WASHINGTON RESERVATION (originally Washington Park), at East 49th Street and Washington Park Boulevard, straddles the boundary of NEWBURGH HEIGHTS and the City of Cleveland. It was bought by the city in 1899 after a local amusement park was closed down. Originally a natural area of dense woods and deep ravines, most prominently the Burke Run tributary of the CUYAHOGA RIVER, the property was transformed into a public recreation area with tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and picnic grounds. After a period of neglect, it was somewhat restored in the 1930s by the WPA (see: WORKS PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION), but construction of the WILLOW FREEWAY in 1949 and industrial encroachment on the park's southern boundary destroyed a large part of its woodland landscape.
In 1967, the city agreed to let the REPUBLIC STEEL CORP. fill the 80-foot deep Burke ravine with construction debris from a mill expansion project, which effectively leveled the area's once rugged topography. Two years later, in 1969, the entire park was leased to the Cleveland Board of Education for the establishment of a greenhouse and arboretum as part of the district's ecology program. Since its completion in 1970, the Washington Park Horticultural Center has offered vocational programs in horticulture, floral design, turf management, animal handling, and landscape equipment repair to students from nearby South High School on Broadway Avenue.
The park itself received little economic support or upkeep following its tranfer to the school district, continuing to deteriorate through the 1970s. Parts of the former ravine were covered with foundry sand, rather than topsoil, while its few remaining forested areas and trails were overtaken by dumping or used illegally for all-terrain vehicles. The Board was prohibited by deed restrictions from selling the property to private developers, and, beginning in 1980, made the first of several unsuccessful attempts to transfer the property back to the city. By the early 1990s, school officials as well as residents of neighboring SLAVIC VILLAGE, including a local group called Friends of Washington Park, were petitioning the CLEVELAND METROPARKS to intervene. In 1995, the Metroparks agreed to take ownership of all land but the horticultural center, renaming the park Washington Reservation and undertaking a number of renovations. This included: new foot trails; a new picnic shelter and parking lot; small wetlands areas; and refurbishments to the Battleship Maine Memorial and American Legion Memorial, both located on Washington Park Boulevard.
As the most far-reaching aspect of the shift to Metroparks management, 42 acres of the 59-acre reservation were redeveloped into a 9-hole golf course and driving range, which opened in 2006. The golf facilities were created specifically to house extracurricular sports programs for Cleveland middle and high school students; financing came from a local chapter of First Tee, Inc., a national program established by the World Golf Foundation in 1997, and course architect Brit Stenson of the INTERNATIONAL MANAGEMENT GROUP (IMG) designed the greens. From the onset, the Metroparks planned to maintain the new course in compliance with the Audubon International's Cooperative Sanctuary Program, a certification system promoting environmentally-responsible techniques for managing golfing areas, such as water conservation; limiting synthetic fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicides use; and including adequate avian and wildlife habitats.
In 2006, Timothy Bigenho was the principal of South High School and the chief administrator at Washington Park Horticultural Center. The center's enrollment was approximately 200 students, both full- and part-time.