Find Your Park Along the Crooked River

How the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park Supports an Urban Oasis
Madeleine BienPark Partner Stories
Big concrete bridge over foggy valley at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
— A. Farinacci/NPS

“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.

Sunrise over the Lock south of a green and lush Beaver Marsh at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Rick Hanger/NPS

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.

Steam engine running through a foggy forest a Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Steve Ash/NPS

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.

Green and lush Beaver Marsh at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Jim Kaftan/NPS

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.

Learn more about the work of the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park at or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.


We love "our" park and the Conservancy for CVNP does a great job to help it keep getting better and better. Living nearby, we are able to enjoy this national park in so many ways. Thanks for the beautiful photos and the reminder of how lucky we are to have natural spaces like this one.
Thanks for this great write-up on Cuyahoga NP and the Conservancy supporting it! This is the park that I grew up in--visiting on school field trips, enjoying cross-country skiing and sledding with my family, getting some of Szalay's sweet corn in the fall, watching the herons, dancing at Blossom Music Center, experiencing the steam train go through in Peninsula, tromping around on the covered bridge, being proud of my mom when she served as a bike patrol along the rail-trail, and celebrating my brother's wedding in the Park. This Park is in my DNA! While I no longer live in NE Ohio, now I bring my kids "home" to the Cuyahoga Valley NP, and share all the wonders of the beautiful land and history. Here's to the all the folks who support and sustain the place!

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