Since I was born and raised in Norwalk, graduated from NHS and have always considered Norwalk to be my home, despite having lived in southwest Ohio for 15 years (1999 to July of 2014), I have come to love, enjoy and truly appreciate all that we have right here in our own backyards and less than a two hour's drive from Norwalk. Let me explain.
I came to this realization and appreciation for our region after having taken literally dozens of young people from other countries (particularly Turkey, Peru and Paraguay) on extensive tours of our region. These foreign students come to Sandusky with J1 work visas, as part of the Work and Travel Program that I am closely affiliated with, and then live and work in Sandusky at local resorts and water parks for three month periods throughout the year.
While taking these students and friends to fun and interesting places around northern Ohio, I have come to love, appreciate and rediscover the wide variety of places and things that we have to see, do and experience so close to home, north, south, east and west. For example, let’s look north for a moment.
First, you have Cedar Point and its beautiful beach, the number one adult amusement park in the world today with the best natural setting hands down. Then, if roller coasters aren’t your thing, you can head to charming Lakeside, where you can relax, play shuffleboard, play miniature golf, ride a bike, enjoy some ice cream and enjoy a slower pace of life. While on the peninsula close to Lakeside, you can also visit Catawba Island, the Village of Marblehead with its historic landmark lighthouse and visit beautiful Johnson's Island, which once housed Confederate officers during the Civil War. And who could go the entire summer without spending a day or an evening on beautiful South Bass Island, with its star attraction, Put-in-Bay.
Then, turning south, you have spectacular Mohican State Park, where I took two different groups of foreign students, canoeing this summer, which is always fun and interesting. We also visited the old historic Mansfield Reformatory (Ohio State Prison) in Mansfield where exterior shots of the building were used for Hollywood classic films such as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile.” I didn't have time to show anyone serene Amish country, but this is always an option too for year round fun, relaxation and delicious, homemade food as well.
Turning east, I never need an excuse to take anyone to beautiful Vermilion to see The Lagoons, to enjoy the nice shops, eateries and pubs there and to simply walk the small, but very nice public beach there. Another option close to Norwalk is spectacular Oberlin with its beautiful, prestigious and nationally recognized college. I go to Oberlin throughout the year, alone or with friends, it doesn't matter. I must have visited Oberlin at least six times this summer alone with my Turkish friends, attending free summer theater there, visiting the free Allen Memorial Art Museum, enjoying food and beverage on the square and just walking the very green college campus day or night.
And further east you have the newly re-energized and revitalized downtown Cleveland with its newly renovated Public Square, the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, the new aquarium, Jack Casino in Tower City Center, the Flats, the hip and pedestrianized E. 4th St., the NASA Science Center, the Inner Harbor area with its new restaurants and its funky and iconic Cleveland gateway signage, Playhouse Square and of course having your picture taken a hundred times in front of the huge billboard sign featuring the king himself, LeBron James.
And speaking of James, life is very exciting these days for northern Ohio sports fans too. You have three professional sports teams to watch and enjoy throughout the year with particular emphasis on the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cleveland Indians, who have brought so much pride back to the city of Cleveland and to the region with the Cavaliers playing in three consecutive NBA Finals and winning the championship itself in 2016, followed by one of the most exciting and energetic parades I have ever attended in the USA. At the same time, we had the Indians in the World Series in 2016 and looking to return to the World Series again in 2017, with a championship title this time around and after having already set a record breaking 22 game winning streak in late-summer, which I was happy to be a part of.
Turning west, I always enjoy taking my foreign friends and anyone for that matter to Toledo to take a walking tour of the huge and very impressive campus at The University of Toledo, where I attended graduated school in the early-1990s. While in Toledo, one can also take in a Mudhens baseball game, visit the magnificent Toledo Museum of Arts, the highly rated Toledo Zoo, the Maritime Museum on the Maumee River, enjoy great food at Tony Packos in the old Hungarian neighborhood on the near east side, and so much more.
So friends, I have spent the last three years truly enjoying, exploring and experiencing all or at least much of what northern Ohio has to offer its residents and visitors throughout the year. I hope you will or have already done so yourself, because there is so much out there to discover or to rediscover. We are indeed very lucky to live in northern Ohio.
Gary Richards is a Norwalk resident and a world traveler who likes to share his stories.