Buckeye Trail Little Loop Challenge 2020 - Lake Metroparks Penitentiary Glen

Blog Date
Stuart O. Smith, Jr.

The Little Loop Challenge - Together We Hiked It All!
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On Saturday, July 18, 2020, I rode my bike on 6.1 miles of Ohio's Buckeye Trail in Lake County, which is part of Buckeye Trail's "Little Loop." The "Little Loop" is the over-250-mile part of the Buckeye Trail in Northeast Ohio that goes through the following counties: Lake, Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark, Portage, and Geauga.

Normally, I would not write a full blog post on one bike ride, but this ride was noteworthy for the following two reasons:

2020 Fourth Annual Buckeye Trail Little Loop Challenge
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A BIG thank-you and congratulations to Buckeye Trail Board Member Randall Roberts (@RandallDRoberts) for successfully organizing over 50 hikers and bikers in collectively completing the "Little Loop" section of the Buckeye Trail in one day! I really like the event's tagline -- "Together We Hiked It All" -- since it conveys how people come together to reach a larger goal.

Like other events this year, the Little Loop Challenge was done social-distancing-style, with the bikers and hikers encouraged not to travel with non-family members. Also, the traditional BBQ dinner gathering at the end of the day was canceled. It still felt good to know that I was one of many participating in this one-day challenge.



In 2019, I Learned About The Little Loop Challenge

Sunday, February 10, 2019
Little Loop Presentation, Hot Chocolate, and (snowshoe?) Hike

Ohio's Buckeye Trail - Hiking the "Little Loop"
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Northeast Ohio has a special advantage of having a 250 mile “Little Loop” of the Buckeye Trail. This presentation will give a brief history and evolution of Ohio's scenic hiking trail and a pictorial presentation of the sections that make up the “Little Loop”. Come take a virtual tour around the "Little Loop" and learn about the Little Loop Challenge - a collective effort to hike the entire Little Loop in one day!

My wife, Julie, and I had attended a Little Loop Presentation on February 10, 2019, led by Randall Roberts, where we learned not only about The Little Loop Challenge, but also some very interesting history of the Buckeye Trail. I highly recommend Randall Roberts's Buckeye Trail talk, since it gave us a new perspective of the what it took to make this long trail a reality, and of the diversity of the trail. The maps in the presentation were very interesting, and enticed me to want to explore other parts of our state.



RSVP for The Buckeye Trail Little Loop Challenge 2020

Buckeye Trail Little Loop Map
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2020 Challenge

How do you get 70-100 hikers on the trail and still social distance? Spread them out over 250 miles. Once again we will attempt to hike the entire 250+ mile "Little Loop" of the Buckeye Trail in one day! That's right! We will do it collectively. We've divided the Little Loop into 77 segments ranging from 1/2 mile to 6.5 miles.

Due to restrictions, there won't be a BBQ dinner this year or packet pickup. But participation is FREE. I have 50 patches left from previous years and will send these out if we are successful to the first 50 who register with a priority given to first time participants.

Shirts and Gaitors are available from the online Trail Shop:


Order now to get yours in time to wear on the day of the challenge.

Starting in November 2018, I started hike and bike sections of the "Little Loop" in the winter months as a way of getting prepared for my 2019 spring/summer backpacking trips (Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail), and my 2020 planned backpacking trip on a chunk of the Continental Divide Trail. With the coronavirus pandemic canceling my Continental Divide Trail adventure, I started actively hiking/biking the Buckeye Trail "Little Loop," with a goal to finish before the end of 2020.

For the last ten years, I have had a standing commitment on the third weekend of July (read details about my experiences as a volunteer in my recent blog post: Missing Cleveland GiveCamp in 2020). With the cancellation of Cleveland GiveCamp 2020 due to COVID-19, I was available to participate in The 2020 Little Loop Challenge on Saturday, July 18, 2020.



Saturday, July 18, 2020 - Time to Ride!

To celebrate the diversity of the trail all modes of human/animal power will be allowed to complete the challenge! That means if you are allowed to bike the trail you may ride your bike. If horses are allowed, you may ride a horse! Please note that you will need to complete a whole segment and rules may vary, so plan accordingly.



Ohio's Buckeye Trail - Longest Trail in Any One State!

Map of Ohio's Buckeye Trail
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The Buckeye Trail . . .

For nearly 1444 miles, the Buckeye Trail winds around Ohio, reaching into every corner of the state. From a beachhead on Lake Erie near Cleveland, to a hilltop overlooking the Ohio River in Cincinnati, a hiker can experience a little of all that Ohio has to offer.

First envisioned in the late 1950's as a trail from the Ohio River to Lake Erie, the Buckeye Trail evolved into a large loop, branching both north and east from Cincinnati. The separate legs rejoin in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Cleveland, and complete the trip to the lake. Because it is a loop, it is also in essence, endless. You may start a hike at any point and hike as long as you want without ever reaching an end!

When you think of the long-distance trails in the United States (see list on Wikipedia), most people would not think that the Buckeye Trail, at over 1,400 miles, is the longest trail within any one state.



Buckeye Trail Circuit Hikes

Buckeye Trail "Little Loop" Completion Patch - "I Hiked the Little Loop"
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BTA Little Loop

Is the Little Loop in your future plans? Here is incentive to get it done - the Little Loop Patch!

Be sure to go to the Buckeye Trail Circuit Hike web page to get inspired to do the Buckeye Trail "Little Loop," or maybe even the entire Buckeye Trail.

Buckeye Trail Completion Patch - "I Hiked Ohio!"
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This patch is for any person who has
completed the Buckeye Trail
any time in the Buckeye Trail's history.

If you are interested in getting more involved in the Buckeye Trail Association's ongoing activities, sign up to receive notices from their Buckeye Trail Association MeetUp Group and/or any of the five BTA Chapters MeetUp Groups listed.

I have hiked 177.5 miles of the over-250-mile Buckeye Trail "Little Loop," and have learned about many parts of local park districts of which I was not previously aware. Like most people, I normally only hike in parks with which I am familiar.

Also, normally, I am a hiker or a backpacker, but a lot of the Buckeye Trail follows roads. I recommend using a bike, and just accept that this mode of travel in rural Ohio is part of your Buckeye Trail "Little Loop" journey.

The following tweet lists the major park districts of the Buckeye Trail Little Loop, but there are also many local community parks that you visit on your trek.



Guthook Guides Buckeye Trail App

Buckeye Trail Guthook Guide App
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Official App of the Buckeye Trail Association

Walk a loop of Ohio's natural and historic wonders on the Buckeye Trail. The blue-blazed Buckeye Trail is Ohio's most famous long distance hiking trail. Its 1440 mile (2320 km) length wraps around the entire state, passing through the most scenic regions that the state has to offer, including Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal as well as the Miami and Erie Canal. The trail's northern terminus is on Lake Erie in Headlands Beach State Park. From there, one branch leads south down the eastern edge of the state, and another leads west across the northern portion of the state. The two branches rejoin and form a single branch that leads to the southern terminus in Cincinnati.

I have been using the Guthook app for years on the Appalachian Trail, and in 2019 when I backpacked a chunk of the Pacific Crest Trail. At the end of 2019, I made an in-app purchase of the Continental Divide Trail maps and Buckeye Trail maps for use in 2020.

As I mentioned above, my plans changed for 2020 -- I was unable to use the Continental Divide Trail maps, but the Guthook Buckeye Trail maps have gotten a lot of use! It has been a very important tool as I plan and hike on the Buckeye Trail "Little Loop" and when visiting local parks.

Be sure to see all the maps, apps, and guidebook resources on the Buckeye Trail Maps & Guides web page as you plan future hikes.


See these tweets about the Guthook app and the discount I received:



Hot! 88°!
Starting at Mentor Dog Park on a Hot Day

Mentor Dog Park

6647 Hopkins Road, Mentor, OH 44060 (Map)

The Dog Park is a great place for dogs to come and play off leash. A small dog area and a large dog area allow unlimited play with dogs the same size.

Doggie water fountain, park benches, and a safe, fenced in entry/exit area make this park a pleasurable place to visit with other dog owners and provide your dog with exercise and socialization. A small dog area is included.

I started my bike ride at the City of Mentor Dog Park. I saw many people with their dogs making use of the park (while appropriately practicing social distancing). Apparently, they have a lot of fun at the park. While preparing this blog post, I found several YouTube videos about dogs and their owners enjoying their Howl-O-ween Party For Dogs At Mentor Dog Park.

The Buckeye Trail first follows a bike path along the road. Later, the bike path ends, and the trail follows the road before going down into the valley in Kirtland, Ohio.

It was a hot day, but the shady areas and the breeze from biking helped me not notice the heat too much.



Smith Farm Cemetery

The Smith Farm is still in operation, and the graves of Levi Smith and his wife Ruth Holbrook remain very near the intersection of Hart and Baldwin Roads. Another description added to the Lake County Cemetery Inscriptions book of the 1920s at Morley Library mentions the double stone close to the cross road, "opposite Leonard Hannah estate on land owned by King Bridge Co. near the school house on south west road from Tp. Corner near Little mountain-1 mile west of county line." The original stone is at the Lake County Historical Society. It has since been replaced by a very visible pink granite rock in a large concrete pad with a wall of multi-colored stones surrounding it. The stone has one side cut off, polished and engraved. The entrance in the front leads to an old brownstone embedded in the concrete which is cut off, leaving only the head and shoulders portion. Behind that is the rock. According to William Louden who used to do landscaping for P.K. Smith on that farm and took care of the little burial plot in the 1940s, it was probably P.K. Smith, a descendant of Levi and Ruth who erected the new monument.

. . .

In memory of Levi Smith/ Sept. 25, 1774 - June 5, 1828/ Ruth Holbrook Smith/ Jan. 9, 1779 - Oct. 28, 1818/ who moved to this farm/ From Derby Conn in 1814.

As I entered the valley, I saw an interesting marker in memory of Levi Smith and Ruth Holbrook Smith along the road. After my ride, I found three articles about this cemetery that is located near the Lake Metroparks Children's Schoolhouse Nature Park in Kirtland, Ohio:



Lake Metroparks Children's Schoolhouse Nature Park in Kirtland, Ohio

Lake Metroparks Children's Schoolhouse Nature Park

This facility is dedicated to sharing Lake County's natural heritage with children.

9045 Baldwin Rd.
Kirtland Hills, Ohio 44060

All programs are developed with the three Rs of environmental education in mind: Respect for nature through learning; Reverence for all life and everyone's role in the natural world and the Responsibility we all share to take care of the natural world for future generations. Now, children who visit the schoolhouse will learn through their senses--they see, touch, smell, hear, taste and remember.

Originally known as Riverside School #2 in the Kirtland Township School District, the schoolhouse opened its doors to students in 1894. Nearly a century later, in 1988, the Anthony S. Ocepek family donated the facility to Lake Metroparks.



Penitentiary Glen Reservation - A Wonderful Place to Visit!

MoviesMusicNature's YouTube Video:
Penitentiary Glen - Lake Metroparks - Kirtland, Ohio

Penitentiary Glen Reservation features forest, fields, wetlands and 8.5 miles of hiking trails and has been designated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife as a "Watchable Wildlife" site.

Penitentiary Glen is known for the deep gorge that divides the park in two. Settlers in the early 1880s called the gorge "Penitentiary Glen" because it was difficult to get out of the deepest part, much like a prison or penitentiary. (Imagine trying to climb straight up a 100 ft. wall!) The gorge is a sensitive area and has limited access because of its steep walls, exposed rock and fragile vegetation. Naturalists lead guided hikes throughout the year. Ask staff in the Nature Center about access to the gorge and a guided hike schedule, or call the Registration Department at 440-358-7275 (fee may apply).

In 1912, the Halle family, owners of the Halle Bros. Co. in Cleveland, bought this property for their summer estate and working farm. The farm was managed by the Burnett family, who lived here year-round. The only remaining structure is the horse barn, which now houses the Nature Center. Wise use of the land has preserved this special area for today and the future.

The Halles' lifestyle was typical of many wealthy Cleveland families who lived in the city and spent summers in the country. Sam and Blanche Halle had a deep respect for nature and wanted their children to have the same. They hired Maude Doolittle, a school teacher from Massachusetts who loved nature, as a governess for the children during the summer months.

Ending my bike ride at Penitentiary Glen Reservation was an excellent decision! (I had the choice to ride my section of the "Little Loop" in either its counter-clockwise or clockwise direction.)

One of the reasons I decided to write this blog post was so that I could highlight some of the unique things to see and do at Penitentiary Glen. My wife and co-blogger, Julie, joined me as we explored a little of this Lake Metroparks park. The heat of the day made us choose to limit our walk to the main area. I have enjoyed hiking the Buckeye Trail here in the winter, and know there are many more miles of the "8.5 miles of hiking trails" in this park that I have not seen yet.

While the Nature Center building and the building of the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center are closed due to the coronavirus crisis, there is a lot to see on the property. Actually, having the Nature Center closed changed our normal way of visiting, and we discovered the quiet garden and and pond!



Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center at Penitentiary Glen Reservation

Apollo, the eagle, was magnificent! Visit the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center.
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The mission of the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center is to relieve the stress of human impact on wildlife populations through education and wildlife rehabilitation. Our goal is to return healthy wildlife back to the wild.

Each year, nearly 2,000 injured or orphaned animals receive first aid and rehabilitation at the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center. Patients include backyard wildlife such as rabbits and songbirds and endangered species such as the peregrine falcon and bald eagle. Many eventually resume their lives in the wild. Special attention is given to animals whose populations are in decline. Learn more.

Julie and I had read via @LakeMetroparks on Twitter, and on the park's website, that the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center was closed, and animal intake suspended due to COVID-19. Therefore, we were very excited to learn from a park staff member that the outdoor portion of the Wildlife Center was open!

As I was writing this blog post, I learned that we were lucky to be there when the outdoor section was open. On July 25, 2020, I received a Twitter direct message from @LakeMetroparks letting me know that the "Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center Yard is currently open limited hours, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 3 pm."

I can tell you from being there that there is limited space in the Wildlife Center Yard for social distancing. Right now, during the coronavirus crisis, if you see many others there, it is my recommendation that you be prepared to skip your visit to the Wildlife Center Yard, and come back at a later time. The purpose of the blog post is to encourage you to put the Wildlife Center Yard on your list of must-see places in the future.

We were fortunate to have our visit with the animals mostly to ourselves. There was only one other family visiting while we were there, and they kept socially distant. Read the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center web page for information about how to interact with injured animals, and for a list of other resources open during the coronavirus crisis.

We told the staff member who was feeding the birds, how, years ago, we brought to the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center an injured bird that our son, Kevin, had found. The staff person said that she hoped that the center was able to help the bird, and we confirmed that they were a great help.

It was great to peer into the animal enclosures to see Ohio birds of prey that had been injured, and that are now being cared for by the park staff. I don't think I have ever been so close to an eagle -- it was magnificent!



The Lake Shore Live Steamers at Penitentiary Glen Reservation

Miniature steam-powered engines pull passengers through the woodlands of Penitentiary Glen Reservation to the rim of the gorge. The railroad is operated by the Lake Shore Live Steamers Club. Trains sometimes run in conjunction with special events. Rides are scheduled 1 to 3 pm, weather permitting, on the following dates:

Celebrating our 50th
1969 - 2019

The Lake Shore Live Steamers have been active as a formalized group since 1969.

. . .

1983. We now have a home.

Until this time in our history we had trucked around a bulky collection of steel rail known as “The portable track”. This track was set up at shows in Lake County and across northeast Ohio. It drew the attention of thousands of people. This was the LSLS in the early years and it is still in use behind the station at Penitentiary Glen.

In keeping with our botanical heritage, we were given the opportunity to expand through the woods of the former Halle estate, now known as Penitentiary Glen, in Kirtland Ohio.

Over the years thousands of feet of track have been laid through the woods over which thousands of residents have ridden. . . .

If you have never seen the The Lake Shore Live Steamers, I highly recommend visiting Penitentiary Glen Reservation. Of course, during the coronavirus crisis, the trains are not running, but we still enjoyed seeing the area with the train tracks, building, and a train-themed play area.

Here is a video that shows the trains -- check it out and make plans to come to the park when the trains return!

Preserved And Other Railways' YouTube Video:
2019 Ohio Ramble - Lakeshore Live Steamers


See the Lake Metroparks' Penitentiary Glen Reservation web page and The Lake Shore Live Steamers (LakeShoreLiveSteamers.com) website for updates on when the trains will run again.



Different Experience - Same Trail

I had hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail "Little Loop" in the winter, on Monday, February 4, 2019 (from Lake Metroparks' Children's Schoolhouse Nature Park to the Lake Metroparks' Chapin Forest Pine Lodge Ski Center). Biking the trail on a hot, 88-degree, July day is a different experience than my February 2019 winter hike. That is the beauty of the trail -- you can come back again and again to have a different experience each time.


Here are tweets with photos from my Monday, February 4, 2019, winter hike.



Picnic at Chapin Forest Reservation

Wander, cross-country ski or snowshoe through nearly six miles of trails surrounded by mature beech, maple, oak, tulip and hemlock trees. One of the best scenic overlooks in Lake County is found along Lucky Stone Loop Trail. Hiking in this beautiful forested park will take the park visitor to spectacular Sharon Conglomerate ledges, from which Lake Erie and the the Cleveland skyline are visible on a clear day.

Part of the Buckeye Trail, a continuous hiking trail throughout Ohio, passes through Chapin Forest Reservation. Blue paint blazes on some trees mark the Buckeye Trail.


While having lunch at Chapin Forest, I was very impressed that the Lake Metroparks provided hand sanitizer right at the playground area. Playgrounds in Ohio were closed for a long time earlier in the coronavirus crisis, and had only recently reopened. In the future, when the pandemic is history, it will be important to remember the organizations that took appropriate action to help save lives and protect the health of the community. Thank you to Lake Metroparks for your good work.


Related Blog Posts

My blog posts about Lake Metroparks include:

Most of the venues that Julie and I write about in our sosAssociates.com/Blog are currently closed. The following are our "Social Distancing Series" blog posts, which we write to try and capture the activities we are able to do at this time. You can see that we have visited a lot of parks, and are very grateful for the several northeast Ohio park systems that we have been visiting during this time. Once the coronavirus crisis is over, it will be interesting to read these to see the contrast between these times and "normal life."

I have added an asterisk (*) before those blog posts which include information about visiting the Lake Metroparks.

We expect to continue to practice social distancing for at least the rest of 2020, so please come back to read more and...

Stay well!


Submitted by Stuart Smith on Wed, 08/12/2020 - 21:02


On Wednesday, August 12, 2020, I received both an email and letter from Randall Roberts (@RandallDRoberts) regarding the Buckeye Trail Association Little Loop Challenge (@HikeTheBT). 

The email included a link to the Facebook photos from the Little Loop Challege 2020.  It was fun to look at the Facebook photos (click here to view) Randall Roberts gathered to see places I recognize on the sections of the loop that I have already hiked this year, and more importantly, the places I look forward to hiking.

He also mailed me a very nice Little Loop Challenge patch along with a note with an announcement for 2021. Be sure to watch for exciting announcements from the Buckeye Trail Association about the 2021 Little Loop Challenge and another, much larger challenge being planned.

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