Bob Downing

There’s something new and playful in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Two adult river otters quietly have taken up residence in the wetlands in and around the Beaver Marsh between Ira and Bolanz roads in Cuyahoga Falls.

They raised four young earlier this year, and those young otters apparently have gone off on their own, said Lisa Petit, chief of resource management for the federal park.

Photographers in the park have captured images of the family and its activities, providing more evidence of the otters’ return, Petit said.

“We found the return thrilling,” Petit said. “It’s pretty cool. It provides a little touch of wild to the park ... and everyone’s enjoying this.”

Sketchy evidence going back four years indicated otters might have been in the 33,000-acre federal park between Akron and Cleveland, Petit said, but that was unconfirmed.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources reported that otters probably were living along the Cuyahoga River near Ira Road at that time. Petit said that was based on tracks in the snow and slides on the bank that led into the water that were found during the winter survey by the Division of Wildlife.

Then there were reports of an otter being spotted in the Pinery Narrows area of the park between Brecksville and Sagamore Hills Township in 2011. Petit said it is unclear if otters are still in that area or if they are the animals found farther south in the park.

The first report of otters at the Beaver Marsh came in a photo taken at the canal lock there in August 2010, Petit said. In the last 18 months or so, the reports have become more concentrated in the Beaver Marsh.

Petit said two adult otters could have raised young there last year, although it is unclear.

This year, the Beaver Marsh generated more evidence that the otters were back. Photographers love the wooden boardwalk there for its vantage point.

Park officials are confident that the otters moved back into the Cuyahoga Valley on their own from the Chagrin and Grand rivers in Northeast Ohio via small streams.

The Division of Wildlife released 123 otters at four locations in Ohio between 1986 and 1993: on the Grand and Little Muskingum rivers and Stillwater and Killbuck creeks.

The animals adapted well to Ohio and have been expanding their range to two-thirds of Ohio’s 88 counties. Ohio’s otter population in 2012 had reached about 8,000, according to state estimates.

Otters are native to Ohio but were wiped out in the mid-1800s from the loss of habitat along streams and from unregulated trapping. The otter was listed as a state-endangered species in 1974.

State records show scattered reports of otters in the Cuyahoga River in the 1990s.

The Cuyahoga Valley park conducted its own surveys of the Cuyahoga River for many years — with no sign of the otters, Petit said.

Improved water quality and the return of healthy fish to the Cuyahoga River is providing suitable habitat for the otters, Petit said. It just took some time for the animals to make their way to the Cuyahoga Valley.

The park is not doing anything special to boost the otters, she said. They are on their own — like all wildlife in the park.

The Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the friends-of-the-park group, already has adopted a new otter mascot. Ollie the River Otter was created by Chagrin Falls artist Jenny Campbell, who draws the comic strip Flo and Friends.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or