Find Your Park Along the Crooked River
“It is in the valley that one can realize most effectively a sense of isolation and freedom from the sights and sounds of all the multitude of circumstances which go to make the modern city – and when all is said and done that is the justifying purpose of a country park.”
In 1925, a landscape study conducted by a local architecture firm used these words to highlight the importance of the Cuyahoga Valley in northeastern Ohio. Today, the land surrounding 22 miles of the river that Native Americans dubbed the “Ka-ai-ogh-ha,” or “crooked river,” makes up Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), a place of refuge for native plants and wildlife along the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal.
The Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, CVNP’s official philanthropic partner, was created to “engage public support for the park and provide services to enhance public use and enjoyment of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.”
Their partnership is recognized as a prime example of public-private collaboration within the National Park System, and the culture of cooperation and citizen support for CVNP has been integral to the park since its beginning.
In the 1960s, local Ohioans worried that the urban sprawl from the metropolitan centers of Cleveland and Akron would overwhelm the regionally-protected land in the Cuyahoga Valley, and joined forces with representatives from state and federal government to begin exploring the idea of establishing a national park.
It took over a decade of local advocacy and the strong support of Ohio’s representatives in Congress to see that dream to fruition.
On December 27, 1974, President Gerald Ford signed the bill to establish Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area and in 2000, it officially became recognized as Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Today, the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park provides countless opportunities for the public to “find their park” at CVNP.
From concerts at the Happy Days Lodge, a building constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938-1939 and the eventual first visitor center for CVNP, to the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center, which provides day and overnight education programs to connect participants to the natural wonders and rich history of CVNP, the conservancy and the park exemplify the public-private teamwork that allows Americans to experience national parks in several different ways.
Last year, Phillippe Cousteau, grandson of the legendary ocean explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau, visited the education center on behalf of EarthEcho International to give local students an opportunity to be “citizen scientists” and gather valuable data about the health of the Cuyahoga River watershed.
Local teacher Jim Trogdon is a member of EarthEcho’s Learning and Education Advisory Panel and originally suggested the idea of connecting EarthEcho’s work to CVNP: “The [Education Center] is about building communities, making connection, and embracing a child’s innate sense of wonder for nature, in the ultimate learning environment – the outdoors!”
On January 8, 2018, the conservancy broke ground on the Boston Mill Visitor Center, a $6.75 million project the conservancy is leading in close partnership with the National Park Service. The new center has been in the planning stages for several years and is designed to welcome the two million annual visitors to the park.
The center is being developed in a historic building that was once a store and provided housing for workers at a nearby mill. It will serve as a central, one-stop resource for visitors to both Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Ohio & Erie Canalway.
Other projects like the TRAILS FOREVER initiative, which most recently supported the building of the East Rim mountain bike trail, Every Kid in a Park, which brought 3,500 fourth-graders to CVNP in 2017, and the Trail Mix stores, which connected with 76,000 park visitors in 2017, prove that the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a partner worth watching.