The history (and mystery) of the Signal Tree

Summit Metro Parks
3 min readAug 21, 2015

During the time when Indigenous peoples lived in what is now Northeast Ohio, special landmarks were used to pinpoint significant locations. One particular landmark they may have used for this purpose still famously stands in Cascade Valley Metro Park today: the Signal Tree.


Some people believe natural phenomena shaped the (possibly) 300-year-old bur oak tree’s branches.

Others think Indigenous peoples shaped the Signal Tree as a sapling to achieve its unique, three-tonged structure. “The tree might have been physically manipulated by Indigenous peoples to use on a transportation route,” explains Mike Johnson, chief of natural resources for Summit Metro Parks.

Also perplexing is the fact that the Signal Tree is a bur oak — a variety that experts say is an unusual find in Northeast Ohio. And, while the use of signal trees was once common practice, it is uncommon to find one with a three-tonged structure.

(photo by volunteer Joe Prekop)


In Cascade Valley, a plaque from 1986 states that the Signal Tree marked the path to the Portage Trail from the Cuyahoga River, which is a connecting link between the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River and the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The Portage Trail “connected” the Erie, Seneca, Shawnee, Ottawa, Delaware and Haudenosaunee groups, which traveled to the Ohio River by this route. From the Signal Tree, Indigenous peoples might have carried their canoes eight miles south to Summit Lake.


According to Education & Recreation Manager Mike Greene, no one really knows how old the Signal Tree is, or why it would have been altered by humans. If it is truly over 300 years old, it could have been shaped by Indigenous peoples, but Greene wonders why. “It could mark a gathering place, maybe for ceremonies. It could show the way to another area or trail. It could mark the previous location of the river, or good hunting and fishing grounds.” Greene said there are many possibilities, but the answer will probably remain a mystery forever.

(photo by volunteer Joe Prekop)


Although several branches have fallen over the years, the Signal Tree’s three characteristic limbs remain intact. Hikers can see the tree near the start of the 2.4-mile Chuckery Trail in Cascade Valley Metro Park.

Editor’s note: In our ongoing commitment to fostering respect and inclusivity, we have revised the terms and language used when referring to Indigenous peoples. We recognize that language can be a complex and evolving aspect of cultural appreciation, and while we strive to provide accurate and helpful information, it’s important to note that terminology and preferences may vary among Indigenous communities and individuals.



Summit Metro Parks

Summit Metro Parks manages 15,000 acres, 16 parks, three nature centers and more than 150 miles of trails. Find more at