BOSTON – The Cuyahoga Valley National Park's new Boston Mill Visitor Center is scheduled to open in October if everything proceeds on time.
Construction is moving along, with foundation work completed and the main building enclosed at the intersection of Riverview and Boston Mills roads, said Arrye Rosser, interpretive and education specialist for CVNP. The new visitors complex is on the west side of the Cuyahoga River, just a few hundred feet from the current visitor center at the Boston Store on the east side of the river.
The Conservancy for the CVNP has raised $6.85 million for the project and is managing the planning, design and construction of the visitor center.
New construction includes new parking areas, a deck overlooking the river, restrooms and relocation of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad train depot to the south side of Boston Mills Road.
The last of open houses to preview the facility took place March 20 and the public previewed and provided input on the exhibits that will be inside the visitor center, Rosser said. Open houses have provided input since the planning stage in 2017.
Bernie Charnas of Brecksville has been a Trailblazing volunteer since 2007 and works with law enforcement to keep the trails and Towpath safe.
Although Charnas said he was skeptical a new visitor center was needed, he said more out-of-own people visit the park and the old visitor center at Boston Store was too small.
"There wasn't enough room to tell the story," Charnas said. "There are so many ways to educate out-of-town visitors about the park."
Jennie Vasarhelyi, chief of interpretation, education and visitor services for CVNP, showed off a model of the new visitor center. The 1905 building was a store and residential property once owned by the Akron Cleveland Bag Company. The two-story building will have stairs and an elevator.
The front doors will open to a visitor desk and sales area with two rooms on each side, Vasarhelyi said. It will feature a topographical model of the park, along with art and information about the area.
"The two end rooms give an overview of the park and highlights what to do here," Vasarhelyi said. "We want to remind people we are a national park between Akron and Cleveland."
On the second floor, exhibits highlight the big events of the park with interactive exhibits. Families can discover the history and how the valley has transformed through time, Vasarhelyi said.
An illustration on the new maps due out in April shows the valley connection from Akron to Cleveland with the four ways to enjoy the park — by train, towpath, river or scenic byway. The map will be featured on a wall in the visitor center.
Barron Hornsby of Medina said he enjoys the park year round with hiking, bird watching and bicycling.
"I think what they're doing is fantastic," Hornsby said. "They really needed it. The [old] visitor center was on the towpath. Now it's down on the road and can bring people in. I'll be a great asset."
Visitors won't have to wait for all of the improvements. New Towpath Wayside Exhibits are in place along the towpath describing information and history at those sites or about the park in general as well as sculptures in different locations in the CVNP. A mule named Blossom is at the Canal Exploration Center on Canal Road in Valley View; an eagle is at the Brecksville train depot; a little play boat is at the Boston Store on Boston Mills Road; a calf and two chickens, Winnie and Verdie, are at the Hunt House on Bolanz Road; and a beaver, otter and muskrat are at the Ira Road parking lot.
Audio stations have been added in four locations: Hunt House on Bolanz Road; Jaite Mill near Vaughn and Riverview roads; Station Road Bridge; and Wilson Feed Mill north of Frazee House.
John Bernhard of Stow said he's been a volunteer trainman for five years on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, one of the ways to view the park. He likes that the visitor center has information on the history of the railroad.
"It's an important part of the history, and we talk about it on the train," Bernhard said. "From Indian canoes, to the canal and railroads, the different phases worked together."
The CVNP began as a National Recreation Area in 1974 but was re-designated as a national park in 2000 with 2.2 million recreational visitors in 2018.
Roger Judson of Richfield, a volunteer since 1980, has done it all — from winter camp backpacking, flat water canoeing to rail rover as well as working at the concerts in the park.
"I've seen the park go from an idea to a reality," Judson said. "It's been quite a ride."
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River catching on fire in 1969, Judson said.
"It was the best thing to happen," Judson said. "We focused a lot of attention on the environment."
The fire spurred the environmental movement and the Clean Water Act in 1972.
In June the park will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the last Cuyahoga Falls River fire with the designation of the Cuyahoga Falls River Trail as part of the Ohio State River Trail, Rosser said. During the anniversary week June 20-22 Down the River — The Torch Fest, a torch will move down the waterway from the headwaters to Cleveland.
Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org