Don't destroy green space in Merriman Valley. Stand up for Theiss Woods

Shelley Pearsall

Six months ago, I stood next to 43 acres of trees with a handmade sign that read “Save Theiss Woods” in response to the city of Akron’s plans to sell its last major green space for a housing development.  

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I took this small action because I felt it was morally wrong to destroy a large green space when many people were relying on outdoor spaces to sustain their mental and physical health during the pandemic. Furthermore, it seemed unjust and immoral to sell off public land for the purpose of building an exclusive housing development at the same time so many Akronites, especially children, were suffering.  

Since then, the ripple effect of that one small action has spread. More than 16,000 people have signed a petition to save Theiss Woods. Hundreds of letters and emails have been written by residents over the past six months. A new group called Preserve the Valley formed to advocate for the green space and 800 people joined the cause.

I urge Mayor Dan Horrigan and city officials to read the just-released Knight Foundation report about the key role that public spaces served in the pandemic and how communities should use federal pandemic funds to create more of them for the future.  

Listen to the thousands of local citizens who took the time, in the middle of a soul-crushing pandemic, to speak up for Theiss Woods. What message should we take away from their efforts? What does it say about the importance of green spaces in all our lives?

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Instead of turning Akron’s last major green space into an example of profit and exclusivity, I urge Akron’s political leaders, conservation organizations and foundations to come together and support the establishment of a 43-acre conservation space at Theiss. Data gathered on Theiss Woods indicates it has up to 33 football fields of tree canopy, a wide diversity of wildlife, a wetland/natural spring and more.

Set the property aside as a future site for outdoor learning, recreation, community engagement, cultural appreciation, or just disappearing into nature. Use the opportunity of creating a new outdoor public space to build connections across the community and the Valley. Make Theiss Woods a legacy of Akron’s rebirth from the pandemic — and a sign of what we have learned about the most important things in our lives.

Shelley Pearsall is a nationally published author with Penguin Random House Books. She has written seven novels for youth and teens. She lives in Akron.

Shelley Pearsall