Cuyahoga Valley National Park–Coliseum Grasslands

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Cuyahoga Valley NP–Coliseum Grasslands
Coordinates: 41.2461841, -81.5956306
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Photo by Susan Carpenter
Tips for birding Coliseum Grasslands
The demolition of the Richfield Coliseum in 1999 brought an unexpected benefit. Restoration of the building site and parking lot created a new grassland habitat that is benefiting many bird species, several of which have been in decline due to loss of habitat. During the summer breeding season, five species, in particular, can be found here: Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Henslow’s Sparrow. Because these birds nest on the ground, we ask visitors to stay on the edge of the grassland during nesting season (April to August). Disturbance of the nests could result in nest failure.

Migration brings other interesting species to the grasslands, including various hawks and shorebirds. On winter evenings at dusk, short-eared owls can be seen flying low over the dried grasses hunting for voles and other rodents.

To reach the former Coliseum site, park carefully along the north side of OH-303, just west of the intersection of I-271. If conditions are wet, park along the road just before it narrows. Do not park in area businesses.
From Bird Watching in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

About Coliseum Grasslands
Two of the meadow ecosystem’s members have an especially close connection. Like many butterflies, black and orange adult monarchs drink the nectar of goldenrod and other wildflowers. CVNP is an important feeding and rest stop for monarchs migrating south to Mexico in early September. Summer breeding monarchs also take advantage of another of the park’s meadow plants—milkweed. Monarchs have a special relationship with milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed leaves. Without milkweed, monarch caterpillars can’t grow into butterflies. The secret is what’s in the milkweed. The plant has toxins that don’t hurt the monarchs, but builds up in the skin and makes them poisonous. When a bird eats a monarch, it has a minor heart attack and spits out its dangerous meal.

One of CVNP’s largest grassland areas was once a basketball arena. When the old home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Richfield Coliseum, was torn down acres of asphalt parking lots were also removed. Now it’s a 327-acre restored grassland and wildflower meadow. The former Coliseum site is large enough to attract rare grassland birds, like Henslow’s sparrows. They come during the summer to breed and make their fragile nests down among the thick grasses. National Audubon has given the remarkable site Important Bird Area status.

One of the grassland birds you can see at the former Coliseum site is the bobolink. These birds winter in South America, where they are a dull yellow-brown color. In the spring, bobolinks fly to CVNP to breed and nest. The meadow ecosystem of the former Coliseum site has plenty of seeds and insects for bobolinks to eat, and the grasses they need to nest in. Before arriving in Ohio, a male bobolink molts into a new coat of glossy black and white feathers. This helps him to impress a mate. Once breeding season is over, he changes back to his dull coat.

If left alone, the meadow ecosystems of CVNP won’t stay grasslands for very long. Over time, bushes, thickets, and then trees will move in. This natural process, called succession, changes the landscape back to the forest it once was. It’s another example of the ever-changing ecosystems of the Cuyahoga Valley.
From Coliseum Grasslands webpage

About Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Though a short distance from the urban areas of Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park seems worlds away. The park is a refuge for native plants and wildlife and provides routes of discovery for visitors. The winding Cuyahoga River gives way to deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands. Walk or ride the Towpath Trail to follow the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal.
From Cuyahoga Valley National Park website

Warning: All areas of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park are prone to deer ticks from the early spring until late fall, so prepare accordingly before birding.

No restrooms at this location. Restrooms at locations identified on Cuyahoga Valley National Park map. Most areas have non-flush toilets; there are flush toilets available at the Pine Hollow parking lot on Quick Road and the Virginia Kendall Lake lodge building.