Since its creation more than 100 years ago, Cleveland Metroparks has held to its core values of diversity, inclusion and equity.
But a number of studies suggest that minorities have not had the same kind of connection as others to all of America’s parks. Researchers say although there are a number of complex reasons, historically, the outdoor leisure tradition has not generally been part of some cultures and not passed down from generation to generation. Also, access to some parks has been a challenge. Diversity in park employees and visitors is a Cleveland Metroparks priority.
“Cleveland Metroparks includes 50 diverse communities, 18 reservations and 24,000 acres,” says CEO Brian Zimmerman. “We strive for a workforce to be as diverse as the communities we serve. But we have been challenged at times to get candidates of diverse backgrounds to even apply. It’s something our own National Recreation and Park Association is working to direct so people working in the outdoors field will be as diverse as they should be.”
Cleveland Metroparks has a number of recruitment programs, events and partnerships to help attract diverse workers, including community outreach programs with police, job fairs, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cleveland and the city of Cleveland’s recreation centers. Learning about others’ success in the park district is a powerful motivator to become a part of the parks.
Cleveland Metroparks has been an employer of choice because it is built on diversity and inclusion. It also has been a part of influential organizations that help establish and maintain cultures of equity in Northeast Ohio. For example, the park system has been a member in the area’s Diversity Advisory Council.
Goals for the park include creating a workforce that retains “the most talented, skilled and hardworking individuals” and making the park accessible to all guests, patrons and vendors. In addition, the Cleveland Metroparks Transition plan has given the park district guidance on complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Adaptive programming, inclusive signage and sensory sensitive amenities can be found in reservations and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
The park district also has worked with Racial Equity Institute in partnership with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress to remove barriers to diversity and inclusion. Currently, the park district has 15 percent workforce diversity. Fifty-six percent of employees are male and 44 percent female. The employee retention rate is 96 percent.
Accessibility & Connectors
Park trails are always good. But park trails that are connectors are even better.
“We continue to look at Cuyahoga County and opportunities to connect people where they live or work,” says Zimmerman. “We try to make impactful trail connectors to our parks that help people who don’t have access to private or public transportation.”
The Trust for Public Land emphasizes that being located near a park or having good access to one is a health benefit.
“Looking forward from tomorrow to 50 years from now, how does the park make that physical and personal connection with the communities it serves?” asks Sean McDermott, chief planning and design officer. “People want access, and we have a growing network of trails. These trails connect green spaces and activity nodes. In addition to providing recreational opportunities, they serve as commuting routes for people to get to their jobs and as a source of economic development around the trails.”
The Red Line Greenway is a 2-mile, multipurpose trail scheduled for completion in spring 2021. The paved trail is unique, says McDermott, because it runs parallel to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) red line. The trail, a result of a strong partnership between Metroparks and RTA, will run from Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail at the corner of Franklin and Columbus roads to the Michael Zone Recreation Center at West 65th Street and Lorain Avenue and benefits eight Cleveland neighborhoods.
The 3.5-mile Slavic Village connector trail, still in its planning stage and a project in partnership of the city of Cleveland, is expected to be completed in the next five to eight years. It will link Cleveland Metroparks’ Washington Reservation in Newburgh Heights to Slavic Village and continue to Downtown Cleveland. The trail will include the .75-mile Booth Avenue connector trail, says McDermott. The trail will connect the existing Morgana Run Trail to the 48-foot-tall Mill Creek Falls, Cuyahoga County’s tallest waterfalls, in Garfield Reservation.
New and improved trails mean more walkers, joggers and bicyclists. And, a renewed interest in the lakefront parks creates a greater need for comfort stations. With “a generous gift by Holden Parks Trust,” McDermott says the new 72nd Street Comfort Station at Lakefront Reservation includes restrooms, covered bike parking, seating and even a swing from which to watch Lake Erie sunsets.
In addition, the 51-acre Dunham Park, previously owned by the city of Maple Heights, was transferred last year to Cleveland Metroparks and is now a part of Bedford Reservation. It is the first Metroparks property in the suburb. Much of the park will remain forested, and ecological benefits to the area are a plus. Additional land adjacent to the original park has been purchased and the park’s entrance improved.
Cleveland Metroparks protects natural areas and provides recreational opportunities. The park district also reduces storm water runoff, filters air pollutants, enhances the value of nearby properties and attracts both residents and visitors to Northeast Ohio. In order to remain viable, the park district must be experienced and supported by an increasingly diverse population.