I traveled this past May, during North Chagrin Nature Center’s 30th Anniversary Celebration, to the A.B. Williams Memorial Woods, a 65 acre parcel of beech-maple woods near Forest Lane Picnic Area. As I meandered down the path I enjoyed the spring wildflowers, the songs of the awakening birds, the splashes of tiny frogs leaping into the water as I walked by, and the fresh smell of nature’s rebirth following a long winter. It was, to say the least, a nice walk along the woodland path. I’ll admit, my main reason to enter these Woods was to revisit the old Trailside Museum site, yet the woods surprised me with so much more.
A.B. Williams marker signifying his work near the site of the old Trailside Museum.
The North Chagrin Trailside Museum, which opened on July 4, 1931, was a place where I worked for a brief time in 1985. So young and inexperienced was I back then. As I arrived at the site this day, I just stood there once again feeling like I was on hallowed ground. The building is no longer standing, as it burned down in 1987. I read the sign that briefly depicted the story of the building trying to conjure up my memories of this place. Forest succession is taking place, the vegetation has grown up and it’s hard to imagine that this site held such a structure. I was taken back to my memories of working there…an old Trailside, paper cups that caught the drips from a leaking winter roof, the large windows that permitted a forest view to those inside guest, the outdoor amphitheater where I visited with guests, the black rotary office phone that took a “long time to dial”, the walks along the Sylvan Trail, and so much more. Two thoughts made me sad. One, that the building was gone; and two, that my memory of details was fading. I don’t attribute this to age, but something that saddens me even more…. my youthful pride. I realized that I let my pride back then keep me from “studying” the building and area in more detail. I wanted to be in the new Center that had just opened in 1984, not relegated to this “old place in the woods”. I missed so much back then.
North Chagrin Trailside Museum 1936 - Photo courtesy of Cleveland Public Library
Cleveland Metropolitan Park District Annual Report - 1931 - Trailside Museum - North Chagrin Reservation
I missed the chance to soak in the fact that I was in the building where Outdoor Education started in Cleveland Metroparks in 1931 with Dr. Arthur B. Williams, the man who was brought on to study, learn, and teach what the “new” parks actually held for us all. For those of us in Cleveland Metroparks who are in this profession of teaching people about the outdoors, his name is a name to be held in professional reverence and gratitude. The more I learn of him, the more I appreciate the small things I did take in while there. (For more on Dr. Williams, see Foster Brown’s Roots Revealed Blog, “Our First Naturalist” 5/7/2013).
A. B Williams measuring a Moses Cleaveland tree - Photo courtesy of Cleveland Natural History Museum
As I walk the area now, I appreciate it much more. I appreciate not only the Trailside site, but the entire woods dedicated to this man and all that it holds. It truly is a remarkable place where I encourage you to visit, walk quietly, enjoy the sounds and imagine what it may have been like years ago. As the research goes on, I hope to discover more of the details of the footprint of the building thus jogging my memory more, lessening my frustration and increasing my respect for what this place held for so many over the years.
As my travels continue throughout Cleveland Metroparks, which turns 97 years old on July 23, I am reminded daily of the following…take time to enjoy a new or favorite place in Cleveland Metroparks; study the “details” of your surroundings thus soaking up all it has to offer; get to know the story behind that place; and slow down, look up, see the clouds, hear the sounds, smell the smells, and enjoy the view…travel with joy and leave no regrets.
See you next month at another special place in our Metroparks history.