Recently in my Sociology class we had a visitor come in to talk with us about the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio's one and only national park, which also happens to be right around the corner from Hiram College and my original home in Akron. She also told us a lot about the Conservancy and the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center (CVEEC). Our visitor, Katie, was informative in a lot of ways: she gave me more of an understanding of what the CVEEC is and how it benefits the community and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park; she described how the CVEEC is a social enterprise like TOMS and the others we’ve been learning about; and she taught me a lot about the history of national parks, and especially our own park.

I like that the CVEEC is all about getting kids into nature. It feels very similar to Hiram’s Northwoods trips in that, when you go, you’re always participating in outdoor activities, eating organic, homemade food, and living off-the-grid (at Northwoods there’s no wifi, of course, but there’s also no electricity or indoor plumbing). In looking at the pictures, though, I could see what Katie meant about there not being the amount of diversity anticipated from being sandwiched between two major urban centers, Akron and Cleveland. The children were mostly white, as were the teacher/counselors, chefs, and participants in other park activities, such as those geared toward adults. It made me wonder if the reason behind this is strictly monetary or if there are other forces at play that are causing adults and children of diverse backgrounds to shy away from using the park. Katie did mention that about 25% of the students in their programs receive financial aid, so I don’t know if money is the only reason. I wonder if it could simply be different cultural values or if it comes down to lack of information, which happens all too often in the public school system (I, for example, had no idea what the ACT was until I was a junior in high school and happened to ask a friend about it).

Overall, though, the park has a lot of amazing experiences and resources to offer its visitors. I knew about the towpath trails that you can hike or bike on, the scenic railroad, and some of the history of the Ohio-Erie Canal that runs through the park, but I didn’t realize that there were historic houses for rent in the middle of the park. I have now chosen the site of my future wedding!

I love that the Conservancy is able to host events and learning series for people of all ages in order to bring in money for the park. I didn’t realize that National Parks are not allowed to bring in revenue and have to turn to outside sources, like the Conservancy and the kindness of donors. It’s great that the Conservancy exists, though, because I know that it’s helping make improvements to our park: for example, the new mountain bike trail and cleaning up the Cuyahoga River (which is celebrating 50 years of not defying all logic and catching on fire!). I’m definitely going to have to check out one of their Trail Mix stores and get some CVNP gear. I also want to look into their teaching program more, because having a 401K, a place to live, and delicious food being cooked for me sounds like a pretty good deal for hanging out with cool kids in a cool park all day. Even if I don't end up taking part in this, I know several people at Hiram who'd love the opportunity!