How the Cuyahoga Valley became a national park, Akron Beacon Journal, March 30, 2024

U.S. Rep Ralph Regula quietly got the Cuyahoga Valley Recreational Area named a national park in 2000

The inside story of how the Cuyahoga Valley became a national park
by Bob Downing, Special to The Akron Beacon Journal

U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Navarre, often said Americans know what they will find at national parks but national recreation areas are more murky, more mysterious, more unknown. His pet peeve was that the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area was not a national park.

That’s why he singlehandedly changed the name of the Cuyahoga Valley park in 2000. It quietly went from Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

He simply added one sentence to a House appropriations bill. It said: “The Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area is redesignated as Cuyahoga Valley National Park.”

That bill with Regula’s sentence was approved by Congress, signed by President Bill Clinton and became law on Oct. 11, 2000.

It is a method that has been used by other federal parks in recent years to become more-attractive national parks.

Regula, who died in 2017, has been widely hailed as a founding hero of Cuyahoga Valley with its popular Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. He worked with U.S. Rep. John Seiberling, D-Akron, to establish the 33,000-acre park between Akron and Cleveland in 1974. Regula served on a House appropriations committee and funneled $200 million in federal funds to Cuyahoga Valley during his 36 years in Congress.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula R-Navarre, who is leaving congress after 36 years, and his wife Mary posed together at their farm on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008, in Navarre, Ohio. (Lew Stamp/Akron Beacon Journal)

He also worked in 1996 to establish the Ohio & Erie Canalway. That federal corridor stretches from Cleveland through Akron and Canton to New Philadelphia and links Cuyahoga Valley to communities outside the park boundaries.

But Regula’s role in the park’s name change was not widely known. Regula made no announcement at the time and neither did Cuyahoga Valley. There was no media coverage. Word of the name change trickled out. Regula’s role in changing the name was not fully explained, although park officials were fully aware of what he had done.

Regula’s son, Richard, a Stark County commissioner, said he had no knowledge of his father’s role in changing Cuyahoga Valley to a national park in 2000.

“But that sounds like Dad,” he said. “He loved the (Towpath) Trail and he loved the park.”

A marker recognizing former congressman Ralph Regula is displayed near the Everett Covered Bridge in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The marker is on land owned by Metro Parks, serving Summit County

‘You’ve got a new national park’

The name change provided Cuyahoga Valley National Park with more prestige and more visitors. Very little else changed. It’s no secret that national parks are the stars of the federal park system and are the most popular and the biggest attractions. The change required new signage and updated maps and brochures with the new name in the Cuyahoga Valley park.

Brandywine Creek flows through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Regula’s role becomes clearer in a National Park Service oral history recorded in 2006 by former National Park Service Director Robert G. Stanton.

He recalled that Regula had called him in 2000 to say, “Bob, you’ve got a new national park.”

That surprise announcement from Regula is part of a Stanton oral history conducted by NPS staffer Janet McDonnell.

Stanton called Regula’s actions “interesting” and praised Regula’s chutzpah in making the change.

“I love that,” Stanton said.

The change also happened immediately, thanks to Regula, he added.

Stanton said he had worked closely with Regula, a friend, and they had a productive relationship funding federal parks at that time.

Regula’s action also changed Cuyahoga Valley to a national park with no input from the National Park Service itself. The park service opposed the move when it learned of the change, but it was then too late.

CVNP now ranks 12th for visitors among national parks

Walking sticks are left at the entrance of a trail Wednesday at the Everett Covered Bridge in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Regula first told John Debo of his plan to change the park’s name at a celebratory dinner for the park’s 25th anniversary in July 2000 at Blossom Music Center, recalled Debo, the park’s superintendent from 1988 to 2009.

Three weeks later, Regula introduced the change.

“It was his achievement, his achievement alone,” Debo said in an interview. “It was a wonderful thing….It was one sentence, but that is all you needed.”

Under strict federal rules, park superintendents can have discussions and answer questions from members of Congress but they are barred from lobbying Congress members, Debo noted.

There had been no serious discussions in Cuyahoga Valley about seeking a change to become a national park prior to Regula’s move, he said.

A boardwalk trail brings visitors a more accessible view of Brandywine Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Dan Rice, president and chief executive officer of the Akron-based Ohio & Erie Canal Coalition, praised Regula for being smart, clever and masterful in getting the name changed.

“As an incredible advocate for Northeast Ohio and the region, Congressman Ralph Regula recognized the importance of the name change from a national recreation area to a national park for Cuyahoga Valley,” Rice said. “Through his visionary leadership and masterful legislative skills, Congressman Ralph Regula elevated Cuyahoga Valley National Park alongside Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite national parks. With a stroke of the pen, Cuyahoga Valley became Ohio’s only national park, ensuring a legacy for future generations.”

Last year, Cuyahoga Valley ranked 12th for total visitors among the 63 national parks, with 2.8 million visitors. Great Smoky Mountains National Park was No. 1 with 13 million visitors. Cuyahoga Valley ranked ninth the previous year.

The full national park system consists of 429 units including battlefields, national monuments, seashores and lakeshores, rivers and scenic and historic trails. There are dozens of different types of federal properties within the overall system that covers 85 million acres and attracts 325.5 million visitors per year. That total is up 13 million or 4% from 2022.

Brandywine Falls in Northfield Center Township is a favorite stop for visitors to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The politics of national parks

Interestingly, Indiana Dunes National Park used Regula’s tactics in 2019 when it became a national park, and its now-retired superintendent had close ties to Regula and Cuyahoga Valley

Paul Labovitz retired in July 2023 as Indiana Dunes superintendent after nine years. He was previously a NPS trail planner in the Midwest and was stationed in Cuyahoga Valley. He played a key role in establishing the Regula-supported Ohio & Erie Canalway.

Asked if he was familiar with Regula’s name-change action, Labovitz said, “Of course. I was there….He knew how to get things done.”

Brandywine Creek flows through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Northfield Center Township.

His park on Lake Michigan near Michigan City, Indiana, was created in 1966 as Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The push to change the name was led by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Indiana. He had introduced legislation in 2017. That effort failed. The name change had been opposed by the park service.

He knew Visclosky had alternate plans, but wasn’t sure what would happen next.

The name change was quietly slipped into the omnibus spending bill by Visclosky in 2019. It passed Congress and was signed by President Donald Trump. Visclosky left Congress in 2021.

The park covers 15,000 acres and is the first national park in Indiana. Stephen Mather, the first NPS director, had proposed making the dunes a national park in 1916 — but it didn’t happen.

Labovitz said other federal parks have used the Regula method in recent years to get parks redesignated as national parks: Gateway Arch in Missouri, White Sands in New Mexico and Pinnacles in California.

“Getting a park designated a national park is 20% dependent on resources and 80% dependent on politics,” he said. “It takes political muscle to get things done with the National Park Service.” The best solution would be to turn all federal parks into national parks, he said.

Bob Downing is a retired environmental writer for the Akron Beacon Journal.

Irishtown Bend Park design features unveiled Park concepts to pay homage to early settlers by Ken Prendergast – March 20, 2024

Design features of the Irishtown Bend Park include the Coal Docks site featuring foundation remnants of the Erie Railroad Coal Derrick and the Iron Power Building, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show. Such workplaces employed Irish and other immigrants 100-150 years ago. This is at the north end of the planned park, next to the Cuyahoga River and the Detroit-Superior Bridge (Plural)

Irishtown Bend Park design features unveiled
Park concepts to pay homage to early settlers
by Ken Prendergast

The link is here

Cleveland, City of Firsts: From the world’s first rock concert to the nation’s first big-city Black mayor & more by Peter Chakeria



A sampling of Cleveland’s many firsts: Halle Berry, Jesse Owens, Toni Morrison, Charlie Sifford, Dorothy Dandridge and Charles Young (clockwise from top left)
Cleveland, City of Firsts: From the world’s first rock concert to the nation’s first big-city Black mayor & more
by Peter Chakeria,, January 1, 2024

The link is here

Just where did the Cuyahoga River reach Lake Erie when people like Moses Cleaveland arrived?


Cuyahoga River Cleveland, Ohio
The mouth of the Cuyahoga River was once located at the end of this ‘Old River’ segment between Edgewater Park and Whiskey Island

Just where did the Cuyahoga River reach Lake Erie when people like Moses Cleaveland arrived?
by Peter Krouse,, December 27, 2023

The link is here

Where’s the ‘circle’ at University Circle and why the popular name? By Megan Sims December 21, 2023


A photo of the University Circle electric streetcar turnaround in 1904. Cleveland Public Library

Where’s the ‘circle’ at University Circle and why the popular name?
By Megan Sims, Thursday December 21, 2023

The link is here

Think it’s impossible to revive a downtown? Look at Cleveland. Washington Post Dec 19, 2023

Think it’s impossible to revive a downtown? Look at Cleveland.

(Dustin Franz for The Washington Post)

Welcome to Cleveland, the city that leads the nation — by far — in finding new uses for empty office buildings.

This is Public Square in the heart of downtown.

It used to be a transit hub full of cars and buses. A 2016 makeover turned it into an urban “living room” where people gather to eat, ice-skate and enjoy concerts.

Since 2016, developers have converted five office towers around the square into residences. New restaurants and coffee bars have also opened.

The key to Cleveland’s success? Focusing the transformation efforts on a compact area.

Apartments immediately around the square increased from around 40 in 2016 to more than 1,200 by the end of 2023.

When there are lots of office-to-residential conversions in one place, it changes the neighborhood vibe from “9-to-5” office work to an 18-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week place to be.

Former mayor Frank Jackson, who served from 2006 to 2022, says when he entered office, “you could roll a bowling ball downtown after work and you wouldn’t hit anybody. It was a ghost town.” Cleveland epitomized the Rust Belt; businesses were leaving, and people were fleeing. Initial attempts at revival focused on a new convention center, spruced-up sports stadiums and a downtown casino. But something was missing: a great public space for everyone to gather.

The push to renovate Public Square began in 2011. Anthony Coyne, a lawyer who chaired the city’s Group Plan Commission, carried around a PowerPoint deck with a vision for a square as vibrant — and green — as New York City’s Bryant Park or Chicago’s Millennium Park. He showed it to any business executive, civic leader and philanthropist who would listen.

The Public Square as it appeared in the early 1900s. 

The square started off in the 1800s as a pasture for animals. By the early 20th century, it had become a bustling shopping center. Many remember visiting department stores there such as Higbee’s and the May. By the late 20th century, high-rise office towers took over. The city put two big roads through Public Square that chopped the park into four tiny quadrants. The overarching goal was to make it easier for workers to commute from the suburbs. It typified what so many American downtowns became in the past 40 years: functional but sterile.

When Cleveland won the bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, the city rushed to show a rejuvenated face to the world. It completed a $50 million renovation of Public Square, partly funded by donations. The result was a well-lit park that removed most traffic lanes. Half of the square is devoted to a big grassy area with many trees and benches. The other side of the square has a cafe, Civil War historical monument and an ice rink (which turns into a splash pad in the summer).

The makeover had an immediate impact. Families brought kids to play in the water park. Office workers and students came to sit on benches and grab lunch at REBoL, a new organic eatery on the square. Rallies and festivals such as “Pride in CLE” filled the square. And real estate developers began to buy the surrounding (mostly vacant) office buildings with a plan to turn them into rental apartments.

A view of Terminal Tower from the 52nd floor of Key Tower.
A view of Terminal Tower in Cleveland. 
The May Company, Terminal Tower, The Reniassance Hotel and Sherwin-Williams.
Some of the recently converted buildings in the Public Square area.

The Standard, a former union headquarters, was turned into 287 apartments that began leasing in 2018. Cleveland’s iconic Terminal Tower became part office, part residential with 297 units that began leasing in 2019. The May, the former department store, opened with 307 units in 2020. Two more former office towers — 55 Public Square and 75 Public Square — were turned into luxury apartments that began leasing in the past two years.

Young professionals are the main group moving in, especially because all the units are rentals. But empty nesters, judges, athletes and even a few young families have also leased properties so they can be near museums and Cleveland’s sports stadiums. For the first time in years, a yellow school bus makes a daily stop at the square to pick up kids living there. “We’re a neighborhood church again,” said Rev. Stephen Blonder Adams, senior pastor of Old Stone Church, which has been on the square since 1820. His blessing of the animals is a hit with all the dog owners living by the square.

Public Square is luring businesses, too. Paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams is building its new headquarters on what used to be a nearby parking lot.

Urban planners call this focusing on a “node” to get momentum going. Success then spreads: Developers are transforming more old offices nearby.

There are more people out and about in the evenings now compared with before the pandemic, according to Spectus, a cellphone location data solution by Cuebiq Group. Malisse Sinito, the owner of restaurants around the square including Marble Room Steaks and Raw Bar, Marble Room Sushi and Il Venetian, said revenue and the number of diners are now exceeding pre-covid levels. “I’ve never watched downtown grow at this pace before,” said chef Rocco Whalen, who opened the restaurant Fahrenheit at 55 Public Square this past summer.

Some cities have not used this concentrated “node” approach. D.C.’s map of buildings slated for conversion, for example, shows a scattering of sites. That should be reconsidered in 2024. A denser population attracts grocery stores, coffee shops and pocket parks, among other amenities.

Revitalizing Cleveland also took government support, in the form of a 15-year property tax abatement for repurposing an old building. The state of Ohio offered a sizable tax credit for rehabilitating historic properties, as well. Cleveland leads the nation in the percentage of its office space that is being turned into apartments hotels and used for other purposes, according to CBRE, a commercial real estate services and investment company.

“Without the state tax credit, we couldn’t have done it,” said Doug Price III, chief executive of K&D Group which has renovated numerous downtown properties, including Terminal Tower and 55 Public Square.

The city of Cleveland and the state updated zoning codes to address the unique needs of converting older buildings. For example, the city began allowing residents to move in once a floor was completed instead of waiting to finish the entire renovation. Mayor Justin Bibb (D) wants to replicate the success of Public Square with a similar transformation of the nearby riverfront and lakefront districts.

Ice skaters at Public Square’s rink on Dec. 7. 

If there is one mistake Cleveland has made, it is still catering to vehicles in Public Square. A bus lane still cuts the square into two parts. The road is unpopular with city residents and should be removed. There was also a recent shooting in the square that startled the community, and Cleveland, like many cities, is struggling with unhoused people living downtown. Mr. Bibb calls public safety his “first, second, third, fourth and fifth” priorities. He has boosted police pay by at least $8,000 for rank-and-file officers. He is also changing tax incentives next year to try to spur more development in parts of the city that have seen less investment.

Despite the flaws, Cleveland’s Public Square is a beacon to other cities looking to transform. Anna Huttner is one of the young professionals working at a firm on the square and living at the May — the place where her mom and grandfather used to shop. To Huttner and many of her peers, downtown is the place to be.

If Cleveland can do it, other cities can, too.

About this story

The satellite images of Cleveland were captured in June 2023 from Planet Labs. Greater Cleveland Partnership and Cleveland-based City Architecture helped develop the visual assets of the article. The foot traffic analysis of the area around the Public Square was done by Amir Forouhar and Karen Chapple at School of Cities, University of Toronto, using anonymous location data provided by Spectus.

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