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Cuyahoga Valley National Park Is Looking For Trailblazers And Warning of Falling Trees

Trailblazers work in pairs to patrol trails in the park, which right now may require some extra caution as the Emerald Ash Borer defoliates trees, causing them to die and possible pose a falling hazard.

A large-scale volunteer program at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is turning 25 this year.

The Trailblazers program started in 1993, with the opening of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Participants work in pairs patrolling 110 miles of trail in the national park and assisting visitors with everything from flat tires to basic first aid.

Pamela Barnes, Community Engagement Supervisor for the parks, said a recruitment drive is happening right now to bring aboard more Trailblazers.

"And this a tremendous help to our staff. It helps our visitor and resource protection rangers be able to respond to many more incidents, because they know the trailblazers are out there augmenting their job."

Trailblazers complete a 27-hour training course and must commit to 40 hours of volunteering over the course of a year. 

Danger From Dead Trees 
The park is cautioning people about an invasive species destroying ash trees and creating a hazard for visitors.

Emerald Ash Borer has defoliated trees for several years, and park officials said they’re removing dead trees that are in danger of falling over.

But they won’t be able to remove them all. And that’s why Barnes said people need to be careful as they hike through the park.

"So we do recommend – especially on days when it’s windy – that you do not visit some of the heavily wooded areas in the park. And just be aware of your surroundings and go ahead and leave that wooded trail and go back to your car if the wind picks up," Barnes said.

As Emerald Ash Borer continues moving through Ohio, Barnes said it’s a situation similar to the one created by the Gypsy Moth, which attacked oak trees. Although those trees had to be removed, she said the forest ecosystem is resilient and will adapt to the changes.

Barnes adds that trees can also be at-risk of falling over after heavy rains, when the ground is saturated.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.