Stephanie Walton, Chief of Marketing & Communications

Summit Lake Nature Club participants enjoy a bug hunt on the Towpath Trail.

With an average of 5 million visits and 30,000 program participants every year, Summit Metro Parks is on a never-ending mission to help people connect with nature through clean and safe parks.

“One of our top priorities is ensuring that all Summit County residents are able to access and enjoy the parks,” says Summit Metro Parks Executive Director Lisa King. “This Parks for All philosophy is the driving force behind a number of exciting new initiatives for the park district.”

The community engagement department at Summit Metro Parks works to foster an appreciation for natural resources, encourage healthy outdoor activities and help make meaningful connections with nature. Through educational programs, recreational opportunities and outreach to organizations throughout the county, community engagement staff are regularly finding innovative ways to fulfill this mission.

“We’re building new relationships while continuing to maintain the programmatic foundation that has served us so well over the past several decades,” explains Chief of Community Engagement Demetrius Lambert-Falconer. “By broadening our reach, we’re hoping to make nature a way of life for everyone in Summit County.”

Autism Friendly Family Day at F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm.

With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) ranking as the fastest-growing developmental disability in the nation, Summit County organizations are taking steps to ensure that individuals and families living with ASD are welcomed and included in the community. In 2018, the Autism Society of Greater Akron certified the F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm Visitors Center as the county’s first Autism Friendly Facility, meaning staff there are specially trained to accommodate visitors of all abilities. In 2019, the park district introduced an Autism Friendly Hour to our popular Touch-a-Truck event, allowing children and families to experience the trucks and other activities without bright lights and sirens.

At 17 percent and growing, Summit County’s senior population is looking for ways to stay active and remain engaged in the community. Summit Metro Parks is reaching those 65 and older through targeted nature-based programming and initiatives that encourage first-time park visitation. With external grant funding, the park district piloted a new program to remove transportation barriers for minority seniors, while also promoting the multiple health benefits of spending time outdoors. On two separate days, 44 Outdoor Rx participants traveled to several Summit Metro Parks locations to experience a naturalist-led hike in the herb garden, a nature center facility tour with bird viewing, a volunteer-led physical activity and finally, a cooking demonstration and heart-healthy lunch.

Primrose School of Hudson

Summit Metro Parks staff are even bringing nature directly into local senior centers, schools and preschools — reaching about 4,000 people each year! These specialized outreach visits are tailored to the individual audience and can include topics such as wildlife in your back yard and seasonal happenings in nature. As a special treat, sometimes our education animals even join us to serve as living ambassadors to the parks. Encouraging Safety Around Water In another 2019 pilot program, Summit Metro Parks partnered with Akron Area YMCA to familiarize kids with water safety, especially around “dark water,” like lakes and other natural water bodies. Over the course of four weeks, 25 kids honed their water safety skills at local pools and at Munroe Falls Metro Park in Munroe Falls.

Serving as a community connector and after-school program for children who otherwise may not be introduced to the parks, Summit Lake Nature Club operated its first full school year in 2018–2019. Serving children from surrounding neighborhoods, the 20 participants included homeschool, public and private school students ages 5 to 11. This program provides environmental, recreational, health and literacy-based education and wrap-around services while building familiarity with the outdoors and Summit Metro Parks.

Water safety lessons at Munroe Falls Metro Park

Also during the most recent school year, park staff fostered an ongoing relationship with children in grades kindergarten through sixth grade at Robinson Elementary School, first visiting their classrooms in the fall, then welcoming the kids to the Summit Lake Nature Center in the spring. In partnership with Akron Public Schools and Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center, Summit Metro Parks also welcomed 80 incoming freshmen from four Akron high schools to learn fishing and canoeing last summer.

Through these programs and more, we’re on a mission to bring the parks to every person in Summit County! Please contact us at 330–865–8065 for more information about facilitated group visits to our centers or to schedule an outreach visit from our staff. We look forward to seeing you soon.

For more great stories like this, check out Green Islands Magazine, a bi-monthly publication from Summit Metro Parks. Summit County residents can sign up to receive the publication at home free of charge.

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