Natural beauty: Garfield Park Reservation gets $7 million facelift

The 128-year-old Cleveland Metroparks' Garfield Park Reservation in Garfield Heights was one the early city-commissioned parks in Cleveland's Emerald Necklace. Now park is undergoing more than $7 million in renovations to restore some components and update the popular park, the Metroparks announced earlier this month.

Today’s Garfield Park reservation features picnic areas, a wetland, trails, and deep woodlands that support a host of songbirds throughout the year.

Garfield Park RenderingA stone bridge, built in the 1930s by Works Progress Administration workers, crosses Wolf Creek as it flows into Mill Creek. The current wetland area was once home to a boating pond, where visitors in the early days of Garfield Park could rent rowboats.

The renovation project aims to restore the historic lake, make enhancements to streams and wetlands, install new trails, and build a new education and recreation program facility.

The transformational project will pay homage to the 128-year-old park, increase recreational and educational opportunities for visitors, and improve the ecological health of the reservation and Mill Creek watershed. Metroparks CEO Brian M. Zimmerman says more than $7 million was raised to implement this restoration that took five years of planning and fundraising.

Garfield Park RenderingA $1 million lead grant from Ohio CAT’s Ken Taylor will restore the historic two-acre pond and will include fishing docks, overlooks, and a new accessible trail network.

The new education and recreation facility is being built with a $1 million grant from the Brown and Kunze Foundation and will offer water-related try-it sports such as paddle boarding and fishing—both of which were identified as high priorities by the community.

“Putting in a facility will allow for a programmatic element,” says Zimmerman. “The park is nearly 130 years old, so it’s a neat way of giving it a complete facelift.”

Additional donations were received from several other family foundations and individuals, as well as project support from Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s (NEORSD) Stormwater Management Reimbursement Fund and Ohio EPA Section 319 are also helping fund the project.

Zimmerman says some work is already completed. “The Iron Springs pavilion and the natural play area are already done,” he says.

Garfield Park Historical PhotoGarfield Park Reservation history
The park dates back all the way back to 1895 when the City of Cleveland bought three farms on 180 acres from the Carter, Dunham, and Rittberger families to develop a southside park just a half mile south of the Cleveland city limits.

The park was established by Cleveland's Board of Park Commissioners and opened in 1896 as Newburgh Park. Designed by Boston architect and designer Ernest W. Bowditch, the Wolf Creek ravine had walking paths and cobblestone bridges, while areas on level ground were created for picnicking and activities, and a natural iron spring was accessible by 1905.

In 1897, the park was renamed Garfield Park in honor of the 20th U.S. President and Moreland Hills native James A. Garfield.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the land was known for its rolling landscape, the natural mineral springs, and two artificial lakes created by damming Wolf Creek. As the park began to develop, it became a destination for year-round activities like boating, swimming, or ice skating on the two lakes, or playing tennis, baseball, or sledding.

Garfield Park Historical PhotoHowever, the construction boom of the 1950s and 1960s led to sediment build up in Wolf Creek—deteriorating the health of the creek and filling the ponds. The recreational and educational opportunities that had drawn generations of families to the park were diminished.

The Cleveland Metroparks leased the park from the city of Cleveland in 1986 and began to restore it to its former glory. A nature center was built in 1987, and the Metroparks began restoring the lake, the marsh, and the trails.

Remnants of the historic park, including stone bridges, stairs and walls can be seen among Garfield Park’s 223 acres of streams, woods, open meadows, and recreational areas. The stone walls constructed in the 1940s are the only evidence of the former ponds.

Zimmerman says he hopes this restoration will also return the joy so many people recall from the Garfield Park Reservation’s early days.

“We hear time and time again, so many wonderful stories of people’s time in the park as a child,” says Zimmerman. “We’re working to replace what was once there many years ago. This is a rejuvenation of the center core of the park.”

The renovations are expected to be completed by 2024. Some trails and areas will be temporarily closed at times while crews work on the improvements.

Garfield Park Reservation is at 11350 Broadway Ave. in Garfield Heights.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.