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Cuyahoga Valley National Park Opening Boston Mill Visitor Center

After 10 years and more than $7 million, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park finally has a “front door.”

The new Boston Mill Visitor Center sits along the Cuyahoga River, the Ohio & Erie Canal and Towpath Trail, and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in Peninsula. It opens to the public at 10 a.m. on Friday, with grand opening activities continuing through the weekend.

Reconstructed from the former offices and store for the Cleveland-Akron Bag Company, reclamation of the 1905 building was the combined effort of the privately run Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the National Park Service, after a campaign that raised donations from more than 550 people.

In 2009, the Conservancy bought the property, which over the years also served as apartments and a private residence, and donated it to the National Park Service. Design and planning for the center began in 2017, with the Conservancy funding the majority of the project through community and corporate support, and construction started last year.

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The new Boston Mill Visitor Center features both tactile, old-school maps and technology-rich interactive exhibits. [Jean-Marie Papoi / ideastream]

Historically, national parks have had to struggle along on limited federal funding, said Deb Yandala, the Conservancy's CEO, but the public-private partnership on the project represents a shift for U.S. park funding and support.

“In the last 20 years we've seen a dramatic change in our national park system, where there are strong community friends groups, able to raise money and to involve the community,” she said.

Even though it was the first U.S. national park placed in an urban setting, CVNP continues to work on appealing to a wider range of users, park officials said Tuesday. The visitor's center is intended to be a beacon to offer visual representations of the options available to explore across the 33,000 acres of land and water.

"People can come here and leave behind their stereotypes of what a national park might be and really discover new ways to think about a national park," said Jennie Vasarhelyi, chief of the park's education services.

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The renovation included opening up the building's second floor.  [Jean-Marie Papoi / ideastream]

The renovated building features seven interactive kiosks to help take visitors “back in time” to what the park and surrounding area looked like in the past. Murals show the park’s natural beauty surrounded by urban Akron and Cleveland. There’s also information on the Junior Ranger program and community rooms. A new 100-car parking lot and a separate lot for busses and RVs were part of the project. And an open barn overhangs the Cuyahoga River.

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The open barn provides a picturesque spot to rest near the new visitor center. [Jean-Marie Papoi / ideastream]

Once open, the Boston Mill Visitor Center’s fall hours will be 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. But there is also a 24-hour kiosk outside so visitors can still get information even if the main building is closed.

CVNP sees more than two million visitors annually and is maintained with the help of nearly 6,000 volunteers in addition to the more than 100 permanent and temporary park employees.

Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.

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