A look back at March 2020 to June 2021

Photo by Rob Blair

It’s been a unique and challenging year, and while we’ve seen more of you than ever in the parks and on our spree trails, we are thrilled to finally be able to welcome you back into our facilities. As always, our thoughts are with those who lost loved ones to the pandemic, and we are eternally grateful for the support from our community that allowed us to keep parks and trails safely open, continue to provide nature-based programming and launch our centennial year.

In case you missed it, here are some of the projects we completed and ways we stayed connected with Summit County residents from March 2020 to June 2021:

  1. Record visitation and spree participation In 2020, SMP saw a 20 percent increase in visitation compared to recent years, equating to an additional one million visits to our parks! Camping was particularly popular, with reservations up by 23 percent at Nimisila Reservoir Metro Park. At17,000 finishers, participation in the Fall Hiking Spree also reached an all-time high.
Two park visitors socially distance in Spring 2020.

2. Summit Lake Nature Center Grand Opening The park district’s newest nature center is a product of Reimagining the Civic Commons and is made possible through local partnerships and support from several grants and private contributions. It features new interpretive exhibits and a second-floor program area with panoramic lake views. Outdoors, visitors will find a community gardening space, a covered education area and easy access to the Towpath Trail and Summit Lake. Naturalist-led programs will emphasize water-based recreation, urban gardening and wildlife education.

Summit Lake Nature Center (Akron, OH)

3. Valley View Area of Cascade Valley Metro Park Huge progress has been made at SMP’s newest park area, with grant-funded restoration of the Cuyahoga River completed in 2020. The renovated barn is also nearing completion, and a Don Drumm sculpture funded by the SMP Foundation was installed earlier this year. We look forward to inviting visitors to explore the site along a “watch us grow” trail this fall!

Restoration is complete on one mile of the main channel of the Cuyahoga, 1,500 linear feet of headwater stream, 30 acres of wetlands and 40 acres of floodplain.
A historic barn that was later a golf club house is being renovated into a rentable lodge.
Don Drumm at the sculpture’s installation earlier this year.

4. Restoring & Protecting Sand Run Summit Metro Parks received a $4.6 million funding package to complete erosion control and habitat enhancement projects vital to the long-term sustainability of Sand Run Metro Park. Phase I addressed a pedestrian bridge in need of repair, restored stream conditions and improved wildlife habitat in the park. Phase 2 is expected to begin on July 6.

5. Connecting People to Nature in New Ways Like so many organizations, Summit Metro Parks pivoted quickly during the pandemic to continue serving our mission to Summit County residents. Through award-winning story trails and virtual Spree for All events, and hundreds of online and self-guided programs and events, the park district was able to continue connecting people to nature when they needed it most.

A young park visitor enjoys a Storybook Trail at Silver Creek Metro Park (Norton).

6. Coventry Oaks, Goodyear Heights and Mingo Lodge Updates Rentable lodges at Firestone, Goodyear Heights and Sand Run Metro Parks received necessary updates that included new building systems and updated finishes. Lodges and shelters are open for reservation with no remaining COVID-19 restrictions.

Renovations to Goodyear Heights Lodge — West Room
Coventry Oaks Lodge renovation at Firestone Metro Park
Mingo Lodge upgrades in Sand Run Metro Park

7. Centennial Celebration Launch In 2021, Summit Metro Parks is marking a century of protecting natural resources, celebrating our cultural heritage, connecting people to nature and honoring community support. Visit the website to learn about the many ways to join the celebration, including taking the Centennial Tour to earn a free commemorative leather tag!

Centennial Tour panels are located at 20 stops throughout Summit Metro Parks.

8. Centennial Groves and Tree Giveaways To help celebrate the park district’s centennial year, SMP is reforesting 100 acres of parkland with native trees. Centennial Groves at Munroe Falls Metro Park, Liberty Park and Wood Hollow Metro Park are underway or complete, and to mark Earth Day, Summit Metro Parks gave out nearly 2,000 native tree seedlings to local residents.

A free tree seedling giveaway event was held in April 2021.

9. Updated exhibits at F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm When it reopens on Saturday, June 3, visitors to the Nature Realm will notice a number of updates, including all-new centennial exhibits and interpretive signage and an exhibit devoted to Harold S. Wagner, the park district’s first leader. Updated exhibits have also been installed at Liberty Park Nature Center. Enjoy a peek into the past and a look at what’s ahead for SMP!

Updated exhibits inside F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm
Updated exhibits inside F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm

10. New Directional and Interpretive Signage In addition to 20 Centennial Tour signs, Summit Metro Parks and its partners installed nine new, grant-funded signs along the Towpath Trail and five at Cascade Locks Park. Visitors will also notice approximately 100 new signs along the Bike & Hike Trail funded by our partners at FirstEnergy.

11. Scenes from SMP Summit Metro Parks partnered with local photographer and videographer Rob Blair to create a series of “slow videos” series to allow people to enjoy the calming sights and sounds of nature from home.

12. “Birds of a Feather” Community Art In Spring 2020, the park district partnered with Summit County Probate Court to engage area seniors during the pandemic to create a community art project that — even during times of isolation — invoked a sense of togetherness toward a shared goal. The finished piece of art now hangs in the courtroom of Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer.

Some of the seniors who contributed to the community art project “Birds of a Feather” visit the piece at Summit County Probate Court.

13. Record Followers on Social Media More people are connecting with nature and staying in touch with Summit Metro Parks via social media. Over the past year, the park district surpassed 40k Facebook followers, 20k Instagram followers and 9k Twitter followers.

14. Archaeological Field School with University of Akron Summit Metro Parks cultural resources staff were excited to be able to continue our strong partnership with the University of Akron’s Archaeological Field School to conduct a study at Mingo Lodge in Summer 2020.

15. Columbia Run Inventory Summit Metro Parks biologists are assisting our partners at Cuyahoga Valley National Park to fully inventory the flora and fauna of Columbia Run Conservation Area.

16. Endangered Fish-Rearing Project Summit Metro Parks has partnered with Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife to raise and release thousands of endangered Iowa darters into Summit Lake.

Iowa darter fish

17. Improvements to Nimisila Reservoir Metro Park Summit Metro Parks renovated the boat launch and parking area and replaced a failing retaining wall with a stone water access area at the campground area of Nimisila Reservoir Metro Park.

Nimisila Reservoir Metro Park (Green)

18. Freedom Trail Phase 4 The park district continued to advance the design of Freedom Trail Phase 4, which will allow riders to cross from Downtown Akron to connect to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail near the Spaghetti Warehouse.

A rendering depicts the proposed Freedom Trail Phase 4 connector bridge.

19. Improvements to Munroe Falls Metro Park Summit Metro Parks updated the entry drive and made drainage repairs at Munroe Falls Metro Park. Additional planned updates include dock improvements and a new kayak put-in. This summer, visit Munroe Falls and Silver Creek on Thursdays for “dog swim” within the fenced beach area.

20. Tuscarawas River State Water Trail Participated in the designation of the Tuscarawas River Water Trail and constructed the Fairview Avenue water trail access.

Paddler on the Tuscarawas Water Trail

Visit us at summitmetroparks.org for programs and event information and more! To learn more and to participate in our centennial celebration, visit summitmetroparks100.org. #SMP100

Summit Metro Parks manages 14,000 acres, 16 parks and more than 150 miles of trails. Find more at www.summitmetroparks.org.