Feel like going for a hike? How about canoeing, horseback riding, or even a round of golf? Of all the natural resources available for play in Cleveland, residents are lucky enough to have one of 59 national parks right in their own backyard with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP).
All of these activities—and much more—can be found in the 33,000 acres that make up the park, which boasts the heart of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, an area rich in industrial history and rife with natural wonder. The CVNP is the only national park in Ohio, with the closest national park at least a four-hour drive from Cleveland.
In early January, the CVNP will break ground on a new $5.9 million visitor center to welcome the two million people who visit the park annually. “It’s just going to be a ‘wow’ experience when it’s done,” says CVNP public information officer Pamela Barnes. “Finally, we’re going to have that one place where visitors can go to plan their visits.”
While the CVNP previously has provided visitor information at various locations throughout the park, the new Boston Mill Visitor Center will provide a one-stop resource for trip planning, says Barnes. Located at the southeast corner of Riverview and Boston Mills Roads in Boston Village, the center will provide overviews of cultural and natural stories, interactive exhibits, and ideas on what to do.
“It’s going to be a huge improvement,” says Barnes, adding that guests can also download the park’s new app or use the center’s technology. “It gives ideas on places and go and see, or what you might see when you get here.” The new visitor center will also be fully accessible to guests with mobility, hearing, or vision issues.
The Boston Mill Visitor Center will be housed in a two-story, 3,600-square-foot historic building. Built in 1905, it was originally the company store of the Cleveland-Akron Bag Company back when Boston Mills was actually a mill. It was later purchased by the Zielenski family, who had managed the company store, in 1925.
“It really is cool, the way the National Park Service takes existing buildings and repurposes them,” says Barnes. “We will include the historic storefront windows [in the new design].”
Two smaller buildings near the visitor center will serve as public restrooms and offices, while an outdoor courtyard and pavilion will offer seating, 24-hour exhibits, and information.
Funds for the project were raised through private donations in a fundraising campaign organized by the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as well as $1.49 million through a $50 million National Park Service Centennial Challenge matching program. According to Barnes, the Conservancy is close to meeting the $5.9 million goal.
Athens, OH-based Hilferty & Associates is working with CVNP on the design of the exhibits, while Peninsula Architects designed the building and Regency Construction in Lakewood is serving as the construction manager.
The new visitor center is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2019. Barnes says she is excited to see the plans become reality.
“We want people, when they walk in, to get that feeling that they’ve arrived, to feel that they are in a national park,” she says. “We want people to experience the visitor center and then get out and experience the park.”