More than 50 people gathered last month to dedicate Paddock River Preserve, including Harold Paddock III, grandson of Harold D. Paddock Sr., for whom the 194-acre property is named.

The former site of the Aurora Golf and Country Club was renamed in October, 2018 as a tribute to "Pappy" Paddock, who designed several golf courses in northern Ohio. Paddock Sr. bought the local course just south of Route 82 at 129 Trails End in 1943 during World War II.

Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin welcomed former mayors Lynn McGill and Jim Fisher at the Oct. 21 dedication, and recognized council members John Kudley and Scott Wolf, as well as parks and recreation department staff members for their work maintaining city facilities.

"This is an incredible property preserved for future enjoyment," Womer Benjamin said. "Instead of 400 homes, we have 194 acres of restored woodlands, meadows and wetlands."

McGill discussed the project’s history and acknowledged project partners Chagrin River Watershed Partners, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and the Trust for Public Land. The agencies, along with the Ohio EPA worked with the city and provided around $4 million in funding to return the property to its natural state. 

Also in attendance was Eagle Scout Carson Nietert, one of three local Scouts whose Eagle project involved park improvements. Nietert installed three concrete benches and pads on the property.

According to a 1943 Plain Dealer report, the former golf course had been developed in 1925 by W.H. (Bert) Way, a veteran golf professional from Mayfield. Part of the original clubhouse was a former cheese warehouse and the country club was one of the first in northeast Ohio to offer a swimming pool for use by its members.

Paddock designed several courses in the Cleveland area, including Sugarbush in Garrettsville, Grantwood in Solon, Pine Ridge, Columbia Hills, Astorhurst, Oberlin Golf Club, Hinckley Hills, Avon Oaks, Spring Valley, Homelinks and Moreland Hills. His son Harold Jr. became one of the region’s top amateur golfers.

The original clubhouse was demolished in the mid 1990s and a new one built. The course closed as a private club in 2008 and was operated as a public course until 2012, when the city acquired the land from Hunter Banbury, with money largely coming from an Ohio EPA grant.

The city eventually proceeded with a Chagrin River restoration project, and the land is now used by pedestrians and bicyclists.

According to the Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland, 185 bird species have been identified in the adjacent, 165-acre Aurora Sanctuary. 

Parks and Recreation Director Laura Holman said the preserve has nearly four miles of walking trails, with beautiful views.

"It has been especially fun to hear from residents who report seeing abundant wildlife, including river otters and a pair of  bald eagles," she said.