putting the 'metro' in metroparks: expansion follows population back to city center

Spend time at any of the 16 Cleveland Metroparks that make up the beloved “Emerald Necklace” and you’ll likely realize this: The folks at Metroparks sure know what they’re doing when it comes to managing the region’s green spaces.
Now Metroparks is bringing that expertise into downtown Cleveland. The organization, which oversees more than 21,000 acres throughout Cuyahoga County, has reached a deal to purchase 2.8 acres at Rivergate Park on the east bank of the Cuyahoga River in the Flats.
That move marks the beginning of what eventually will be a new reservation in the heart of the city.
“Rivergate is a special jigsaw piece,” notes Metroparks commissioner Bruce Rinker. “But it’s the first stop only. We are going to keep going down the river to the lake.”
Some of the green space under consideration for this 17th Metroparks reservation includes Wendy Park, Edgewater Park, and other lakefront areas like the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve, near Burke Lakefront Airport.
“Those have all been named as possible parcels,” notes Jane Christyson, Metroparks director of marketing. “But what the parcels will be, that’s hard to say right now.”       
Whatever land is eventually included in the yet-to-be-named reservation will be connected in some way, adds Christyson. Linkage options include all-purpose trails -- like the Towpath or the Lake Link Trail -- or even water trails.
At Rivergate, Metroparks will purchase two acres from the Trust for Public Land, using about $1 million in funds provided by, among others, the Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation, MetLife Foundation and the Ohio Department of Transportation. It will purchase an additional 0.8 acres from the Cleveland Rowing Foundation (CRF) -- which established Rivergate Park late last year -- for an undisclosed sum.
Neighbors say the deal is a big win for Rivergate and the surrounding area, which quickly is becoming a recreation destination along the Cuyahoga River. Hundreds of rowers are here most days, Ohio City Bicycle Co-op is just steps away, and soon, the city will break ground on the nearby Crooked River Skate Park.
“It was incredibly serendipitous that this all worked out this way,” notes Jim Sheehan, executive director of the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op, which moved to the neighborhood a year ago. “When we first moved in, we were worried that we’d be in the middle of nowhere.”
Metroparks will add to the mix a public park, with docks for launching kayaks and other paddle-powered craft, plus an all-purpose trail along the river that officials hope will eventually head all the way up to the lake. There’s a charming patio on the property, from which visitors will be able to buy food and drink to picnic while watching everything from tiny sculls to gigantic freighters.
“We’re going to have a public park that reconnects the community to the river,” notes CRF executive director Theresa Gang.
Rivergate also will become the new home of the Metroparks’ popular Institute of the Great Outdoors (IGO), a sort of mobile recreation unit now based at Garfield Reservation. This summer, IGO will offer classes and tours at the site.
“We actually partnered with the Rowing Foundation last year and started leading some tours along the river," explains IGO manager Dana Smith. "We’ll do that again this year, and we’ll have a youth water camp, part of which will be at Rivergate and part at Wendy Park,”
IGO also will develop a 1.2-mile water trail along the Cuyahoga River, between Rivergate and Wendy Park. The stretch will include interpretive signage and is one of a series of water trails under development by various organizations along the 100-mile Cuyahoga. Boaters will be able to access the trail from put-in spots at both Rivergate and Wendy Park.
“There’s so much history, both natural and cultural, along there,” notes Smith. “And it’s just so positive to see people enjoying the resources right in downtown Cleveland.”
That’s part of the goal for Metroparks, whose soon-to-be-unveiled Emerald Necklace Centennial Plan recognizes the need to bolster the organization’s presence in the city.
When the Metroparks were first planned in the early 20th century by then Cleveland parks engineer William Stinchcomb and the Olmsted Brothers -- architects of New York City’s Central Park and many other renowned American parklands -- they were envisioned as a series of inter-connected reservations encircling, but not in, the city of Cleveland. Hence the name “Emerald Necklace.”
“But about 20 years ago, when we did some of our first surveys of visitors and understanding visitation patterns, we learned that most people don’t travel more than 15 minutes to get to a reservation. At that point, we recognized we needed to push back into the urban core to serve that group of taxpayers,” notes Christyson.
Over the years, the organization has inched closer to downtown Cleveland, with reservations like Brookfield, Garfield, Washington, Ohio & Erie Canal, and West Creek. But Rivergate is the first to bring Metroparks to the doorstep of downtown Cleveland.
“We have a great lake. We have a crooked river. And we have a new generation that gets it,” says Rinker.
Time to dust off those kayaks.

Photos Bob Perkoski
- Images 1 - 9: Celebration of the Acquisition of Rivergate on May 4, 2012
- Image 4: Brian Zimmerman Executive Director of Cleveland Metroparks 
- Image 5: Bruce Rinker, Vice President of the Board of Park Commissioners 
- Image 10: Rendering of the 2.8-acre parcel in the center of Cleveland’s Flats District known as Rivergate Park that will become part of the Park District - courtesy of the Cleveland Metroparks
- Image 11: Jim Sheehan, executive director of the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op