The waning colors of late fall’s foliage made a first impression on Brian Zimmerman when toured the Metroparks in 2010. He was interviewing for the position of CEO of a now 101-year-old park system. Zimmerman toured the Rocky River Reservation — the original platform for today’s 23,500-plus acres, eight golf courses, eight lakefront parks and 300 miles of trails.
“The parks are a game-changer for this community,” says Zimmerman, who has added more than 2,000 acres to the parks, only second in acres per year to the founder, William Stinchcomb.
Connecting communities to the park is a predominant theme — so is expanding lakefront parks to round out the Emerald Necklace. “We knew that lakefront connections were something that was missing, and we had experience managing waterfront assets on Lake Erie with one of our nine original reservations at Huntington Beach,” Zimmerman relates, noting its status as the first beach in Ohio, and on Lake Erie, to receive Blue Wave Certification, America’s first national environmental certification for clean beaches.
The Metroparks is certified by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreational Agencies, meeting its 155 national standards and earning the gold medal four times.
As a CEO who leads by doing, Zimmerman and his team took on a slew of centennial projects. The Edgewater Beach House went up as “something the community was looking for — inclusive, inviting and iconic and symbolic of our park system.” And, the zoo’s rebranding rolled into this year’s Asian Lantern Festival, which set an international record for attendance of a light festival. “The resounding comment we hear is that people are impressed with the investment this zoo has seen,” Zimmerman says.
The Euclid Creek pedestrian bridge project connects community and place with a Cleveland sign and views of the downtown skyline. And now, the completion of a $2.5 million pier project at Euclid Beach will “pay homage to the history of the park,” Zimmerman says. “The renaissance of the East 55th Marina has been nothing short of fantastic,” he adds.
The Metroparks’ partnership with the national trail program TIGER has resulted in connecting trails into downtown, along with adding mountain biking and overlook trails throughout the parks.
More people are checking out the Metroparks than ever before, with a record 18.5 million visits this year and counting. Under Zimmerman’s watch, the Metroparks secured an $8 million federal grant, the largest awarded to the Cleveland Metroparks yet.
What’s gratifying about these accomplishments, and a point of pride for Zimmerman, who is the Metroparks’ sixth head, is the awesome responsibility of educating future generations about nature. “I appreciate being a part of an ecosystem that educates children about nature, having grown up on a farm and spent time in the county parks and state parks in Wisconsin,” he says.
Zimmerman sees more growth for the Metroparks. “We want to make this a very integrated trail system to surrounding communities,” he says of pushing out to Stark and Portage counties and touching preserved land in Lorain, Geauga, Medina and Summit counties. “We continue to dedicate resources to take care of our existing park system while looking for opportunities to expand and enhance people’s quality of life.”