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From Hiking to Kayaking, the Pandemic Connects Northeast Ohioans to the Great Outdoors

hikers in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Krista House
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The 125 miles of trails in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park have seen an increase in visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesdays, our sports commentator Terry Pluto stops by to talk about what’s going on in sports in Northeast Ohio. Usually he’s focused on one of our teams or an athlete or coach in the news. This week, he’s broadening his focus.

Many people have discovered or reconnected with the great outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve invested in bicycles and kayaks or taken to the hundreds of miles of hiking trails in our region. Pluto says he thinks this trend will stick around long after the pandemic.

Pluto and his wife, Roberta, are avid hikers, often on trails in the Summit MetroParks and Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP).

Pluto said he noticed a big difference in traffic during the state's COVID-19 shutdown last spring and summer, especially at the Everett Road Covered Bridge.

"Places we'd hike there's double the amount of cars. We'd see people in a field in the Cuyahoga Valley, and they brought their free weights and they're working out," he said.

And Pluto says he's noticed the number of cars has remained steady this spring. "Now I run into some hikers, the regulars, and the big discussion on the trail is, 'What trails have you found that there are not that many people?'"

According to numbers from the National Park Service, CVNP was the seventh-most visited National Park in 2020 with 2.8 million visitors, up from the previous year’s attendance of 2.2 million.

"We are so blessed. I can't think of another metro area that has something like Cuyahoga National Valley Park. And then the county parks systems have then poured themselves right into it. And that's not even including Lake Erie."

The metroparks of Cleveland and Summit County have more than 400 miles of hiking trails combined.

Pluto says the other great thing about hiking is that it's free.

"I always so often hear that it costs so much to go an Indians game. Well, if you don't want to spend anything, go to a park," he said.

Data from NPD Group shows bike sales in the U.S. climbed 65% last year, and electric bike sales shot up 145%, despite shortages at many bike shops. Spending on paddle sports such as kayaking, which had faced declines before the pandemic, bounced up 56%. There were similarly big gains in sales of golf equipment, camping equipment and binoculars, as more people go bird-watching.

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