There is nothing more satisfying than to finally start seeing the fruit of a project that took root a couple of years ago. In 2014, Cleveland Metroparks and Cleveland State University began collaborating on an oral history project called Your Parks, Your Stories. The idea was planted by several of my colleagues who were inspired by NPRs’ “Story Corps.” After hearing a few episodes, I knew what I had to do.
Call it fate or luck; a brochure came across my desk promoting training on collecting oral history stories from the public. Soon I headed down to Kenyon College in 2013 to learn the basics on the art of capturing stories. This training was sponsored by the Ohio Humanities Council, from whom we would receive a grant months later for our own oral history project.
As a Historical Interpreter/Naturalist for Cleveland Metroparks, I knew the park system was going to celebrate their 100th Anniversary in 2017 and I wanted to get an early start on collecting the public’s stories about what the parks meant to them through the years. My goal was to sit down with 100 individuals to document and celebrate their fond recollections. My ultimate goal would be to share those oral histories through exhibits, displays and blogs that celebrated Cleveland Metroparks first 100 years. But this was a huge undertaking. I needed help with guidance to pull off the project.
A State Affiliate of the National Endowment for Humanities
I pursued a grant from the Ohio Humanities Council. Through the help of great grant writers at Cleveland Metroparks, we secured a $10,000 grant to contract with a local higher education institute. I had previously reached out to Dr. Mark Souther, Associate Professor of History and Director of Center for Public History + Digital Humanities, sharing with him our vision. He and his staff were the perfect partner to make this dream come to reality.
Cleveland Metroparks ultimately contracted with Cleveland State University’s Center for Public History + Digital Humanities, specifically with Dr. Souther, Erin Bell, M.L.I. S., Richard Raponi, associate writer, and two graduate students, Sarah Kasper and Danielle Rose. We far exceeded our goal of 100 stories, with 171 individuals who graciously allowed us to digitally record their memories. A handful of wonderful volunteers and colleagues truly made it possible.
Now it is time to share the stories and bring them into context with Cleveland Metroparks and Greater Cleveland History. One of the first fruits of the Your Parks, Your Stories project is through Cleveland State University’s Cleveland Historical. It is a website and free mobile app that features curated historical tours of Greater Cleveland through interpretive narratives, historic images, audio clips and short featured films. Rich Raponi, M.A. in History, and a member of the staff at CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities was contracted as a researcher and writer to produce 15 new Cleveland Metroparks sites. He exceeded his obligation and wrote 22.
Six of these stories were recently released to the public. Please go to Clevelandhistorical.org. Follow the page down to Take a Tour. You will then find Cleveland Metroparks 100th Anniversary tour, click and you will see the first six stories just newly unleashed. The featured stories are: Dunklosteus, Civilian Conservation Corps, Trailside Museums, Griffithsburg, Harriet Keeler, and Reinventing Cleveland’s Zoo. These stories are just the beginning of more releases to come. In anticipation for Cleveland Metroparks 100th Anniversary in 2017, we hope you continue to enrich your understanding of Greater Cleveland and Cleveland Metroparks. Now… go check out Clevelandhistorical.org!