When Cleveland Metroparks was founded in 1917, it looked vastly different than it does today. Many of the original forests had been cleared for agriculture. The 1929 Annual Report states that it was the park board’s “. . . ambition to replant large areas of the reservations, and restore them to their primal beauty and grandeur.” In order to fulfill this policy of reforestation, hundreds of thousands of trees were planted in the park.
Where did all of these trees come from? They were grown in the park’s own nurseries in Brecksville and Rocky River Reservations. The Rocky River nursery was located just north of Cedar Point Road, across from Frostville Museum. In 1929, a variety of evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs and perennials were planted in what was called the “Cedar Point” nursery. Among them were: 1,915 Tulip Poplar, 1,430 American Elm and 65,450 Red Pine. A list of shrubs and perennials including Peonies and Forsythia show that Cleveland Metropark’s view on planting non-natives was different in past years.
The great number of conifers in the nursery, reaching almost 300,000, showed the park’s dedication to replacing the “fine stands of pine” that were part of this area’s natural forest. Fort Hill in Rocky River Reservation is one location where large numbers were planted in the late 1920s. My dear friend Lee Smith fondly remembered sledding down the back of Fort Hill, dodging the newly planted pines!
The 1957-58 biannual report mentions that “During each planting season for the past 35 years, a very extensive reforestation program has been sustained throughout the Park System. As new lands were acquired, many thousands of small evergreen and deciduous trees were planted in each reservation and parkway . . .”
I do not know what year the Cedar Point nursery was eventually abandoned, but at some point the trees grew too large to be transplanted and the park was well on its way to becoming forested again.
In 1980, the park’s Natural Resource Management Plan called for the old nursery to be used as an “arboretum” where “examples of each species” would be maintained. It was incorporated into a “wildlife management area.” Plots of corn, millet, soybean and sunflower were planted near the tree rows to attract and feed deer along with quail and pheasant that were released in the area.
In 2014, food plots are no longer needed to attract deer, and the old nursery is just a very pleasant place to walk on an autumn day. Look for suspiciously straight rows of similar trees. Huge White Pines, Sugar Maples, Yellow Buckeyes (search on the ground for the smooth husks, different from those of the Ohio Buckeye), Sweet Gum with its scarlet colored, star-shaped leaves, beautiful white-barked Paper Birch, and Norway Spruce are just some of the overgrown beauties of the old nursery. Hidden on the nursery’s edge, near a wet area, you can even see examples of Bald Cypress trees with their “knees” sticking out of the water.
The old nursery with its wonderful variety of trees allows us a glimpse of Cleveland Metroparks’ past natural resource management strategies. This area can be reached by walking the Wildlife Management Trail which stretches from Rocky River Nature Center to Frostville Museum.
Rocky River Nature Center