BOSTON TOWNSHIP – Nestled in the suburbs between Cleveland and Akron is Cuyahoga Valley National Park, just waiting to be discovered anew by visitors from near and far.
To that end, a series of buildings at the southeast corner of Riverview and Boston Mills roads will be renovated to become CVNP’s new $5.9 million visitor’s center.
Representatives of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Conservancy for CVNP on Monday tossed some ceremonial dirt across a snow-covered patch of ground at the location, which features three buildings on approximately 5 acres of land. CVNP/NPS Supervisor Craig Kenkel said the location is ideal because it is near the Cuyahoga River, the Ohio & Erie Canal byway, towpath and Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
"It's right along the Cuyahoga River and tells the story of the Cuyahoga River," said CVNP Chief Executive Officer Deb Yandala.
The main building at the site was once a store and will be renovated to serve as a central, one-stop resource for all types of information about the 33,000 acres that comprise CVNP.
The center will offer suggestions as to how to experience the national parks, what to see and how to begin a visit, Kenkel said. The center will provide out-of-town visitors with a history of the park land and highlight the cultural aspects of the area.
The project will also include two smaller buildings nearby. An outdoor pavilion and courtyard will provide visitors with park information and resources 24/7, while indoor exhibits will orient visitors to the park and its geography, natural resources, history and surrounding areas.
Outdoor exhibits will showcase the Cuyahoga River, while inside exhibits will exhibit the relationship of the river to the watershed, Cleveland, Akron and the canal, said Jennie Vasarhelyi, chief of interpretation, education and visitor services for CVNP/NPS.
“Stories of the park are intertwined with the cities with a shared heritage,” Vasarhelyi said.
A timeline will offer stories of the first inhabitants of the Cuyahoga Valley, after the glaciers receded and settlements took hold, Vasarhelyi said. Visitors will learn about the role of the canal and railroad and the economic ties with cities and the country.
Four local groups will assist with the renovations, including Peninsula Architects of Peninsula; Environmental Design Group of Akron; Regency Construction Services of Lakewood; and Hilferty Design of Athens, which will build the exhibits in the visitor’s center, Yandala said.
The center is scheduled to open in 2019, the same year as the 50-year anniversary of the burning of the Cuyahoga River. The incident brought awareness to pollution and led to the Clean Water Act and water recovery and transformation, a vision of the national park, Kenkel said.
In 2013, CVNP officials explored the idea of a visitor’s center and asked the non-profit conservancy to take the lead and raise funds for the project, Kenkel said.
“They have done a superb job with the heavy lifting of funding, planning and building the visitor center,” he said.
Yandala said the visitor’s center is the conservancy's first main project. The conservancy worked in cooperation with the national parks, which have limited funds for projects such as this.
“Great things happen with cooperation with friend groups,” Yandala said. “Northeast Ohio loves its national parks.”
In addition to helping visitors find things to do, the center will offer information on Northeast Ohio, she said.
“The visitor’s center is not a stopping point but a starting point,” said Vasarhelyi.
CVNP is not like other national parks, which can be isolated in an undeveloped area, she explained.
“A national park in a metropolitan area is something different,” Vasarhelyi said. “People will understand what we are all about.”
For more information about the CVNP Conservancy and its programs, visit conservancyforcvnp.org or call 330-657-2909.
For more information and CVNP, visit nps.gov/cuva or call 330-657-2752.