Why He’s Interesting: Zimmerman’s love for the outdoors stems from childhood wonder. As the Cleveland Metroparks’ CEO, he’s helped the park system grow exponentially over the last 10 years by acquiring more than 2,700 acres of land — including Edgewater Park’s 2,400-footlong beach. By strengthening Cleveland’s connection to the lakefront and ahead of the completion of its Wendy Park Bridge, Zimmerman has seen an increase of more than 1.6 million recreational visits to the Metroparks.
Green Field: Zimmerman’s grandpa introduced him to golf, which inspired him to manage 16 golf courses and 156 parks in Milwaukee before his role at the Metroparks. “We’d go out early in the morning and see how they were setting the golf course up for the day. I got to know that was a profession and that’s how I got my start in the green industry.”
Walk About: Zimmerman’s favorite thing about his job is seeing people get hooked on nature and the outdoors, citing the huge influx of visitors to the Metroparks in the wake of the pandemic as an example. “You never know when you’re going to need nature and that connection to the great outdoors. We’ve seen so many new families using the parks and it’s really neat and humbling.”
Big Progress: By March 2021, Cleveland will have its new TIGER Trail Loop System, a 6-mile trail that connects the West Side to the Flats. Along the way, commuters can visit the lakefront or traverse the Wendy Park Bridge stretching over train tracks straddling the Cuyahoga. “It’s really designed to connect people to the assets of Cleveland.”
Bright Side: The challenges and opportunities of 2020 shaped Zimmerman’s worldview in a way that extends from the personal to the professional. “I think we get one chance to go through this, so you try to seize opportunity when it comes and live life to the fullest. If there’s an opportunity to make a park district better and to allow it to grow, you take it and continue to build off it and try to leave a legacy larger than when you got here.”
If he could be any animal at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, he’d choose the giraffe because “they have the biggest hearts and they get the most amount of attention.”