Conservancy Magazine - Spring/Summer 2017

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Surprising life thrives in the Valley

New Central Visitor Center Coming

Plan leaps forward with purchase of Zielenski Court

Inspiring Lifelong Learning

Hands-on at the Environmental Education Center


CONSERVANCY MAGAZINE Spring/Summer 2017, Volume 2 : Issue 2 CONTACT US 1403 West Hines Hill Road Peninsula Ohio 44264 330-657-2909 EXECUTIVE STAFF Deb Yandala Chief Executive Officer Janice Matteucci Chief Operating Officer John P. Debo, Jr. Chief Development Officer Katie Wright Director of CVEEC Katrina Haas Chief of External Affairs BOARD James Nash, Chairman Ellen Perduyn, Vice-Chair Dione Alexander Michael Byun Pamela A. Carson Deborah Cook Tina Darcy Harold Gaar Thomas E. Green Michael L. Hardy Matthew Heinle Emily Holiday Sue Klein Kathy Leavenworth Phil LiBassi Jeremy M. Long Shawn Lyden Stephen Metzler Michael Miller Sandra Morgan Dr. Liz Piatt Brett Reynolds Rick Taylor Teleangé Thomas


2017 marks a new beginning for the National Park Service. It’s the start of the next 100 years for an agency that has helped shepherd the protection and restoration of our country’s most precious places. We’re grateful for Conservancy members’ support during last year’s NPS Centennial celebration. Through targeted marketing, publicity, and outreach, the Conservancy helped CVNP welcome over 15,000 visitors to the park for five special Centennial events. Park volunteers and Conservancy staff went above and beyond to make sure CVNP celebrated the centennial with events focused on engaging our northeast Ohio community. Now, we’re building on the success of the centennial and planning for the future. The park’s new Boston Mills Visitor Center project is under way—the biggest capital project the Conservancy has ever undertaken. The Conservancy is working closely with NPS staff to create a better experience for local and out-of-state visitors. This year is dedicated to planning and design, and construction will begin in 2018 (see page 14 for more information about this exciting project). The Conservancy’s Board of Directors has created a new initiative focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. With this effort, we will strive to assure that the Conservancy and the park are welcoming to all, and that our programs and services reach a diversity of people. This year, we’re also adding new programs at our Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center to serve more children throughout the region. We continue to maintain our strong focus on science and connecting children with nature, as well as building interpersonal and collaborative teamwork skills. This is the true benefit of overnight camps, especially in today’s environment: learning to get along, sharing meals, and working together to solve environmental issues. Once again, we’re tremendously grateful for the support of Conservancy members, donors, volunteers, and advocates. You truly make our work possible.

©2017 Conservancy for CVNP DESIGN: Christopher Hixson / Incite Creative EDITOR: Emily Heninger, Grants & Communications Manager CORPORATE PARTNER:


Deb Yandala Craig Kenkel Conservancy CEO CVNP Superintendent COVER PHOTO: Black-eyed Susans, Ed Toerek

THE CONSERVANCY’S PROGRAMS INCLUDE: > Teaching children about nature at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center. > Co-managing the park’s award-winning volunteer program. > Fostering a rich cultural arts program through music, art, adult education, & more. > Providing visitor services including event facilities, lodging, and stores. > Raising money for national park projects and programs. SCREECH OWL, PHOTO: RICK MCMEECHAN


Our Vision

Connecting you to your national park. Preserving it for future generations.



Happy Accidents of Nature


Surprising life thrives in unexpected places


Inspiring Lifelong Learning Each week, children experience magical moments at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center

A Story of Transformation New visitor center to highlight transformation of a river, a valley, and a community


Profile in Giving A volunteer's legacy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park

10 Biomimicry: Learning from Nature 18 Social Media #CVNP 20 Featured Photo FORCVNP.ORG





of Nature by Joanna Richards




ports fans with a history in Northeast Ohio know the old Richfield Coliseum site, the arena between Cleveland and Akron that served as an early home for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Today, for anyone unfamiliar with the history, the site is easy to drive by without noticing: just another empty space where a building used to be. But there’s much more going on in this apparent void, a 90-acre field now owned by the National Park Service. This site is one of many in Cuyahoga Valley National Park where a complex story has unfolded, of both tension and collaboration between human activity and nature – and some strange surprises, too. Park Service biologists refer to past locations of industry as “disturbed,” and for good reason. Their topography may be strange and irregular, their old topsoil stripped away. They may be crowded with invasive species. To an urban dweller or layman, they may present a veneer of welcome nature, but to experts, they can look pretty ugly. Managing these damaged areas is a fact and sometimes a frustration for nature-loving scientists working in a National Park unusual in its history of heavy human use. But there are also rewards. At some of Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s most disturbed sites, pockets of unexpected life have taken hold. Park Service Biologist Meg Plona calls them “happy accidents.” On a cold afternoon in January, she leads me into the Coliseum site’s frozen field to show me one.

Surprising life thrives in some of CVNP’s most challenged sites

A cozy nest in the weeds Plona parks her official Park Service vehicle on the shoulder of Route 303 West in Richfield Township, just west of the Interstate 271 overpass. As we hike toward the center of the field, our boots crunch deeply into the thick, icy carpet of fallen grasses. After the arena and parking lots were demolished in 1999, the Park Service spread a grass seed mix here to stabilize the soil. Over time, the thought was, the area would revert to forest. But in the short term, it quickly became a haven for invasive plants. “The Coliseum is a disaster as far as vegetation goes,” says Plona. “It’s totally dominated by non-native plants.” Still, the National Park Service has maintained this site as a grassland for almost two decades now, mowing areas in rotating sections each year. That’s because of what Dwight and Ann Chasar discovered here. Just a couple years after the buildings were demolished, the long-time birdwatchers and park volunteers wondered whether any ground-nesting birds might have discovered the site. These birds favor grassland and need big tracts of it to keep their chicks out of sight of hunting hawks perched in tree lines. This has made them sensitive to habitat destruction from development. The nearest place the Chasars had seen these kinds of birds in significant numbers was on reclaimed stripmines in Jefferson County, a couple hours’ drive away. In May of 2001, though, they walked into the field where the Richfield Coliseum used to be. It was still bald in places and patchy with weeds. They listened. “I’m-a-sah-VAAAAAN-ah,” Dwight sings, using a birdwatchers’ mnemonic to demonstrate what they heard (and sounding eerily bird-like himself). “We said, ‘That’s a savannah sparrow singing!’ It was exciting for my wife and me, because we did not know other areas in the National Park where you could find those birds, and here they were, in a place that used to be the Coliseum!” Soon Eastern meadowlarks, bobolinks, and grasshopper and Henslow’s sparrows had also been seen nesting



amid the growing tangle of redtop grass, Fuller’s and cutleaf teasel, phragmites reed, Canada thistle – all invasive plants that make park biologists shudder. Meg Plona says when the Chasars approached the Park Service with their observations, “It was a great surprise... They certainly were the ones that alerted us to what was going on out here, because this was not an area where we would normally have monitored.” The Park Service ultimately agreed with the birders that the site should be maintained as a permanent grassland. In 2004, the Coliseum nesting ground helped earn the whole park designation as an Important Bird Area by the national wildlife conservation group Audubon. The Chasars now lead bird walks every November to see other species, too; migrating Wilson’s snipes and shorteared owls have been recent visitors. Chasar says the population is always shifting. But one constant – and his favorite experience at the site – is the male bobolinks in spring. The striking black and white birds with beige-y head stripes swoop though the air, singing, to try to win mates. “Seeing them in the air, and hearing them vocalize, it makes your heart…bubble!” he says, searching for the right word to represent the joy this clearly gives him. “It’s fun to stand there and see it all and listen to it all

and know that you had – I had – some part in bringing it there.” Standing in the frozen field in January, Plona reflects on the transformation. “It’s very unusual. I often say it’s a happy accident.” But while the birds’ initial appearance was a surprise, their flourishing here today, almost 20 years after they appeared, is no accident. It’s required active management by the Park Service – the mowing to keep the forest at bay, and volunteer work to remove larger invasive plants one by one. Now a plan is in the works to try a controlled burn, to see if it could help native grasses get a foothold.

A mine full of tadpoles Plant ecologist Chris Davis is behind that prescribed burn plan for the Coliseum site. He’s had success using the technique to manage invasive species and preserve grassland at the two other highly disturbed sites we’re about to visit. Davis turns his National Park Service truck off Tinker’s Creek Road in Valley View, and onto a wet, pitted drive at the base of a steep hill. He hops out to open a gate, and we start up an uneven road in what’s officially called the Terra Vista Natural Study Area. Most park users simply refer to it as Terra Vista. We’re going to check out a PHOTO: RICK MCMEECHAN

Frogs thrive at Terra Vista Natural Study Area, despite the land’s previous use as a mining operation.



great diversity of stuff,” Davis explains. “If we walk away from this, ten years from now, this will be autumn olive shrub land again.” Prescribed burns every few years will be needed indefinitely in order to prevent that. In other words, while Terra Vista has improved over time, its vegetation still shows major signs of damage. The topography does, too. After mining ceased, “It was kind of lunar – just pits everywhere,” Davis says. “So, like, this is just a weird example.” He gestures to a chunk of forest we’ve just come to, and I peer between the trees. The land dips suddenly into a trench. “There’s holes like this all around here. A lot of them hold water, and they’ve developed into this amphibian community.” Ranger Chris Davis examines plants at Terra Vista

section of it, about 150 elevated acres of lumpy meadow surrounded by forest. This area was once farmland, but is named for the company that later strip-mined it, Terra Vista Sand & Gravel. Like its grandiose name, conjuring the romance of nature from crass commercialism, Terra Vista is a big, strange grey area ecologically, too. When Davis came to Cuyahoga Valley National Park eight years ago, “It was the most horrendous site I’d seen in my life,” he said bluntly. “Still, to this day, I’ve never seen another spot that’s as filled with invasive species as this.” Autumn olive, a woody shrub that can grow to fifteen feet high, choked over one hundred acres of the site. It took heavy equipment and thousands of hardworking volunteers several years to clear it. Last year, Davis tried a burn to give native plants some breathing room to return. (Usually natives come back first, then are overtaken within a few years by the more aggressive invaders, he explained). Davis parks the truck at the top of the hill. As we walk, a couple charred branches left from the burn are the only evidence of it to my untrained eye. Patches of forest surround an uneven field. There’s an old cemetery in disrepair up here, traces of old access roads for the mining operation, a deer trail through waste-high grasses, and another trail used by park volunteers to monitor butterfly populations. “After we cleared the invasive shrubs, stuff just came up. A lot of natives. This is mostly golden rod…It’s not a super

This is Terra Vista’s happy accident – its answer to the ground-nesting birds at the Coliseum grassland. On a surface stripped by mining, where native plants are in a constant, losing battle with invasive species, frogs and salamanders are living the dream. Davis leads me down an old access road to show me closer-up what he’s talking about. The ground gets increasingly muddy, and before we even get to where we’re headed, we stop at the edge of a puddle, square in the middle of the access road. “This looks like nothing,” Davis says – and he’s right – “but for frogs, that’s kind of like Mecca.” The puddle is about six feet long by four feet wide in the middle, no more than five inches deep, with green grass visible beneath the clear water. Davis introduces me to a vernal pool – the fancier, science-y name for a long-lived puddle, or an ephemeral pond. Vernal pools are seasonal. Because they are isolated from other bodies of water and dry up in the summer, they don’t contain fish, the main predator for frog and salamander eggs, and tadpoles. They’re ideal places for many amphibians to reproduce. The Park Service hasn’t yet formally surveyed the wildlife here, but Davis says a chorus of frogs in spring and summer likely comes from spring peepers, wood frogs, leopard frogs, and American toads. Visitors who look closely in springtime can find tadpoles swimming even in tiny pools like this one. This is a humble example, but Davis wants to show me a more impressive one. Up ahead to the right of the access road, there’s another chunk of forest. We don’t walk far into it before the ground slopes sharply downward six to FORCVNP.ORG


eight feet, and we climb down the muddy sides into what feels like a very different environment. Fallen trees coated in moss crisscross a long, curved trench, maybe a hundred feet long and about fifteen feet across. The trench is filled with dead leaves and shallow water, about ten inches at its deepest. It feels like a special, intimate place, genuinely enchanting. Davis explains the dead leaves enrich the pool with nutrients. This is a more typical, shady vernal pool – though the trench it’s in is not typical, and most likely caused by mining. “Another cool thing about vernal pools is that there’s not a lot of invasives…Like, out of all that hiking we just did, all those non-natives – as soon as we get down in here… it’s like a little native ecosystem.” Davis points out elms and cottonwoods and willows. “So: very weird, but also pretty cool.”


The field by the freeway Of the three “happy accident” sites I visited with National Park Service biologists in CVNP, the third was in some ways the most interesting. It was certainly the most extreme in the way it encapsulated the complex interaction at these highly disturbed sites between human development activity and natural forces. After the vernal pool tour at Terra Vista, Chris Davis and I head in his truck to Boston Township and pull over on the narrow shoulder of West Boston Mills Road, just south of Interstate 80. We scramble up a steep slope, heading west, and soon we’re standing on the Buckeye Trail. Through a thin wall of evergreens, the white winter sky is visible above golden grass. We walk to the edge of the forest and look out over the Boston Mills Borrow Pit. Or more flatly, The Borrow Pit. You wouldn’t think so from the name, but it’s beautiful. From a distance, it’s a serene sea of orangey-golden grass, almost thirteen uniform acres tucked cozily into a modest valley. The grass rustles softly in the cold breeze; it’s like listening to someone sweep the kitchen from the next room. That’s if you live next to the Interstate. The whiny drone of turnpike traffic is impossible to ignore. It feels intrusive, and at first I let it irritate me. But in truth the highway bounding the Borrow Pit to the north – where, to my right in the distance, I watch semis scream by – is the catalyst that created this little patch of prairie, so named for the material taken from it to aid in road construction. We hike down into it. The field swallows us up. But once we’re inside, it’s easy and airy and peaceful to walk; the grasses part and sway to let us through. The tallest rise to between five and seven feet, and the stalks are far enough apart so that I never lose my bearings or perspective. I can crane my neck and look out into the orangey-golden distance – or catch a blue semi cab speeding by.

Bobolinks and other native bird species were discovered to be nesting at the site of the old Richfield Coliseum.



Looking down around me, I take in a cross-section like a grassy layer cake: a dense lower layer of wide blades the color of corn silk; sparser middle layers in a more assertive gold. Rising to about my knees are dark, greybrown pinstripes: thin, rigid stalks capped by delicate dried heads. A rust-colored fringe is the icing on the cake; that’s what gives the whole field its warm, sunset tinge.

The Borrow Pit contains a sea of native tallgrass prairie species.

The colors strike me for a reason Davis soon points out. “You’re not going to see places just brown like this around here. They all should be – if you were here 300 years ago, all the grasslands would look like this. But there’s hardly any today.” Davis explains that it’s common enough to find these native tallgrass prairie species – types of Indiangrass and switchgrass, sedges and asters – mixed into grasslands in Northeast Ohio. At Terra Vista, for example, a little patch of native broom sedge stands out as a smattering of dry stalks against green. “People like green,” he says. But “if you see a green grass this time of year, it’s probably a non-native.” The Borrow Pit in January has an astonishing lack of garish green. This is what makes its subtle colors so apparent, and remarkable. My appreciation is less technical than Davis’s as I take in the chilly beauty around us.

“There are no non-native grasses in this patch,” he marvels. Just an acre like this would be an oddity, he says. The Borrow Pit’s thirteen are “totally unusual.” Somehow, in building an iconic sign of modernity – the interstate highway system – what should have been collateral damage to adjacent land instead became a magical prairie time machine, a window into what much North American grassland looked like before European colonization. Northeast Ohio would have had small patches like this, other parts of the state would have had more, and the prairie states to the west would have had thousands of acres like this. As we walk, Davis tells me The Borrow Pit harbors other small wonders, too: some rare native wildflowers like ladies’ tresses and fringed gentian, a rare juniper, and a strong population of box turtles. Though no one anticipated the grassland birds would thrive at the Coliseum site, nor frogs at Terra Vista, it’s clear in retrospect what features attracted those



particular wildlife populations. But as Davis leads me through The Borrow Pit, pointing out its charms with enthusiasm, he hasn’t offered an explanation for the relative purity of its native plants. So I ask him.


He whispers back, conspiratorially: “I have no idea!” He says the Park Service spread an identical grass seed mix on about 40 disturbed sites in the park that had had their topsoil removed. Most quickly saw invasives take hold. “This is the only one that is in this shape…This is just crazy! Yeah, I don’t know how this happened.” The Park Service is using prescribed burns here now, too, to prevent succession to forest and preserve this special grassland. Davis hopes recent interest in the park’s disturbed sites from some of the region’s university researchers might eventually help solve the The Borrow Pit’s mysteries. That could satisfy Davis’s curiosity, but also help the Park Service make future restoration efforts more effective. “If we knew what happened here to make this a success like this, I’d be replicating it on 1,000 acres right now,” Davis says.

A region in microcosm Despite this mystery, the Park Service is already tailoring its restoration efforts at the Coliseum site, Terra Vista and The Borrow Pit, with sensitivity to each location’s specific vulnerabilities and potential. PHOTO: ©SUE SIMENC

Fringed gentian, a rare native wildflower, can be spotted at the Borrow Pit site.

In parts of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as on much of the planet, our impact has been so overwhelming that nature can’t heal itself. Polluted soil and water pose an ongoing threat; abandoned land is left vulnerable to invasive species. So the National Park Service’s restoration efforts at these three CVNP sites are aiming at a careful collaboration with certain natural forces, while intentionally halting others. Reversion to a pristine state is not the goal. Pruning here to cultivate there, biologists Meg Plona, Chris Davis and others are looking to the wisest stewardship, within the broader context of environmental conditions and conservation priorities. I like these sites already, though. I like their messy histories and their surprises. They put the lie to simplistic ideas about “Man versus Nature,” and reveal how complicated the web of interactions between people and the natural world can be. As Davis and I hike back up the side of The Borrow Pit toward the Buckeye Trail, I ponder what about this ambiguity so attracts me. These places are disfigured; their names suggest questionable histories. It’s not as if I enjoy the Borrow Pit’s freeway din, nor am I fond of invading flora. But the unusual life that’s come to thrive in them represents a kind of healthy scarring. Permanently altered, they can nonetheless start to heal.

Monarch butterflies visit native goldenrod at Terra Vista Natural Study Area.




Give the gift of an acre in Cuyahoga Valley National Park! By sponsoring an acre, you help: Restore native habitat in the park Maintain the trails of CVNP Protect our national park To choose your acre, visit



Biomimicry: Learning from Nature by Christine Hockman, Director of Resources, Marketing and Communications for Great Lakes Biomimicry

Spring’s arrival in Ohio sparks a fresh, childlike wonder in many of us. Your senses heighten as plants sprout from the earth, an array of migrating birds land, and the mating chorus of frogs floats through the air. As you awaken with nature, now is the perfect time to add some biomimicry into your life. Biomimicry is the practice of learning from nature and emulating its forms, processes and systems to solve human problems and drive innovation. People have been doing this for a long time: Leonardo da Vinci observed nature deeply, as reflected in his design drawings, and the Wright brothers studied bird wings to create flight. Throughout the world and across industries, people are drawing from nature’s genius once again. A product inspired by sharkskin actually repels bacteria by design, not chemicals – perfect for use in medical settings. Japan’s bullet train was redesigned thanks to a birdwatcher and engineer who was inspired by the kingfisher’s seamless entry into water and the owl’s near silent flight. (The train is now quieter, 10% faster and uses 15% less electricity.) Velcro was inspired by burdock burrs, which easily stick to your clothes through a hook-and-loop design. The beauty of biomimicry is that by mimicking nature, we can create life-friendly products, buildings and cities. Teams can work together more intelligently when operating as a living system. Teachers can better engage students in STEM and connect them to nature. As park users, we already know that nature is special and important. But what if you started looking at nature as a research and development lab with 3.8 billion years of knowledge? Now that takes wildlife watching to a whole new level! The next time you are in the parks – slow down, observe and wonder. When you encounter a problem or feel creativity building, go outside and ask, “What would nature do?” Great Lakes Biomimicry is a non-profit organization in Northeast Ohio that creates conditions for innovation using biomimicry. Our training programs help educators, business professionals and organizations grow using biomimicry. The Conservancy partners with Great Lakes Biomimicry to use Cuyahoga Valley National Park as a laboratory for learning. 10



INSPIRING LIFELONG LEARNING — at the — Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center

Every step outside can reveal something magical in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Each week, children experience magic moments at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center (CVEEC). During their time here, they’re immersed in the natural world for a four-day overnight adventure.



explained. “The rocks used to be buried under a whole lot of seashells, so this rock has a lot of spots. It has a lot of spots because it was buried under a lot of pressure under the water.” “And heat!” Izaiah hastened to add. “Pressure and heat!” Both explained that they’re paleontologists-in-training, though Amirah also anticipates a law career. It’s obvious Amirah and Izaiah showed up at the CVEEC primed to investigate, but their surroundings also clearly fueled their intellects and their imaginations. Their weeklong immersion in Cuyahoga Valley National Park only made their passions burn brighter.

Hands-On Learning One of Conservancy’s goals at the CVEEC is to inspire lifelong learning about the natural world. Its flagship program, All the Rivers Run, is a four-day overnight learning experience for fourth through eighth graders.


The CVEEC’s director, Katie Wright, says the program is designed to dovetail with students’ classroom learning. Students who have studied water quality in their classrooms, for example, get to take samples directly from the Cuyahoga River.

This past winter, fourth-graders from Harvard Avenue Performance Academy in Cleveland came to the CVEEC to connect what they learn in the classroom—about science, technology, writing, and art—with hands-on outdoor experiences.

“They see what’s surrounding the river that could potentially impact the nitrate level, for instance, and then they test the water for themselves, and we see things start clicking,” Wright says. “‘All the things they’ve learned in the classroom, they now see in action.”

During their trip to the CVEEC, students Izaiah and Amirah found plenty to investigate—down to the rocks on the trails where they’re hiking. It turns out the two friends are amateur geologists, both with carefully curated collections at home.

CVEEC programs are designed to use nature as a teaching tool. The Center’s setting in Cuyahoga Valley National Park takes advantage of a regional asset and connects students with its natural resources in the process. The Cuyahoga River watershed is a primary theme of All the Rivers Run, so students can make connections between their own actions and the impact they may have on local water sources.

On their CVEEC hike, they couldn’t contain their excitement. They could hardly finish a discussion of one rock before another caught their eyes. They pointed out each stone, picked them up, talked to each other, talked over each other, talked to kids and adults around them, and asked at least a hundred creative questions. They also did their own bit of teaching. “So, a long time ago, water used to be bigger than the trees,” Amirah



Wright believes this kind of experiential learning is crucial. “There’s always a learning gap for things you haven’t experienced,” she says. “The more experiences we can give youth, the better they can understand the world they live in. They become better learners, they become better questioners, and they become more curious about the world.”

scholarships and tuition assistance so students and teachers throughout northeast Ohio can attend this program. Many students who come to All the Rivers Run have never been in a national park. Some children may have never gone on a hike. One of the moments that always stands out during the program is the night hike. Without streetlights, flashlights, or cell phones, the students venture into the woods to experience the park by moonlight alone. At first, it’s hard to see anything. But as their eyes adjust, they start to notice new sights, sounds, and smells—the silent outline of a deer, the scent of evergreen needles, an owl hooting, the wind in the trees.

Two of the CVEEC’s current field instructors are living examples of the Center’s goal to inspire lifelong learning. Sami Crane and Dan Pinto both attended All the Rivers Run as young students themselves and have now returned to teach a new generation. “Before I came here, I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to go outdoors in my free time,” says Sami. “Or if I did, it was something I took for granted. Being at the CVEEC really made me want to go outside more!” Now, in their role as teachers, Sami and Dan have a unique perspective as former students themselves. “I know the impact of being outdoors and experiencing nature is immediate for the kids,” says Dan,” but I also hope it influences their decisions in the long-term.” Both instructors attribute at least part of their decision to become environmental educators to their time at the CVEEC. That’s one lasting impact of the center’s programs: to inspire not only future educators, but future leaders who can thoughtfully recognize the value of being outdoors, no matter their day job.

Outdoor Education for All An essential part of the Conservancy’s work is that all students who want to attend our programs and experience the national park can do so. Each year, the CVEEC serves around 50 schools and nearly 2,500 students at All the Rivers Run. The Conservancy provides over $200,000 annually in

Stephanie Reed, a teacher at Harvard Avenue Performance Academy, describes the experience: “We took a couple minutes to be completely quiet and look up at the stars. And that was one of those moments my students don’t get, living in the city. They don’t get to see the stars very often. It was touching.” Even when the children return to the warmth and brightness of the lodge, the night hike has a lasting impact. Seeing the trees, ponds, and creatures of the national park by night is an experience that most will never forget. The night hike is just one of the ways the CVEEC makes a difference in the lives of Ohio youth. Whether it’s nurturing a passion for geology, laying the foundation for a lifetime of outdoor adventures, or seeing the magic of an enormous night sky for the first time, outdoor education in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a powerful tool for self-discovery and lifelong inspiration.

Each year, over 9,000 children attend programs at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center. The Conservancy raises funds year-round to provide scholarships for lower-income students to attend and experience their national park. We’re tremendously grateful to the generous donors and members who support outdoor learning in the Cuyahoga Valley. Learn more and donate at




CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK A Story of Transformation New visitor center to highlight transformation of a river, transformation of a valley, transformation of a community


ore than 180 years ago, the State of Ohio canal boat made its maiden trip down the brand-new Ohio & Erie Canal. The boat traveled 38 miles from Akron to Cleveland through 41 locks, opening Ohio—the nation’s first frontier—to new markets, new opportunities, and an improved quality of life.

Today, the 33,000-acre haven surrounding the historic canal, now Cuyahoga Valley National Park, is an oasis along the resurgent Cuyahoga River. The valley’s history, scenery, and outdoor recreation have become a magnet for a growing influx of visitors from our local communities, around the nation, and around the world. They come to see Ohio’s national park. They tour the historic Ohio & Erie Canal, experience the iconic Towpath Trail, and ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. They enjoy the park’s natural beauty and its superb recreational and cultural assets, so close to neighboring Cleveland and Akron. Soon, they’ll be able to visit a new visitor center right in the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley: the Boston Mills Visitor Center, coming in spring of 2019. This “front door” to the park will help orient new visitors to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and connect locals to its wide array of landscapes and programs. The $5.9 million project is being led by the Conservancy in close partnership with the National Park Service.


e look forward to the culmination of years of hard work with a grand opening of the new visitor center in spring 2019. This will correspond with the 50-year anniversary of the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire—a fitting time and place to celebrate the river’s cultural and environmental legacy. 14 CONSERVANCY MAGAZINE SPRING/SUMMER Discover up-to-date information at 2017


A GROWING VISITOR POPULATION Kerry Muhl is a seasonal national park ranger who introduces the park. In 2007, she left the park to move to South Carolina with her husband, a teacher. When they returned in 2010, she resumed her job. She was immediately struck by a large increase in visitors from other states and counties. Many out-of-the-region visitors find out about the park through the internet, newspaper, or magazine articles, she has found. Some come just because it’s a national park, including visitors seeking a “passport” stamp signifying they have visited Cuyahoga Valley National Park. “We call them collectors—they want to collect the stamps and see all the national parks,” says Muhl. A visitor from New Hampshire who was traveling to Dayton for a conference was puzzled by what to do when he arrived in Peninsula. He had stopped by the park because he’s a collector. So far, he’s visited about half of America’s 59 national parks.

He knew there should be a visitor center in the Cuyahoga Valley, because he finds them at other national parks. Although the existing Boston Store Visitor Center provides some information, it can be difficult to find and doesn’t have all the information a visitor might need. He and his wife ended up crossing the street to the Conservancy’s Trail Mix store in Peninsula. There, a sales clerk took them to a table, spread out a map of the park, and circled sites they could see in one afternoon— waterfalls, a boardwalk over a beaver marsh, and hikes along the Towpath Trail. During the same week, Trail Mix staff helped visitors from Kentucky, California, and Texas. Cuyahoga Valley National Park had 2.4 million visits in 2016 and was once again in the top 15 most-visited national parks in the country. A 2015 study of park visitors showed that 20% of visitors come from out-ofstate (up from only 9% in 2005). Plus, more northeast Ohioans are discovering the national park in their own backyard every day.









Stop by Brandywine Falls or the Beaver Marsh on a summer day, and you’ll see cars with out-of-state license plates—from Michigan, New York, Tennessee, Indiana, Maryland, California, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and more. In 2000, by an act of Congress, Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area was renamed Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This was pivotal for the visitor upsurge. Becoming a national park put Cuyahoga Valley on the “bucket list” for tourists on a mission. But not all people visit the park on purpose. Take German couple Peter and Brigitte Blatt, who found the park by chance while driving through Akron on their way to Niagara Falls. They followed a brown tourism highway sign and located a spot in the park where they could enjoy a picnic lunch, parking their camper, with its distinctive Deutschland license plates, in a shady spot. Visitors like these are delighted to discover a national park they had not known of, but need to be signed to a central location where they can get the information they need to inform their visit.

needs of all its visitors, from near and far. Now, that dream is finally becoming a reality! A full-service visitor center will make the park more accessible and welcoming. It will be a place to teach visitors about Cuyahoga Valley history, as well as provide opportunities for unique experiences in (and beyond) our national park. “I think a visitor center is vitally important because this park is such a complex place,” says Jennie Vasarhelyi, the park’s Chief of Interpretation, Education and Visitor Services. “I like knowing we will have a place to direct people to where they can get a proper park overview, and where we can help them explore and find their interests.”


To meet the needs of diverse park visitors, the park asked the Conservancy to fundraise for and purchase a property right in the middle of the national park, in the Village of Boston. Now called Zielenski Court, the property includes a double-chimney clapboard two-story building (once Zielenski’s store, when Boston Mills was a mill and manufacturing area), which will be converted into the main visitor center, and two smaller historic buildings that will be used for restrooms and offices.

A key missing piece of the puzzle in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a full-service visitor center to meet the

When the property became available, Ranger Vasarhelyi says, “We knew immediately it was the perfect facility.”



In close partnership with the National Park Service, the Conservancy is managing fundraising, planning, design, and construction for the project. When it’s complete, the Conservancy will “hand over the keys” to the National Park Service, which will be responsible for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the property.

VISITOR CENTER SITE PLAN Planning for the new visitor center has been underway for several years. The $5.9 million project leapt forward last December when the Conservancy’s Board of Directors voted to authorize purchase of the Zielenski Court property. The project will uphold CVNP’s tradition of adaptively reusing historic buildings, while preserving the rural character of the Cuyahoga Valley. The main visitor center building (and the two smaller buildings nearby) will see

a complete rehabilitation in keeping with the historic feel of the Village of Boston. An outdoor pavilion and courtyard kiosks will also provide visitors with park and tourism information outside the visitor center’s regular hours. Inside the visitor center, park rangers and volunteers will help orient visitors to the park, and exhibits will tell the rich stories of the Cuyahoga Valley. To serve the new visitor center and help alleviate congestion within the Village of Boston, CVNP will build a new 100-car parking area and large-vehicle lot along Riverview Road, and relocate the existing CVSR Boston Mill Railroad Station to a location adjacent to the new visitor center. Finally, after over 40 years as a unit of the National Park System, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is primed and ready for a full-service visitor center. The culmination of a vibrant partnership between the Conservancy and National Park Service, the new Boston Mills Visitor Center will truly help make CVNP a top-tier national park.

PROJECT PARTNERS The project’s lead contractors are all based in Ohio, making for a uniquely local team: • Architecture: Peninsula Architects (Peninsula, Ohio) • Engineering: Environmental Design Group (Akron, Ohio) • Exhibits: Hilferty & Associates (Athens, Ohio) • Construction Manager: Regency Construction Services (Lakewood, Ohio)

COMMUNITY SUPPORT To make this project a reality, the Conservancy is raising $5.9 million from individuals, foundations, and corporations. As of press time, we are within $800,000 of our goal. With a final fundraising push now underway, and a little help from our Conservancy friends and supporters, we hope to bring our campaign to a close by July 1, 2017. See full donor listing at

$1,000,000 Cynthia Knight $500,000 - $999,999 GAR Foundation The Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation The Kent H. Smith Charitable Trust $250,000 - $499,999 The Cleveland Foundation The George Gund Foundation Burton D. Morgan Foundation The Reinberger Foundation Remen Family Foundation Sigrid and Curt Reynolds

$100,000 - $249,999 Cargill Deicing Technology Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation Jean Thomas Lambert Foundation Lehner Family Foundation Medical Mutual Community Investment Fund of Akron Community Foundation $50,000 - $99,999 Anonymous Doug and Karen Cooper FirstEnergy Foundation Howland Memorial Fund Sue and George Klein FORCVNP.ORG





















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olunteer Henry Gulich has already left a legacy in Cuyahoga Valley National Park: with his time. He’s passionate about introducing people to the park and helping them experience it. “This is your park,” he says emphatically. “This is my park.” Henry has dedicated countless volunteer hours supporting CVNP concerts, races, fundraisers, special events, and more. Now, Henry will leave an additional legacy behind, in the form of a planned gift to the Conservancy. Henry’s wife Komal was also a dedicated volunteer. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, they made the decision to commit their savings to places they cared passionately about. Before she passed away in 2014, Komal specifically asked Henry to remember CVNP with a planned gift. Both Henry and Komal wanted to make sure that their legacy—both as volunteers and as donors—would help make the world a better place. “You really can impact the things and places you care about,” says Henry. “I like to be part of making Cuyahoga Valley National Park a great place.” In the future, Henry is excited to see the new Boston Mills Visitor Center and the expansion of the East Rim mountain biking trail. He’s also passionate about education and getting young people into the park.

For more information about making a planned gift to the Conservancy, call John Debo, Chief Development Officer, at 330-657-2909 ext. 122, or visit

Through his volunteer work and personal giving, Henry will have an impact in the park for generations to come. In the meantime, he’ll keep biking, hiking, and volunteering in the valley he loves so much.




Biking on the Towpath Trail at sunset: A perfect way to end a day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. PHOTO COURTESY OF NICOLE NIGH

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Our vision:

Connecting you to your national park. Preserving it for future generations.

THE CONSERVANCY’S PROGRAMS INCLUDE: > Teaching children about nature at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center. > Co-managing the park’s award-winning volunteer program. > Fostering a rich cultural arts program through music, art, adult education, & more. > Providing visitor services including event facilities, lodging, and stores. > Raising money for national park projects and programs.

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