer bed in the evergreens during the chill of winter, taking advantage of the natural wind break. You might find tracks of hard-to-see nocturnal animals. Look for foot prints of cottontail rabbits, coyote, raccoon, and opossum. Snow offers opportunities to view details of animal tracks that are hard to see in other seasons. If you find a long-toed track, try to tell whether it might be raccoon or opossum. The former has a larger palm; the latter, more wide-spreading toes.
Several wintering birds also prefer evergreen forests, making Tree Farm Trail the best location in Cuyahoga Valley National Park to find them. They are small birds with relatively distinctive coloring and behavior.
Red-breasted nuthatches travel with flocks of songbirds, but stay close to tree branches and trunks where they search the bark for insects. They are distinguished from their more common counterpart, the white-breasted nuthatch, by the rusty-cinnamon color of their breast.
Golden-crowned kinglets are tiny birds with a rounded body shape, a bold black eyebrow stripe, and a yellow-orange crown patch on their heads. They can be hard to see because they tend to stay high up in the trees. Listen first for their high, thin song before trying to track one down.
Small open areas separate stretches of evergreen forest, adding to the natural beauty along the trail. These spots attract different animals and provide an opportunity to explore nature's diversity. A great variety of sparrows are often present feeding on patches of gray dogwood berries.
The trail also passes through a large open field, a place to look for bluebirds and red-tailed hawks. This is a high point on the trail and offers one of the most scenic vistas in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The view sweeps across Heritage Farms to the east side of the valley. The Bishop family did not sell its entire farm to the National Park Service. Heritage Farms continues to operate a cut-your-own Christmas tree operation. Day lilies and a fall harvest activities are other reasons to visit this farm throughout the year.
The story of the Tree Farm Trail is a combination of human influence and natural diversity creating a wonderful setting for outdoor recreation. This is a common story in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Each trail in the park has a similar story, with enough differences to give each its own appeal. The opportunity to explore this diversity so close to home is one of the advantages provided by Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Horseshoe Pond and Tree Farm Trail are located at 2075 Major Road in Peninsula. You can rent cross country skis and snowshoes at the Winter Sports Center at Kendall Lake Shelter. Kendall Lake is on Truxell Road, 2 miles west of Akron-Cleveland Road in Peninsula. The Winter Sports Center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends through Feb. 23, as well as the holidays of Jan. 20 and Feb. 17. For more information, including snow conditions, call 330-657-2752.
Editor's note: Park Ranger Paul Motts contributed to this story. Vasarhelyi is Chief of Interpretation, Education & Visitor Services at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.