In the early years of the Cleveland Metropolitan Park System (as it was then known) the Board of Commissioners and the Executive Director, William Stinchcomb were busy acquiring land and planning the infrastructure of the new park system. Metropolitan park systems were a brand new idea. While city parks, including those in Cleveland, had been in operation for decades, they were focused on providing fresh air and pretty views along walk and drive ways, along with playground and athletic fields. The new Metropolitan Parks, however, had a different mission. While they wanted to encourage people to escape from urban and industrial pollution, they were also concerned with conserving the natural beauty of the parks from harmful or wasteful development. In order to get the residents of the area on board with this mission, Stinchcomb and the Board felt that there was a need for education. If people knew about the plants and animals that lived in the woods, fields, and waterways of the new park lands they would feel a connection to that life and want to help protect it.
Cleveland Museum of Natural History in it's 1920s location on Euclid Avenue
This was originally the home of Leonard Hanna (photo courtesy of CMNH )
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History had been educating Clevelanders about nature for years through exhibits and written publications. In 1921 they instituted a separate education department. In 1928 Stinchcomb and others helped to promote amendments to the original park legislation that allowed the park system to contract with the educational department at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
Naturalist A.B Williams confers with William Stinchcomb in his favorite classroom, "the whole outdoors."
(Photo courtesy of CMNH archives)
From 1929 to 1954 the naturalist program within what is now Cleveland Metroparks was operated by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The first nature trails were laid out by Dr. Edmund Cook of the museum. The museum hired A.B. Williams, our first head naturalist who was then contracted to work within the park system. The part and full time naturalists who manned the trailside museums were also employees of the Museum of Natural History. Informative lectures and printed materials were jointly produced by both organizations.
Edmund Cooke, who helped to lay out the first nature trails in the Metroparks, and wrote this guide
is pictured on the far left in this photo from the dedication of the Harriett Keeler Memorial Woods. in Brecksville Reservation.
In 1954 both parties agreed that the parks were now in a good position to take over the operations of the naturalist program on their own. Harold Wallin had worked since 1938 alongside A.B. Williams as an employee of the museum, contracted to work for the Cleveland Metropolitan Park System. When A. B. Williams retired in 1950, Wallin took on his work with the parks. In 1954 he became an official employee of the Cleveland Metropolitan Park System, acting as our first Chief Naturalist. Wallin then began to shape the outdoor education department for the park system by building on the solid foundation laid by the partnership between the museum and the parks back in 1929.
Harold Wallin and other naturalists at Hinckley Reservation in 1955