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Valley View: Restoring The Missing Link

Valley View: Restoring The Missing Link - Short Form

Valley View: Restoring The Missing Link - Long Form

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Video Transcript (Long Form Version)

What makes a park? A park? Is it the creatures that live in it? Is it the views? It's different to each visitor. But for Summit Metroparks, our mission has always been conservation-based, while providing a safe escape into nature. Throughout the last century, though, something has been missing from Cascade Valley Metropark a piece of connective tissue that ties this metropark together with surrounding greenspace, a piece that once was vibrant and full of life. A piece called Valley View.

The historic context of this area goes back into the pre contact period. It's near the confluence of the little Cuyahoga and the Cuyahoga Rivers, which is something that Native Americans would have been using to connect between the Tuscarawas watershed and the Cuyahoga River watershed, which allowed for waterway travel up and down north and south throughout what is now the continental United States. And then historically, this area was certainly being used as farmland for a very long time.

The first really kind of significant period of use that we really investigated was in the 1800s when this was being parceled off and when it was sold to the Himelright family. And that was in 1887, which is probably around the time that this barn was actually built. And along with that, the farmhouse that was used by the golf course as the home that the Springer family who ran the golf course that they lived in.

We also know that in the 1940s, there was a small neighborhood at the northern end of the property, and that was called Wheelock Cuyahoga Acres, and it was founded by a developer named Odell K Wheelock, who was from Cleveland. He sold lots in that neighborhood to people who were white and people of color, which in the 1940s was kind of unusual.It was kind of a rare thing. The golf course bought the land in 1956.

People look at the golf course, you know, there, it's beautiful greenery. But as far as water quality goes, and with the major, some of the Cuyahoga River running through it isn't really great for the biological activity and diversity. Whereas golf courses are normally monocultures. You know, the main thing about Mother Nature and all of these species is we need diversity.

The surrounding area had been isolated from the river, so the river was not able to expand into its floodplain at all. Instead, it was a deep channel with steep banks on either side that caused erosion. And one of the critical negatives of that erosion is that sediment then suspends in the water column, which impacts fish populations and other wildlife that would like to use the river.

They had drained a lot of the wetlands and streams into about 20,000 linear feet of drain tile that were connecting about ten manmade ponds. So the site really looked like a completely residential landscape.

This area here was so choked with pollution and so contaminated with toxins that it was designated one of 43 areas of concern by the International Joint Commission.

Areas of concern (AOC) were designated in the early 1980s, and they were basically the most degraded areas within the Great Lakes. So the goal of projects like these are to restore these AOCs and be able to bring it back to not the most pristine, but back to good water quality in the areas to compare to other watersheds that are not designated as AOCs.

The river itself was recognized back in 1969 as the Burning River, and that over those 30 years there have been a number of restoration activities that have occurred through dam removal stream restorations like this project, as well as just community stewardship. So we're seeing an enormous comeback of the river and these projects are going to continue that momentum moving forward.

In 2016, Summit Metro Parks acquired the Valley View Area, but this story begins much earlier. Summit Metroparks, originally called the Akron Metropolitan Park District, was formally established in 1921. In that same year, the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm, of National Parks fame, was hired to play in the Park District. The land we now call the Valley View Area was identified in the Olmsted Brothers original master plan for what would become Summit County's Park district.

Thanks to its rich natural resources, including a large stretch of the Cuyahoga River. While the Park District managed to preserve surrounding greenspace, known today as Sand Run, Cascade Valley and Gorge Metro Parks, the missing link remained out of reach until Valley View was purchased to complete the connection. After the purchase, the restoration planning work began.

This property, as it was shown on our 1925 master plan, is being important and we were missing this property as that connection to connect 1800 acres.

When we knew we were going to be acquiring this, this property it was our first golf course for the Metroparks and I don't think a week went by from the time we heard about that until I was out on the site inventorying everything that was presently here. So from rare species to wetlands and ponds, all of the drainage ways that were on the site, we needed to have a good foundation for the baseline information to see what was here. So we knew what we had to work with.

One of the key goals with every project is how do we build on the great work that conservation has done? For us in the planning department, it's like, how do we build the built environment, the things that that the visitor is going to use over the restored site and do it in harmony.

The goals of the project were centered around fish habitat, restoring the hydrologic connection of the river to its floodplain and increasing the capacity within the channel, and which was part of the connection with the flood plains. Before this project in the river itself, it was almost like a little bit of a desert. And what we mean by that from a habitat perspective, there wasn't a lot of places for fish and macro-invertebrates to live.

So what we did as part of this project is we kind of systematically went down through the river and put in important things for the fish. We're here today on the Cuyahoga River to do some habitat assessments. There's been a lot of interest in lake Sturgeon conservation and we are going to be assessing the habitat, make sure it's suitable for lake sturgeon spawning. Lake sturgeon are looking for areas with cobble or gravel substrate with decent flow to keep water moving over those eggs within the substrates.

And then once those eggs hatch, those young fish, you're going to be looking for some slower areas that are more sandy and gravelly. Things like the levee portion of the river, we knew those those berms had to come down if we were going to make the river functional again. We knew we wanted to daylight all of the water that were in the drain tiles, restore the ponds to natural wetlands and address all of the non-native and invasive species that were there.

Basically, we just took it one by one in a sort of a natural order. First thing was dump the lawns. We had 160 acre of lawn that we didn't want to develop into a seed bank. So we went into one of our largest nut planting events with the public planted 120,000 native trees. Once the plan was done, then we had to find out how to implement the portions of the plan that were too big or too costly for us to do internally.

So we're always looking for for wins when we're working on a project. So when the road was built as over 5,000 feet of the river was restored and in doing so, material was taken from the river. We had it tested, found out, hey, that's a great material to use as a base material for the road. Public access is not a requirement when selecting projects to be funded, but it is something that we all like to see, right?

These are our public dollars, so why not let the public see the investment and have access to that investment? This area in Ohio in particular is one of the most settled areas for refugees who are coming into the United States. We found that the refugee community have been using our parks in this area for many years. So when Valley View kind of came on the table, one of the things that we wanted to do was reach out to them and say, if we're starting from scratch, what is something that would benefit your community?

And a couple of those things were having a place where they could sell goods or where they could have food stalls and things like that if they have festivals and whatnot. Another thing that almost everyone asked for was stage area so that they could do musical performances or dance performance as or kind of special events.

With the planning complete, vendor selected and schedule set, it was finally time to get to work. So the Himelright Barn that we're sitting in was formerly a dairy barn, but when we acquired the property in 2016, it was the clubhouse for the golf course. And it's like, so how can we use this building? So the barn had two floors. We ended up taking out the one floor to expose the framework.

We have sound deadening in here. The material that was taken from the floor above was used to clad the first floor. The concrete floors are the original floors that were part of the clubhouse. They have a lot of patching that was done, but we polished them and left them intact. There's a large events area in the back that could be set up.

We also have an area for food trucks and for event tents. The outside of the site is set up to handle weddings, from small events all the way up to big events where we can have a tent in the back if somebody wanted to have an outdoor wedding. So there's been a lot of changes that have occurred in here, but the fabric here is all original.

So what we did on this microcosm, part of the site where the barn is, we transferred a lot of the stormwater and the rear into a channelized area where it actually doubles as a play rock area. Kids can play in it. It's interactive. It connects with the rest of the park to be able to go down to the Cuyahoga River through a system of wetlands, to be able to filtrate water and make things clean and better for the environment before actually gets into our streams and rivers.

Davey Resource Group was retained to complete the earthwork for phase one of the Valley View Restoration Project. Davey Working with Marks Construction was responsible for a variety of tasks included wetland restoration, stream restoration. One of the biggest parts of the construction was figuring out how to disrupt all of the manmade hydrology control and bring water back to the surface.

That included cutting off drain tiles, disrupting entire drainage systems. And the most interesting, and perhaps challenging, was draining the ponds interspersed throughout the golf course and filling them back in to a level where we could then create wetland habitat.

The types of habitat features that we've installed on site is a number of boulder clusters in the river itself, bank stabilization features with brush kind of hanging out over top of that has been worked in to create areas for spawning of fish, things like that. We've also included number of dead fall trees in the wetland habitats that were established for roosting habitat for bats and other birds and things like that and in general seeding and tree planting.

With the construction process complete, the time had come to evaluate the results.

I have been here on several occasions now, including when it was brand new and it was just just just a former golf course, barely a former golf course. And the transition over time just from the few times I've been here, have been, it's been amazing. Outstanding to see the progression and the succession.

One of the biggest improvements that we were able to do here to provide increased habitat value for the fish and wildlife in the area was by reconnecting the river with its floodplain. That helps to increase the water clarity and the oxygenation in the water. It also provides that sediment proved that as it's deposited on the surrounding floodplain, it provides really great material for vegetation to reestablish.

Oftentimes, fish would be targeting. They're looking for areas where they have some sort of shade or protection. Monitoring of the river has shown significant improvements in the fisheries quality. The number of fish species that inhabit the stretch of river has grown from 18 to 28. In addition to greater diversity, the abundance of fish has swelled from a low of 90 fish per kilometer to a high of over 300.

Sensitive fish such as hog sucker and river chub, once rare, now dominate the waters. The overall response of wildlife is equally impressive. Bald eagles, green herons and spotted sandpipers are regular visitors to the restored habitats. And our scientist volunteers have documented over 500 species of plants and wildlife that now inhabit this former golf course.

If you protect contiguous land along the river, you are absolutely enfolding the river in protection. And this is a perfect demonstration of that.

The development of this property was led by conservation, and that is how my philosophy is for park development. We have to pay attention to our conservation mission first and then develop that next. The recreational amenities that are planned for the park. We're really excited about the main road that goes in will allow people to go right into the heart of the park, which will be right by the river.

They'll be able to get out, will have livery service so you can get in a kayak or canoe and paddle downstream or just sit by the water and enjoy the beautiful views. Park District came together and not just internally with Summit Metroparks, but our external partners from the City of Akron to NOAA and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Cuyahoga Wrap.

We had so many great players, the contractors involved. I mean, so many people came together and made this project happen and it was inspiring to see how that all just fell into place and everybody was all excited about it. There's a lot of energy there. I think this project is really great because our main goal is to protect human health and the environment.

So to be able to combine those two with the public and the human health as well as the environmental restoration here, I think is a really great opportunity.

It's good to remember how we got where we are with this project, and none of us could have done it on our own and we had federal, regional, state, local and for-profit, non-profit partners working together to get this amazing project completed.

With this property, with so many ways to enjoy it. Paddling, hiking, picnicking, birding, we've got artists that are painting here. This is the template that we would use going forward for any new parks that Summit Metroparks would have.