CLEVELAND METROPARKS,is an extensive network of parks—mostly in Cuyahoga County but also in Lake, Lorain and Medina Counties—consisting of 18 reservations totaling of more than 23,000 acres. Together with a chain of parkways and some 300 miles of walking, bicycle, and horse trails, these parks almost completely surround the city of Cleveland on the east, south, and west, giving rise to the nickname the "Emerald Necklace." Several Metroparks reservations abut CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, thus adding many more miles of unspoiled space.
The Metroparks’ governing board, the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District, was the brainchild of Cuyahoga County engineer WM. A. STINCHCOMB (1878-1959). Stinchcomb's efforts early in the 20th Century helped secure passage of state legislation permitting the establishment of park districts and the creation of the Cleveland Metropolitan Park Dist. as a subdivision of the State of Ohio. Stinchcomb's plan showed a continuous parkway encircling Cuyahoga County, threading its way through the Rocky River, Big Creek, Chippewa Creek, TINKERS CREEK, CHAGRIN RIVER and Euclid Creek valleys, and connecting in two places with the existing City of Cleveland park system.
The District was created on 23 July 1917, and the first park property was acquired 2 years later. Stinchcomb was appointed director of the District in 1921 and served in that position until 1957. In its early years, the District concentrated its efforts on acquiring land before rising property values and private development put these areas out of reach. In 1920 the Park District held title to just 109 acres of land in Rocky River and Big Creek. By 1930 it had acquired 9,000 acres in nine large, unconnected reservations: Rocky River, Huntington, Big Creek, Hinckley, Brecksville, Bedford, South Chagrin, North Chagrin and Euclid Creek. During the Depression federal work projects contributed in a substantial way to the further development of the parks. Civilian Conservation Corps camps were created in Brecksville and Euclid Creek Reservations. WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION (WPA) workers built fords, bridges, roads, and picnic shelters. The National Youth Administration created the first dedicated bicycle trail in Rocky River Reservation in 1939.
In 1930 the District launched a partnership with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to create an outdoor education program in the parks. Arthur B. Williams became the first park naturalist and under his leadership the District became an early leader in hands-on outdoor education. Trails were established and trailside museums were built in the North Chagrin, Rocky River and Brecksville Reservations.
Throughout its history the District has continued to take existing or reclaimable parkland under its wing. Recent examples include oversight of the Cleveland Zoo, now called CLEVELAND METROPARKS ZOO, in 1975; acquisition (and conversion to parkland) of the former Acacia Country Club in Lyndhurst (2012); and operation of previously state-run parks along Lake Erie (2013). The District currently is working with Cuyahoga County, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Summit Metro Parks, Stark Parks and Tuscarawas County Park District to renovate and expand the OHIO AND ERIE CANAL Towpath Trail, with the goal of forging an uninterrupted 101-mile walking and bicycle path stretching south from downtown Cleveland.
The District's activities are overseen by a Board of Park Commissioners that consists of 3 citizens appointed by the administrative judge of the Probate Court of Cuyahoga County. The District is financed by a tax levy on all real estate in the district and by miscellaneous receipts from district operations such as concessions and golf-course greens fees. The ongoing mission is to maintain the parklands in a natural state, limiting development to that consistent with conservation. Interpretive trails, bridle and hiking trails, park drives, picnic areas and shelter houses, trailside interpretive centers, wildlife management areas, and swimming beaches are among the major developments. The Park Dist. maintains 6 golf courses and leases 2 boarding stables to concessionaires.
Updated by Christopher Roy
Poh Miller, Carol. Cleveland Metroparks, Past and Present (1992).