Fostering environmental stewardship among the region’s residents and especially its students has been at the heart of the Nature Center’s mission since its founding.
Over the past year or so, the tens of thousands visitors to The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes surely have noticed the transformation taking place. The Nature Center is undergoing much-needed improvements to what President and CEO Kay Carlson calls “our outdoor infrastructure” – the amphitheater, pavilion, trails, public access points, and the natural environment itself.
As one of the region’s preeminent outdoor educational and recreational facilities, the Nature Center’s 20 acres are a small, but perhaps the most significant, part of a much larger area known as the Shaker Parklands — certainly the most historically significant. The Nature Center was formed on paper in 1966, in the middle of a hard-fought citizen-based battle with Cuyahoga County Engineer Albert Porter to stop a series of freeways from being built through the Parkland’s 279 acres, a swath of the Doan Brook watershed from Horseshoe Lake on the east and the Nature Center/Lower Shaker Lake on the west, and roughly between North Park and Shaker boulevards on the north and south.
The Parklands was donated by the Shaker Heights Land Company in 1895 to the City of Cleveland. The donation stipulated that the land be used “for park purposes only.” Fifty years later, Cleveland leased the property to the City of Shaker Heights, which agreed to occupy, improve, and maintain the Parklands at its own expense. (The lease was renewed in 1990 for 50 years.) The property was designated a National Environmental Education Landmark in 1971 and an Important Bird Area by Audubon Ohio in 2001.
Fostering environmental stewardship among the region’s residents and especially its students – in short, education – has been at the heart of the Nature Center’s vision since its founding.
John C. Barber, a past president of the Nature Center, wrote in the preface to the Center’s 50th anniversary history, Preserving the Shaker Parklands (2016), that the creation of the Nature Center was just one of a variety of “oppositional tactics” against the despoiling of the entire Parklands. “Those opposing the freeways had varied agendas – preserving neighborhoods, communities, parklands, even specific properties…”
The Nature Center was the masterstroke among those oppositional tactics. Fostering environmental stewardship among the region’s residents and especially its students – in short, education – has been at the heart of the Nature Center’s vision since its founding, well before the freeway plans were finally put to rest in 1970. The Parklands had been used for student field trips for years, so the Nature Center’s education mission was an outgrowth of what was already in place. During its first three weeks of operation in late 1966, more than 500 students from local school districts visited the Nature Center, before there were any bricks and mortar. Today, upwards of 14,000 students from around Northeast Ohio annually participate in its numerous education programs.
The Nature Center is supported by grants, membership dues, and private donations. The improvements that are underway, thanks to the community support behind an on-going multi-year capital campaign, will further connect people to nature in every season and enhance the quality of life of all area residents and their families, whose past, present, and future participation in the Nature Center and its mission is the true essence of this invaluable resource. This photo essay captures that essence.