Sprucing up: Nature Center begins renovations on Stearns Woodland Trail

With the completion of the Lavelle Family Amphitheater in 2018 and renovations on the All People’s Trail last year, the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes this summer moves into a third phase of improvements—starting with a $1.22 million renovation to Stearns Woodland Trail.


Stearns Trail closed on Wednesday, May 13 to begin construction and officials say they expect it to re-open in late October (the All People’s Trail remains open).


Plans for Stearns trail include a new entrance with a larger gathering area; a play area with moveable structures; a treehouse that provides a bird’s eye view in the surrounding tree canopy; a wetland observation deck with seating along the south marsh; restoration of native habitats; and interpretive signage.


Nature Center president and CEO Kay Carlson says the Nature Center has seen record numbers of visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic who looking for a safe place for outdoor activities and to bond with nature.


While she says the renovations will enhance the overall Nature Center experience, Carlson says she is perhaps most excited about the new treehouse planned for Stearns Trail (also accessible from the Lavelle Family Amphitheater).


“The treehouse is the most exciting aspect of the project to me because everyone loves treehouses,” says Carlson, adding that she treehouses make her nostalgic because she had one as a child. “So many adults have fond memories of growing up with a treehouse, and kids love treehouses.”

Nature Center at Shaker Lakes - Stearns Trail Reconstruction - group deck rendering

The new ADA-accessible treehouse designed by Pete Nelson of Nelson Treehouse—best known for the show “Treehouse Masters” on Animal Planet”—will be built this fall.


“It is large enough to hold 10 kids and two adults at a time,” explains Carlson. “It will be used as a space to give people another perspective of the habitats.”


Of course, the treehouse is just one feature of a larger third phase plan—starting with the trailhead.


“The new Stearns Trail entrance will be a larger, more prominent trailhead entrance off of our parking lot into the Stearns Trail,” says Carlson. “The entrance will include a larger welcoming area with bench seating and a trail map, where school groups and classes can gather for learning and instruction as they enter the trail and the habitats within.”


The nature play area will have both moveable and unmovable structures—rolling logs, steppingstones, and tree branches made of natural materials—that designers created to promote creativity.


Additional benches placed throughout the 20-acre property will allow guests to sit and reflect, Carlson says, and two bridges—one across the boardwalk and one over a stream—will be replaced.


“Stearns Trail was built in 1971 and was later reconstructed in 1984 after all of the [other] trails were built, says Carlson “There were many safety hazards, such as rotting railroad timbers and rebar sticking out of the ground, that needed to be replaced in order for the trail to be more user friendly.”


Carlson says they hope the renovations will provide larger gathering spaces for classes and visitors.


One of the bridges that will be replaced on the trail“Our trails and habitats offer so much educational opportunity, a unique diversity of habitats, up-close encounters with wildlife, and a wide array of outdoor experience all within 20 accessible acres,” she explains. “These improvements will update the infrastructure and provide enhancements to ensure dynamic hands-on environmental learning, as well as the moments of quiet contemplation and solitude so many so many of our visitors enjoy.”


Carlson says these improvements will not only satisfy current needs but will benefit future generations. “The enhancements will bring outdoor learning to life in new ways, helping us fulfill our mission and expand it to a wider audience,” Carlson says.


Other improvements can be seen already at the Nature Center. Signs placed along the trails remind guests to stay six feet apart. The handrails are regularly sanitized, and masks are encouraged.


So far, $4.6 million has been raised in the $6.5 million capital campaign that will pay for all phases of the renovations. Carlson reports the Nature Center has raised about $1.1 million of the $1.22 million goal for Stearns Trail.

Read more articles by Kelsey Lauriel.

Kelsey Lauriel joined FreshWater Cleveland in May 2020 as a journalism intern. She is a senior at Ohio University majoring in journalism with a minor in sports administration. She is passionate about all things Cleveland, especially Cleveland sports.She's especially fond of the Browns and the Indians.