You may know popular Cuyahoga Valley National Park features like your own backyard, from the Towpath Trail to Brandywine Falls and the Ledges Trail. But the recently opened Boston Mills Visitor Center shines a light on the park’s history and its many peaks and valleys in a way the previous one didn’t.
The old center focused on canal boats and the Ohio & Erie Canal’s role in the area, highlighting how the waterway closely follows the Cuyahoga River, which carved the valley over thousands of years. But Rebecca Jones Macko, the park’s acting field operations supervisor, says the new one offers even more.
“You get a smorgasbord — a taste of everything there is to see and do,” she says. “There’s different stories that we’ve brought to life.”
For example, she says, the National Recreation Area that became the national park was created in 1974 out of land already in use by private homes, farms and more. Through before and after images of the area — including a photo of a home a former owner graffitied with a message expressing anger over having to move — the center tells the story of the communities that sacrificed for the park to exist.
“We don’t shy away from that story,” Jones Macko says.
In addition to a second-floor exhibit which allows visitors to share their experiences and tips for others, a children’s corner with puppets and craft stations, wildlife exhibits, trail maps and a gift shop, the center’s repurposed structure itself is a piece of history. The roughly 34,000-square-foot building was built in 1905 to house the Cleveland-Akron Bag Co.’s general store, before being repurposed into apartments in the mid-1950s.
“[It’s] repurposed in a way to orient the first-time visitor,” says Jones Macko. “We want people to connect with experiences throughout the park.”