Invest ARPA funds in CH parks

Dugway Brook runs through Cleveland Heights parks.

Recently Cleveland Heights residents were asked where ARPA funds should be allocated. The third most chosen response was “Offer Cleveland Heights residents more healthy and safe opportunities for recreation and socializing by investing in outdoor public spaces and amenities.” I fervently agree.

People converged on parks during the pandemic for space away from virus transmission. Once there, many encountered the feelings of peace and steadfastness that nature engenders. Whether we walk alone or with a friend (human or canine), a trail away from urban landscapes reconnects us to the natural world.

Cleveland Heights is uniquely blessed with more than 140 acres of historic parks with unparalleled amenities, such as CH Community Center and Cain Park Theater! And almost all residents are within comfortable walking distance to a park.

Our park systems lie within two watersheds, the Dugway and Doan. The Dugway Brook watershed accounts for 47% of the city and comprises the largest park system, running diagonally across the geographical center of our 8-square-mile city. The Dugway chain of parks begins upstream at Cain Park, connects to Schoolhouse Park and Cumberland Park, and finally ends at Forest Hill Park (shared with East Cleveland).

The city’s parks have a comprehensive array of amenities, such as our nationally known outdoor theater and annual arts festival; a multipurpose community center; an outdoor pool; and up-to-date playgrounds, ball fields, and tennis, pickleball, and basketball courts for active recreation.

But when walking on the park trails, it’s easy to see that stewardship of natural resources is absent. This is not unusual for city parks. Few have a budget or management plan for active stewardship of natural resources.

We see the parks’ lawns are mowed and fallen leaves removed—what else can be done? We can begin to improve the health of habitat and ourselves by mowing less and growing more; leaving leaves that harbor overwintering insects; removing invasive species and replacing them with native ones that support native insects and birds; improving and clearly marking trails; planting many more native trees; and creating iconic signage that identifies and connects all of the parks.

Unfortunately, Cleveland Heights doesn't have a designated budget or staff to manage our natural resources. But residents do pay 2.3% of our property taxes to fund the treasured Cleveland Metroparks’ Emerald Necklace that rings the county. The Metroparks are only accessible by car from Cleveland Heights, but in Cleveland Heights there is a city park within walking distance of almost all residents.

Currently the Metroparks and East Cleveland are discussing management of two-thirds of Forest Hill Park. The idea is thrilling, but I don't understand why our third of Forest Hill Park, excluding current amenities, is not under discussion. Let’s open a public conversation with the Metroparks to explore a partnership for environmental stewardship of the whole of Forest Hill Park, as intended at its 1936 inception.

Returning to residents’ desire for “investing in outdoor public spaces” with ARPA funds, this is a one-time transformational moment for our common ground. Let’s take this opportunity to realize the potential of our CH park system by jump-starting the effort with these funds. Then let’s find a way forward to fund continual park stewardship with public and private funds and grants.

We’ve inherited acres of public land that need our attention. We need to take better care of the land where we live, and we need to do it now.

Peggy Spaeth

Peggy Spaeth is co-chair of the Friends of Lower Lake; president of the Friends of Heights Parks; and a guide for the Heights Native Pollinator Path.

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Volume 16, Issue 4, Posted 10:25 AM, 04.02.2023