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From the pristine beauty of its many parks and nature preserves to the abundance of history, there is plenty to see and do in Portage County. Here are just 10 of the attractions that visitors to the county can enjoy.
• Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park
Address: 12440 S.R. 282, Nelson Township
It may be small, but the 167-acre Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park in Northern Portage County is known for its trademark outcrop rock formations. The formations are among the few in northern Ohio still exposed to view. Most of the outcrops elsewhere have been covered with soil and rock left by receding glaciers.
A popular picnicking and hiking spot, the trails wander through formations such as Devil's Icebox, Indian Pass and Old Maid's Kitchen. The area was of vital importance to the Indian tribes, including Delaware, Shawnee, Miami, Seneca, Mohawk, and Cajuga, who were among those said to have lived at Nelson Ledges.
The park lies near one of the highest points of the state and is close to the watershed divide between the Ohio River and Lake Erie. Several major foot trails and canoe routes passed through the area, which became an important trade center for both pioneers and Indians.
-Information from parks.ohiodnr.gov/nelsonkennedyledges
(Photo from parks.ohiodnr.gov/nelsonkennedyledges)
• Wingfoot Lake State Park
Address: 993 Goodyear Park Blvd., Suffield
This beautiful park in southwestern Portage County is a popular spot for picnics and social gatherings and plays host to the annual Suffield Music Festival each August.
The park offers a variety of activities for all ages including an archery range, boating and boat rentals, an 18-hole disc golf course, a dog park, fishing, playgrounds, ballfields, mini-golf, a driving range and walking paths.
The park was created in the 1960s by the Goodyear Company for employee outings and corporate retreats. The company closed the park in 2006 and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources purchased the property and added it to the state park system. The property is adjacent to the Goodyear blimp hangar and occasionally a blimp can be seen taking off or landing.
-Information from parks.ohiodnr.gov/wingfootlake
• Tinkers Creek State Nature Preserve
Address: 1230 Old Mill Road, Aurora
This 786-acre preserve in northwestern Portage County lies amid thousands of acres of peat, swamp and marshland harboring a variety of natural wonders.
Its .5-mile Seven Ponds trail is a popular spot for birding, with geese, herons, nesting waterfowl and songbirds often spotted along the trail. Hikers on the South Point Trail and Lonesome Pond Loop can see beaver ponds and other wildlife.
The majority of the park is maintained in its original state as a swamp and marshland. These wetlands owe their existence to the glaciers that invaded Ohio during the Pleistocene Ice Age.
During the spring and fall migration periods, the marsh provides food and shelter for thousands of waterfowl. Mallards, wood ducks and Canada geese nest in the marshlands each year. In addition, woodcock, rail, gallinule, snipe, heron and bittern are often sighted. Beaver and muskrat are common residents.
-Information from http://parks.ohiodnr.gov/tinkerscreek
(Photo from parks.ohiodnr.gov/tinkerscreek)
• Kent State University Museum
Address: 515 Hilltop Drive, Kent
In January, 1982, Kent State University received the largest and most valuable gift offered since its founding in 1910: the collection of fashion, historic costume, paintings and decorative arts amassed by Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman, partners in Jerry Silverman, Inc., a manufacturer of dresses in New York City.
There are more than 20,000 objects in the museum's collection, including period clothing from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and works by numerous designers including sketchbooks, photos and other documents. The museum also is in possession of the extensive collection of American glass donated in 1983 by Akron antique collectors Jabe Tarter and Paul Miller.
-Information from https://www.kent.edu/museum/history-museum
• Portage County Historical Society and Museum
Address: 6549 N. Chestnu St., Ravenna
Portage County is steeped in history and the nearly 70-year-old society has made it it's mission to collect and preserve that history for current and future generations.
In addition to the Lowrie-Beatty museum, the 12-acre site features a number of historic homes and items on its grounds. The Carter House is a Greek Revival farmhouse built by one of the first-generation settlers in the Western Reserve in 1835 while the Strickland House is an 1860's brick home with a Victorian flabor. You can also tour the John Campbell Land Grant Office, 1810-1811; the Mahan Barn, an 1810 New England type barn; the Ford Seed Company Museum, which is housed in an old photographer's studio; and a restored log cabin dating back to the 1830s.
Adorning the front yard of the grounds is a unique Proehl-Kline Clock Tower housing a 1882 Seth Thomas clock from the Portage County Courthouse and the courthouse bell.
- information from www.portagecountyhistoricalsociety.org
• The Portage Hike and Bike Trail and Headwaters Trail
Phone: 330-297-7728 (Portage Park District)
The Portage Hike and Bike Trail runs from the east end of Ravenna to the west end of Kent and beyond, linking with the Summit Metro Parks Bike and Hike Trail and the Cuyahoga Valley Towpath Trail.
Historically used as a transportation route by Native Americans the trail is located along the historic Erie rail line, with a portion of it running alongside a still-active railroad operated by the Akron Barberton Cluster Railway. Portions of the trail travel along the Cuyahoga River, remnants of the P&O Canal, the historic Kent Railyards, Towner’s Woods, and Chestnut Hills Park.
The trail can be enjoyed all year and is ideal for walking, running, cycling, in-line skating, skateboarding and cross country skiing.
The asphalt trail features multiple trailheads and parking areas, information kiosks, interpretive signs, and picnic tables. There are parking areas throughout Franklin Township and Ravenna.
The Headwaters Trail is an eight-mile limestone-paved trail built on the former Cleveland-Mahoning Railroad line between Mantua and Garrettsville. It passes by beautiful farmland and forests, steep ravines and wetlands, including state nature preserves, and the Upper Cuyahoga State Scenic River.
Portions of the Headwaters Trail have been designated as part of the Buckeye Trail system that circles the state. The trail is located along a railroad tyat operated as a passenger and freightline from Youngstown to Cleveland until the mid 1970s. The S.R. 700 trailhead is the site of the former Jeddoe Station, and historic stories of the railroad include a train robbery and great escape in Garrettsville, and a tragic boiler accident.
- Information from http://portageparkdistrict.org
Address: 2264 Ravenna Road, Franklin Township
Beautiful Towner's Woods consists of 234 rolling acres of mixed forests, diverse wetlands and meadows in Franklin and Ravenna townships. The park is next to Lake Pippen, a pristine glacial kettlehole lake owned by the city of Akron. Foot trails throughout the park provide easy to strenuous hiking and cross-country skiing through beautiful natural scenery and varied habitats.
The popular park features picnic shelters, sledding hills, hiking and cross country ski trails, access to the Portage Hike and Bike Trail and is the site of the historic Brady Interlocking Railroad Tower, which was once used to switch the lower set of train tracks on the Erie Roalroad line.
West Branch State Park
Address: 5570 Esworthy Road, Ravenna
West Branch State Park is a jewel in Portage County's crown. The park features a 2,650-acre lake that is popular with fishermen, boaters and swimmers while the 5,379 acres of land are perfect for camping, hiking, hunting and horseback riding.
Visitors to West Branch can rent a boat at the marina or play disc golf on an 18-hole course near the public beach and a 9-hole course in the campground.
One of the most popular aspects of the park is its more than 14 miles of hiking trails, 12 miles of mountain biking and snowmobile trails and 20 miles of bridle trails for horseback riding.
- Information from http://parks.ohiodnr.gov/westbranch
(Photo from http://parks.ohiodnr.gov/westbranch)
Chestnut Hills Children's Park
Address: North Chestnut Street, Ravenna
This popular children's park in Ravenna came to life with the help of community volunteers. A group of dedicated residents began meeting with the idea for a playground that would be designed and built by the community. In 2006, elementary school students met with designers to share their ideas for the park and the group began raising funds. In 2008, more than 1,000 volunteers came together to build the castle-themed park.
- Information from staff reports and www.ci.ravenna.oh.us
May 4 Visitors Center
Address: 101 Taylor Hall at Kent State University, 300 Midway Drive, Kent
The May 4 Visitors Center, which opened in 2012, marks the deadly events that lead to the death of four people on the Kent State University campus on May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd during demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
The center is comprised of three main galleries. The first, with signs and sounds of the late 1960s, provides context to the events leading up to May 4. The second gallery features a video recapping the events of May 4, 1970. The third gallery has symbols and imagery surrounding American public opinions of the Vietnam War, the shooting of college students and President Richard Nixon's reactions.
A “wall of words” features newspaper headlines from across the nation, printed in the wake of the events.
Visitors can also visit the Victory Bell and a sculpture that still contains a bullet hole as well as markers and memorials for the four slain men and women.
- From staff reports