One the greatest joys of heading up the oral history project, Your Parks Your Stories, is meeting awesome individuals and families who have invested much of their lives in Cleveland Metroparks. Their experiences and recollections as children, adults, parents and grandparents could literally fill volumes of books that would be fascinating to read.
Last month, I presented a Your Parks, Your Stories update to the Cleveland Metroparks Park Board of Commissioners with the theme of education, one of the park system’s pillars that has stood the test of decades (98 years to be exact.) I would like to highlight three people I have interviewed who have testified to benefits from Cleveland Metroparks commitment to educational programming, facilities and natural areas. You can hear clips of their stories at the end of this blog.
However, before I do, I want to set the stage by providing a backdrop that establishes our longstanding efforts toward the public’s need to understand the natural and cultural world around them.
In 1929, Cleveland Metropolitan Park District partnered with Cleveland Museum of Natural History to establish nature trails to create access and educational opportunities for the public. Nature trails in North Chagrin, South Chagrin, Brecksville and Rocky River were formed at that time. The museum was one of the leading institutions in Northeast Ohio in providing natural history expertise to the region and world.
The museum was created in 1920 by Cyrus S. Eaton, an industrialist associated with Rockefeller, Republic Steel, banking, railroads and coal. In fact, Cyrus Eaton served on the Board of Cleveland Metropolitan Park District from 1930 – 38. It was during those years that the park system established the Trailside Museums closely associated with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. In 1930, A.B. Williams was contracted as a naturalist through the museum to work for Cleveland Metropolitan Park District.
Some of the first projects accomplished for education were labeling and creating interpretive signs along the trails. Slide presentations were developed to be presented in schools throughout the Greater Cleveland area to promote the relatively new park system and its amenities.
According to the 1929 Annual Report concerning the trails, signage and educational opportunities to be offered:
This is sound, practical work which arouses a real interest in the out-of-doors and contributes its share towards good citizenship. We cannot forget that the school children of today are the voters of tomorrow.
While it is true that all of the Park areas are, in themselves, great out-door laboratories, rich in the display of Nature, it has been found that skillful interpretation is often needed to awaken the curiosity of the visitor.
At the heart of awakening the curiosity of visitors three Trailside Museums were built. North Chagrin – 1931, Rocky River -1936, and Brecksville - 1939.
Trailside Museum in Brecksville Reservation
Trailside Museum at North Chagrin Reservation
It was through these small nature education facilities and the dedicated naturalist that thousands of families and young children learned the joy of nature and the secrets of scientific discovery. With each passing decade and with newer nature centers replacing the old (except for Brecksville Nature Center,) stories of inspiration, tales of wonder and appreciation for nature and history are still being made! Visitors of every age still support Cleveland Metroparks, due in part to the awesome educational experiences visitors take advantage of.
Please find these short clips of individuals who have found great wonder, satisfactions, fulfillment and direction for their lives in the park system we call the Emerald Necklace.