America is bejeweled with spectacular national parks and monuments, several of which we visited. At sunset the day before we hiked the Natural Entrance Trail, a 1.25-mile path wending among glittering stalactites to the bottom of the Carlsbad Caverns, we watched the resident bat colony pour out of its mouth.
We camped at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim where, because of the high altitude, the August nights were cold. The jutting splendor of Yosemite, also called “God’s Fingerprint” because it is surrounded by flat farmland, left us slack-jawed. And, like many, we found Mount Rushmore underwhelming.
But something else also struck us: In many of the cities and towns where we stayed there was a noticeable lack of local parks with trails. Take San Antonio, Texas, for example. It’s a friendly city with a rich history, but after touring the Alamo and strolling the nearby River Walk, the main recreational activity seems to be shopping.
In Denver, where both Max and I have family, the Rocky Mountains provide a majestic backdrop. And while the mountains may be a hiker’s and skier’s paradise, Denver residents have to schlep to get to there. You can’t just wake up, grab a cup of joe and decide to hit the trails.
The boys and I returned to Akron newly aware of the unusualness of a treasure we’d taken for granted — Summit County Metro Parks. With 16 parks covering 14,000 acres in Summit County, I enjoy the Metro Parks nearly every day without having to make a plan or pack my car in advance.
My eldest son, Claude, runs from his home to the towpath six days a week. When he was in college in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Claude bemoaned running on sidewalks. I joke that he returned to Akron after graduating not because we, his family are here, but because he loves running on the Metro Park trails more than anywhere else.
Overemphasizing the role Summit Metro Parks play in making Summit County a great place to live is impossible. Who among us hasn’t driven out-of-town guests to one or more of our favorite parks?
My dentist took friends visiting from New England on hikes in our parks. The guest family also went to Disney World and Europe that same summer. And yet, when asked what their favorite trip was, their kids all said visiting Akron.
And now our Metro Parks need us. On the March 17 ballot is the first funding increase the Metro Parks have asked of Summit County voters since 2004. In those 14 years, the park district has added five parks, 5,000 acres and increased trails by 25%. And this is a good thing.
The extended park system we enjoy in Summit County affects both the quality and the longevity of life for residents. According to a recent article in Medical News Today, “Multiple studies have shown that these [green] spaces reduce stress and boost mental and physical health.”
Parks keep cities cooler, reduce carbon in the environment and improve the overall air quality. They also provide habitat for wildlife, something that is essential to protect populations of native species from plummeting.
I expect the levy to pass with overwhelming support, but became concerned when I read a recent letter to the editor from a resident who stated he and his wife regularly hike in the Metro Parks but will not vote for the levy. They feel the $4 million the district spent to acquire the former Valley View Golf Club in 2016 was misspent.
Imagine working at length on a jigsaw puzzle only to discover a middle piece missing. Because it was surrounded by Cascade Valley, Gorge and Sand Run Metro Parks, the golf course was that missing piece. Adding it filled a hole, creating what is now a wildlife corridor.
I walk my dogs most days on the section of the Towpath Trail across the Cuyahoga River from the former golf course. Swales of six-foot tall native grasses, providing habitat for many bird and small mammal species, have already taken over the once-manicured greens.
Like an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, I watch herds of deer bound away from the riverbank. And when they come to a stop, they disappear into the landscape, perfectly camouflaged by the tall, tawny grasses.
Last November, on my birthday, I first observed a bald eagle perched on a tree across the river, eyeing the flowing water for signs of fish. Sighting our nation’s bird on a daily walk was unimaginable most of my life. A better gift I could not have asked for. I’ve since seen what I assume is the same bird four more times.
Without the levy, the park district will exceed its budget by 2025, thereby requiring cuts in staffing, maintenance and programming.
Homeowners currently pay $3.47 per month per $100,000 home valuation. Passage of the levy would add $1.58 per month. With the levy’s success, our community can maintain a resource that is unimaginable in many urban counties. It’s worth every penny.