Cleveland Metroparks' biggest reservation is up to big things

For decades, the Brecksville Nature Center has essentially been the “last one standing” of the Cleveland Metroparks’ trifecta of original trailside museums—as the other two originals were lost to fires in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2017, the center delivered programs to almost 30,000 people despite a limited, 1000-square-foot-space.

Now, thanks to the recent addition of an auxiliary Trailside Program Center, the popular Nature Center can expand its presence and programming to serve more Clevelanders interested in the great outdoors.

“We’ve always been very limited on space [at the Nature Center]—it’s basically one big room for exhibits and everything else,” explains Cleveland Metroparks naturalist Kelly McGinnis, who has worked at the Brecksville Nature Center since 2000. “The idea behind the new building is to essentially add dedicated classroom space.”

Dedicated in October, the 1,540-square-foot Trailside Program Center took nine months to complete with a total investment of $750,000 (over half of which was contributed by donors). The new building takes its design cues from the existing Nature Center with interior finishes utilizing the same Wormy American Chestnut—along with cabinets, shelving, and trim made with salvaged wood from previously razed structures within Cleveland Metroparks (like an old Girl Scout Cabin).

Two months in, the Trailside Program Center is already helping ramp up programming at the Brecksville Reservation—the largest in the Cleveland Metroparks portfolio at over 4,000 acres. Along with expanding regular programs like “Animal Crackers” for preschoolers, the new center has also introduced new programs such as “Dinner and a Movie” and nature-themed, make-and-take crafting classes.

“Traditionally, it’s been hard to plan programs in the Nature Center because it’s so busy on weekends, especially when the weather is nice,” explains McGinnis. “Now that we have this building, we’ve been able to add more family programming on weekends.”

Recently, McGinnis launched a series of “Family Fun in Nature” hikes designed to help participants more closely observe their surroundings and better appreciate nature. “We went hiking in the woods, going slightly off-trail to look for signs of animals, like owl pellets and deer rubs,” says McGinnis.

Though much of the programming is family-centric, there are also programs geared at adults—such as an upcoming “Nature-Inspired Crafts” class on making winter-themed string art, Primitive Skills workshops, and pie iron cooking classes.

For McGinnis, the expanded programming dovetails nicely with Cleveland Metroparks’ larger “Time to Explore” initiative, inspiring people of all ages and abilities to do just that. “In my mind, it’s truly about getting people out to go more in-depth and see things they’ve never seen before,” says McGinnis.

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As a Cleveland native and enthusiast, Jen Jones Donatelli is thrilled to take on the managing editor role at FreshWater. As a full-time freelance writer and editor for more than a decade, Jen has contributed to publications including Redbook, Budget Travel, GOOD, Playboy, Thrillist, Cleveland Magazine, Los Angeles Confidential, San Francisco, Ohio Today, and many more. She is also a contributing editor for Destination Cleveland and a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.
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