The two-story nature center with a multi-million dollar view of the lake is the start of a series of actions aimed at bringing Summit Lake residents closer to the programs and services the neighborhood has long been denied, he said, and connecting them to the lake as amenities .
âMetro Parks isn’t just opening the building,â he said. âYou bring naturalists and people together to talk about astronomy and people to paint fingers and people to watch birds. And all of this is now being offered in one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in the state of Ohio. In the middle.”
The center offers interpretive exhibitions, wildlife education and urban gardening. Metro Parks naturalists will also focus on different types of water-based recreational activities. The large, open second floor is designed as a programming room.
“The activation of this pump house, this nature center, is now the first in a series of things that are really going to happen for Summit Lake,” said Kutuchief.
Since 2017, Reimagining the Civic Commons has focused on the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, the Knight Foundation, Summit Metro Parks, the City of Akron and other groups that have initiated a process to reinvest in Summit Lake.
The lake was once a vibrant travel destination with an amusement park, swimming and dancing, and retail stores. But over time, production polluted the water, and in the late 1960s a freeway separated the neighborhood from the city. Investments faded and the Summit Lake neighborhood became Akron’s most deprived community.
Reimagining the Civic Commons is a partnership between the JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Akron was selected from several cities that received $ 5 million to revitalize key public spaces. Part of this, the âGipfelsee vision planâ was developed based on the input of the residents.
During community meetings for the vision plan, residents often talked about neighborhood kids having nothing to do, even with nearby baseball and soccer fields and the Reach Community Center, said Demetrius Lambert-Falconer, director of community engagement at Summit Metro Parks .
“While all of these amenities are physically here, there aren’t any programs in the neighborhood,” she said. That’s because the amenities on offer were usually paid for by people coming from outside Summit Lake.
Based on the feedback, Metro Parks created a pop-up nature center at Summit Lake in 2017. The center became so popular that Metro Parks kept it going, said Lambert-Falconer, who runs the center
During this time the pump house was eyed by a few groups interested in making something useful out of it for the community, but the labor and cost were prohibitive.
The building’s first floor was made entirely of metal pumps, with a huge pipe leading to the pier on the lake, with the floor below being hollow, Kutuchief said.
“This was a very complicated building and I think the only reason it wasn’t demolished was because it would have been too expensive,” he said. “I don’t think it would have happened without Metro Parks.”
Like the pop-up center, the new nature center’s offerings were designed based on input from Summit Lake residents, Lambert-Falconer said, keeping it ârelevant and authenticâ.
“I mean, everything from a children’s sewing class to art and this program called ‘Nature Club’ that I’m so proud of because I put together my own small staff of future naturalists,” she said.
Metro Parks designed the Nature Club based on a popular afternoon pop-up program in which children learned basic science concepts.
âIt was important to me that they understand that you don’t have to go anywhere else,â she said. “You know, you have a precious place where you are.”
And the range on Summit Lake is growing.
On the north coast, the Knight Foundation is investing $ 4 million in a $ 10 million project to create Summit Lake Park, which features a loop trail around the lake of approximately 2.25 miles with concessions and a shelter. The City of Akron has committed $ 3 million for this project.
The North Shore will be shaped to house a boat dock and boathouse for a canoe and kayak sharing program, Kutuchief said.
One of the most exciting things about working at the lake is that it gives Summit Lake residents everything the Cuyahoga Valley has to offer, Kutuchief said. Summit Metro Parks, the Towpath Trail, and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and beyond are all now in her backyard.