Ottney: Let’s rock and rollWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
I visited Northeast Ohio this past weekend along with Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller to dig into a weekend of “urban outdoors” activities organized by Positively Cleveland, the city’s tourism and convention bureau. Our group of mainly travel writers hailed from as far as Toronto, New York City and Denver as well as elsewhere in Ohio.
I logged more miles on a bicycle than I have in years, including a ride on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, on painted “trails” winding through a massive mountain bike park built inside a former factory and an amazing night ride with 1,500 other cyclists on the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway highway, from Edgewater Park to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and back. Kayaking, birdwatching and outdoor yoga were also on the agenda.
Cleveland, like Toledo, is a Rust Belt city shaped by its blue-collar, industrial past. But, like Toledo, it also features a vibrant art scene, creative culinary scene, lots of green space and plenty of pride.
Clevelanders have heard all the jokes — about the river that caught on fire, the losing sports teams, “At Least We’re Not Detroit” — but you have to respect those who embrace the mockery and turn it on its head. People make fun of your burning river? Name a beer after it. Name a festival after it. Name a roller derby team after it. Better yet, name a foundation dedicated to improving and maintaining said river after it. Own it.
I heard a lot of other R words this weekend: Renaissance. Revival. Rebirth. Revitalization. Renovation. Rejuvenation. Resilience.
Positively Cleveland’s research shows a huge gap between the positive experiences of those who have visited the city and the negative perceptions of those who have not, the organization’s president and CEO David Gilbert recently told cleveland.com. The same could be said of Toledo.
Cleveland’s Ohio City — recently pegged by USA Today as an up-and-coming neighborhood — is known for its food and breweries. In 2011 it was named as one of the world’s best bar hopping destinations, listed alongside places like Dublin, Brooklyn and Portland.
Many young people I talked to said they moved back “to be part of the renaissance.” They saw something happening they didn’t want to miss out on.
“Cleveland’s like the Brooklyn of the Midwest. There’s an artisan hipster kind of renaissance,” said Mandi Kotynski, marketing coordinator for several Ohio City breweries, including Nano Brew Cleveland, an experimental single-barrel brew house that features a new beer each week. “With lots of breweries [in Ohio City], you’d think it’d be competition, but there’s a sense of community and working together to build Cleveland up.”
Nick VanDemark, 27, of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission said he’s amazed at the changes in the four years since he moved back to Northeast Ohio.
“People will hate it until they are here. Then they love it,” VanDemark said. “Two years ago, even the locals would be negative about Cleveland. Now they are proud and trying to get you to come here. It’s like, ‘Make your joke. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
Biking is also a big part of the new Cleveland. A privately funded bike-share pilot program launched earlier this month through Zagster with 34 bikes in six locations in Ohio City. The bikes are accessed for a hourly rate via a free app, which supplies a code to unlock a bike. Cleveland’s initiative is the company’s first fully public rental system.
Ray’s Indoor Bike Park was jaw-dropping. It’s 140,000 square feet of ramps, trails and foam pits constructed inside an old factory building, remodeled each season to keep things fresh.
Another innovative idea is Merwin’s Wharf, a restaurant owned, operated and staffed by Cleveland Metroparks employees with all proceeds benefiting the Metroparks. A special brew, Fat Head’s Brewery’s Trail Head Pale Ale, is sold throughout the region to fund upkeep on the trails. The restaurant, which opened this summer overlooking the river, was bustling during our visit.
Cleveland’s Metroparks, known as the Emerald Necklace, includes 18 park reservations spanning nearly 23,000 acres, including eight golf courses and a zoo. It drew 16 million visitors last year.
Nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park features the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, running year-round between Independence and Akron. The railroad offers a discount for bicyclists and well as craft beer and wine rides and a “Polar Express” ride for kids each winter.
Toronto-based “adventure blogger” Red Hunt of Red Hunt Travel enjoyed Cleveland’s “community vibe.”
“Whether it was bike co-ops or programs through Cleveland Metroparks, there was a feel-good, educational vibe to enjoying and exploring the great outdoors in the city,” he said.
Denver-based travel blogger Carri Wilbanks of Catch Carri came away with the impression Cleveland was “a city on the rise.”
“I am so impressed by a collaborative effort to create community,” she said.
The city hosted the Gay Games this summer — Paris will host the next one — and was selected to host the Republican National Convention in 2016. Plus, “King James” is back and Johnny Manziel’s in town.
“I feel like everything’s ramping up,” said Erin Fox, 27, who grew up in Northeast Ohio and works in social media for CBS Radio in Cleveland. “You need infrastructure for events like that. We’re a big city that used to be huge, so we have all those pieces. We just need to freshen them up. All the pieces are in place and we’re running on all cylinders.”
I don’t know how our Positively Cleveland hosts arranged for the absolutely perfect fall weather — leaves just starting to turn, birds chirping, sun shining amid the whir of pedals, the occasional squeal of a brake pedal and the soft wooden clatter of boardwalks under the tires — that lasted all weekend, but I know I’ll think back on it fondly as we move into winter.
Positively Cleveland likes to say: “If you don’t like what people are saying, change the conversation.”
Call to action: #ThisIsCLE.
Sarah Ottney is managing editor of Toledo Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out her Twitter at @sarahottney to see more photos from the trip.