Public Park Preservation Promise

By Kellie Morris

Whether feeding the ducks, repairing playground equipment, or mowing the lawn, volunteers of the East Cleveland Parks Association continue to play a vital role in the preservation of the historic Forest Hill Park in East Cleveland. The public has benefited from the passion, knowledge and dedication of volunteers who design and implement projects annually throughout the park.  Through their efforts, the park remains a beautiful space and an asset to the City of East Cleveland.

Historical accounts reveal that the Forest Hill Park was the summer home of John D. Rockefeller called the “Homestead.” Rockefeller also owned a home on Euclid Avenue known as Millionaires’ Row. John D. Rockefeller was a wealthy oil tycoon, but it was his son, John D. Rockefeller Jr., who dedicated the property specifically for public use. The park opened in 1942. The East Cleveland Parks Association was incorporated in 1998 as a 501C3 volunteer organization, according to the Ohio Secretary of State website. While the association does have a written agreement with the City of East Cleveland to assist with park maintenance, according to Michael Smedley, Chief of Staff for the City of East Cleveland, the association is free to fundraise and collaborate with other organizations to accomplish the goals identified each year. Smedley stated that “there is more to maintaining a park than cutting the grass. Without the assistance of the volunteers, the City of East Cleveland would be negatively impacted financially.” Smedley said that the association operates independently most often, but does collaborate on large infrastructure projects such as the repairs to the bridge that crosses Forest Hills Boulevard and connects the East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights park parcels. Recently, the bridge was strengthened with funding allocated in the East Cleveland General Fund. The association has a goal to resurface the bridge, according to Gordon K. Hay, President of the East Cleveland Parks Association.

Hay attributes the founding and vision of the association in 1992 to Roy “Dutch” Harley. Harley is quoted in a 1996 article in The Plain Dealer as saying “it (the park) needs some friends who are going to try to put it back to the original intention.” Throughout the years, the volunteers have secured lighting for the parking lot, signage for park entrances, and maintained the baseball diamonds. Hay identified future goals as adding more playground equipment, creating a butterfly garden (planting of flowers that attract butterflies), and park maintenance events. There is also a video diary about the park being created.

The association is one of many partners committed to the development of a Parks & Greenspace Plan by Mayor Brandon King. Community members may participate in a community survey posted on the East Cleveland website (Countyplanning.us/East Cleveland Parks) and view the park plan.

The volunteers partner with other organizations, too. Hay credits Jack & Jill of America for their initial role and contribution to the playground. The association most recently partnered with Run Forward Give Back. The organizations set dates to clean up the park prior to the scheduled “urban trail ultra-race experience.” The race was titled “The Forgotten.” According to the RFGB website, “the rich history of the Forest Hill Park is often forgotten.” (www.runningforwardandgivingback.com)

While the history of the Rockefellers gift may not be a current topic of many conversations, the intent of the gift is being fulfilled.  The park is utilized by Shaw High School sports clubs as well as the East Cleveland Chiefs Football and Cheerleading Organization.  The park has also been the site for the All School Shaw High School Reunion annually for the past several years during Labor Day Weekend.

Hay stated that “a park has many stories to tell.” His sentiments were shared by John Muir who stated “everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

For more information about opportunities to volunteer or donate to the East Cleveland Parks Association, please call (216) 299-0689.