Spring has sprung: Four ways to get outside and enjoy the month of May

Warm, sunny weather has finally arrived in Northeast Ohio, and folks are eager to shake off those winter blues and get outside. Clevelanders know how to take advantage of the summer months like no other, and Cuyahoga Arts & Culture meets that need with a wide range of outdoor activities offered by their grantees. Here are four May events that promise plenty of vitamin D and opportunities to meet new people, make a difference, or just enjoy some fun in the sun.

How does your garden grow?

It takes an army of volunteers to pull off the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes’ annual plant sale. In fact, the sale was started by a group of volunteers 36 years ago, and the event has steadily grown ever since. Along with a print catalog and an online sale that allow customers to place orders for delivery, the on-site event offers fun activities, socializing, music, and, of course, plants galore.

“It’s a fun event because the parking lot looks just beautiful with lush greenery and flowers,” says Nature Center events manager Lisa Fredrickson. “The volunteer committee here has created a great community of plant enthusiasts.”

The 36th annual plant sale is slated for this Saturday, May 12, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Located at 2600 South Park Blvd. in Shaker Heights, the Nature Center’s parking lot will be filled with 800 to 900 annuals, perennials, herbs, vegetables, sedges, trees, bushes, container assortments, and hanging baskets.

The Nature Center is able to hold events like the plant sale thanks to a CAC $73,262 general operating support grant. “They are one of our biggest funders,” says Fredrickson.

She adds that the Nature Center aims to set its sale apart from other springtime plant sales in several ways. First, the event is staffed by specialists who know about local plants and the secrets to a Clevelander’s green thumb.

“What we highlight in our sale is expertise,” Fredrickson says. “We have master gardeners, people who have gardened all of their lives, so they know what is successful in Cleveland.”

The center also features a section called Home Grown that features plants successfully grown from the experts’ own gardens, then donated for sale at the event. “We sell those plants at great prices, and all proceeds go to the Nature Center.”

Second, the Nature Center spotlights plants native to Northeast Ohio, as well as those that attract species like butterflies and bees. “As a conservation organization, we like to have plants that provide habitat and food for pollinators,” Fredrickson says.

While about 175 online orders were delivered yesterday, the on-site plant sale promises to bring the community together with music, cupcakes sold by Sweet Six Bakery, and a flowerpot decorating activity for children. Everarbor Company will also be on hand selling Ohio-made mulch and fertilizer.

A backyard bash to build community

Last year, officials at Foluke Cultural Arts Center sought a way to unite the community and encourage residents to get out of their houses and meet their neighbors. They decided to host an event that would further their mission of offering exposure to and instruction in the performing arts, visual arts, and arts education in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood.

Enter the ARTS in Central Back Yard Party, held by Foluke. “The goal was to revitalize the community with the arts,” explains Kevin Marr, Foluke program coordinator. “We all came together to uplift the spirit of the community in one place.”

The idea was such a success that Foluke is hosting the event again this year. (At the time of publication, the date was scheduled for Saturday, May 19, but it has now been moved to July 20.) Thanks to a $7,700 CAC project support grant, the center will offer free food, entertainment, and socializing at the now-annual festival.

The party is open to anyone who wants to enjoy the arts in Central. “All are welcome, always,” Marr says. “The arts are a universal experience. We are creating a sense of wholeness with holistic healing through the arts. Be a part of it.”

Marr says this year’s Back Yard Party will showcase artists across various media and vendors selling everything from jewelry and crafts to sculptures and home furnishings. Hot dogs, hamburgers, and face painters will also be on hand, along with plenty of music. The City of Cleveland’s Showagon will perform most of the day.

“It’s just a mix of diverse opportunities for [enjoying] the arts,” explains Marr. “It avails to the mission of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture to establish this flow of creative expression.”

Rolling on the River

There’s no better way to enjoy Cleveland’s many amenities than with Cuyahoga River Restoration’s annual River Day on Saturday, May 19—a day dedicated to celebrating and preserving Northeast Ohio’s crooked river.

“River Day lets us get lots of different people out in a lot of places along or near the river and its tributaries,” says Cuyahoga River Restoration’s executive director Jane Goodman. “So many people see how wonderful the river is now, so they get more involved.”

Attendees can tour some of the watersheds at West Creek (in Parma) and Doan Brook/Shaker Lakes, or clean up wetlands and streams at Wildwood Lacustrine Wetland. Plant a tree at Oakwood Community Park, or grab a canvas and start painting in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park—the opportunities are nearly endless with a day full of activities in and around the Cuyahoga River and its tributaries.

“Every year, more and more people and organizations get involved, so we can get over the ‘Oh my god, it’s a dirty river thing,” says Goodman. “Because it’s not a dirty river. It’s clean, it’s beautiful, and it’s safe.”

In fact, Goodman says they try to highlight the many activities now available on the Cuyahoga, and that businesses are now hosting kayaking or other promotional events on the river. “It’s a great indication of what an economic driver the river is,” she says.

Thanks to a $5,000 CAC project support grant, this year’s River Day will also serve as the kickoff to the Capturing the Cuyahoga campaign that will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire. Beginning this River Day, officials will start collecting stories, memories, photos, and videos to compile a book and webpage about collective experiences on the river.

Goodman says they will compose a “word cloud” from collected words that people share when they think about the Cuyahoga. “I would expect that the center of the word cloud will be the word ‘fire,’” she jokes. “But we’re hoping that everybody will post at least one word about what they think about when they hear ‘Cuyahoga River.’”

Cuyahoga River Restoration will be celebrating throughout the year leading up to the big anniversary with a variety of events—including some fires. Goodman says the year will stay true to the motto: “Have fun and learn something.”

A spirited observance

The folks at Lake View Cemetery (12316 Euclid Ave.) sure know how to throw a party. Established in 1869 on 286 acres of Cleveland’s most beautiful property, overlooking Little Italy and downtown, the cemetery is the final resting place for some of Cleveland’s most famous figures—including industrialist John D. Rockefeller, President James A. Garfield, crime fighter Eliot Ness, and Cleveland Orchestra founder Adella Prentiss Hughes.

While Lake View is open to visitors every day of the year, cemetery caretakers pull out all the stops on Memorial Day to celebrate military veterans and other loved ones who have passed. “We’ve celebrated Memorial Day here since the early 1900s,” says Kathy Goss, Lake View’s president and CEO. “It was originally called ‘Decoration Day” after the Civil War, [before becoming] Memorial Day and a federal holiday in 1971.”

Early customs involved simply decorating the graves of war comrades with flowers, says Goss, while today's visitors decorate the graves with flowers, trinkets, and other memorial items. “People buy little mementos and leave them behind,” she explains. “They leave teddy bears if it is, God forbid, a child. They leave baseballs for loved ones who were baseball nerds.”

Goss says Memorial Day is the most popular time for visitors to pay their respects. “They kind of recognize it as a day at the cemetery,” she says. “It is technically a patriotic holiday, and the government sends us flags for all of the veterans’ graves.”

While Goss says visitors come throughout the three-day weekend, the actual holiday on Monday is always a busy day. This year, Monday, May 28, will be no different. Thanks to a $5,000 CAC project support grant, Lake View plans to hold a celebration that everyone can appreciate.

Monday’s festivities will begin with a rousing parade, complete with a 20-person marching band from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. The Shaw High School R/O.T.C. will be present, and Historian Todd Arrington, who manages the James A. Garfield Historic Site (Garfield’s adult home) in Mentor, will talk about Garfield’s contribution as a Civil War Union general.

“It’s very colorful and big,” Goss promises. “It’s fun.”

Various branches of the military will be represented; a group dressed in Revolutionary War, Civil War, and other historic military uniforms will make an appearance (including a couple dressed as President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln). Goss says they come to the event every year. 

Goss estimates there are at least 9,000 veterans buried at Lake View. “We have veterans here from all wars,” she shares. “We even have someone from the Revolutionary War. Even through we weren’t a cemetery yet [at that time], he was moved here decades later.”

At 12:15 p.m., the cemetery hosts a remembrance service for families who have recently lost a loved one. “The chaplain comes in and talks about the importance of remembrance, and everyone gets a flower,” Goss says. “We usually get a couple hundred people for that.”

People who donate their bodies to science through the Cleveland Clinic Body Donation program are interred in a special mausoleum, and those people are also recognized on Memorial Day.

While Memorial Day is a time for remembrance, Goss stressed that Lake View’s events are designed to be enjoyable and light in nature. “This place is conceptualized and designed for the living—a place to come and enjoy beautiful things,” she says. “Today, we don't make cemeteries like this because the maintenance is so great. That’s why people should come see it and enjoy it.”

As many as 600 people turn out on Memorial Day at Lake View. Visitors are encouraged to pack a picnic lunch, enjoy the grounds, or tour the Garfield Monument.


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.