Welcome to Valley View: A park (almost) a century in the making

Stephanie Walton, Chief of Marketing & Communications

Valley View on a late summer evening

In the heart of Akron lies a hidden oasis. Although it’s only a short drive from the city center, once you arrive at the 200-acre Valley View Area, you’ll find yourself transported to a land that feels miles away from civilization.

“Special” is the word most visitors use to describe this property, and this fall, you can experience this unique Summit County treasure for yourself. Beginning in September, Summit Metro Parks is opening a temporary “Celebration Trail” to mark SMP’s centennial year and invite visitors to explore the site’s rich natural and cultural history as the park district continues to develop recreational amenities.

“Sun Tracker” by Don Drumm

Originally identified in 1925 as prime land for preservation by the park district’s first master planners, Valley View was the missing piece that now connects 1,800 acres of green space across Gorge, Cascade Valley and Sand Run Metro Parks. It was finally acquired by Summit Metro Parks in 2016 and since that time, park district biologists, planners, maintenance staff and cultural resource experts have been hard at work converting the manicured fairways and manmade water features of the former golf course into a natural landscape that supports diverse wildlife.

So, what will visitors see when they arrive at the park this fall? Immediately upon entering the site, guests are greeted by a 19-foot stainless steel sculpture by local artist Don Drumm. Granted to the park district from the Summit Metro Parks Foundation, the “Sun Tracker” sculpture has mechanical, geometric features that are reminiscent of the former farming equipment that at one time worked the land at Valley View. It also features Mr. Drumm’s signature sun shapes with sun rays.

Himelright Lodge

The next feature likely to catch the eye is the newly renovated Himelright Lodge. Named for the family whose farm on this property was the last dairy to operate in the city of Akron, the lodge was originally a bank barn dating back to the late-1800s. When the property later became a well-known local golf course in 1958, the barn was converted to a club house enjoyed by golfers before and after hitting the links. Recent renovations highlight the building’s soaring ceilings, historic barn stone foundation and scenic position on the property. In October, Summit Metro Parks will begin accepting reservations for dates beginning in January 2022.

Next, visitors will turn their attention to the incredible landscape itself. For many, it may not be immediately obvious that the land and river in this area have undergone a significant transformation over the past four years. As Chief of Conservation Mike Johnson likes to say, “The best restorations are ones where you can’t tell we’ve done anything at all.” Because the area is now so well-naturalized, it can be difficult to know what has changed.

The first phase of the transformation was implemented with over $1 million in external funding from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund to remove non-native turf and trees and to restore streams and wetlands that had been covered to create the golf course. In fall 2017, park district staff and more than 500 volunteers executed an award-winning volunteer nut planting event to reforest the property with 120,000 ecologically appropriate trees.

“These improvements are not only critical to the Cuyahoga River itself, but they ultimately help protect water quality all the way to Lake Erie.” — SMP Executive Director Lisa King

Extensive construction in 2020 repaired the river’s floodplain and improved habitat for aquatic wildlife.

Next, the park district embarked on a large-scale river restoration funded by $3 million in grant awards from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Great Lakes Commission Regional Partnership. Restoring nearly a mile of the Cuyahoga River, the project included floodplain excavation and instream habitat improvements for fish and aquatic wildlife, as well as making the river more accessible for water-based recreation such as canoeing, kayaking and shore fishing.

Bald eagles now call Valley View home.

The park district is already seeing the benefits of this land and river restoration as native wildlife return to the site and water quality indicators demonstrate a healthier river. Common wildlife sightings at Valley View include nesting bald eagles, white-tail deer, wild turkeys and more. During heavy rain events this spring, the reconstructed floodplain functioned perfectly, allowing fish to travel freely through the river.

Ultimately, these improvements not only help wildlife, but they also help connect people to nature and launch public access to the property. Once the park is fully developed, the park district anticipates it will attract two million visits a year and result in an estimated $2.8 million in annual tourism spending for our local economy. Visitors will be encouraged to embrace the Cuyahoga River via the new four-county, 88-mile Cuyahoga River Water Trail, bike on trails including the nearly 100-mile Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail, connect to a 125-mile network of foot trails suitable for beginner or expert hikers, enjoy scenic beauty and wildlife viewing and use one of the all-season park facilities for a group or family event.

So come out and see Valley View for yourself this fall! Hikes along the temporary Celebration Trail are eligible for credit towards the “Hiker’s Choice” option on the Fall Hiking Spree, and interpretive signage will be installed to educate and inform visitors about the site’s past, present and future. For more information and park maps, visit summitmetroparks.org.

The ecological restoration and development of the Valley View Area has been made possible by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Great Lakes Commission Regional Partnership, as well as the Ohio Public Works Clean Ohio Conservation Fund. Foundation support has been vital to the project and has come from the Akron Community Foundation / Capital Fund, Burton D. Morgan Foundation, Knight Foundation, and Summit Metro Parks Foundation, as well as contributions to the project by other foundations and individual donors that will have an enduring impact. Important in-kind support has been provided by Summit Metro Parks volunteers and Friends of Metro Parks. Project partners include the Ohio EPA, Cuyahoga River Area of Concern and the Ohio Lake Erie Commission.

For more 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.