Observations by naturalist, Robert Furlong, in the Jan 1975 Emerald Necklace
Last month I wrote about the history of our unique refrigerated toboggan chutes. But of course, there are lots of ways to have fun during the cold, snowy winter months in Cleveland Metroparks. For this week’s blog I set out to find some photos and references to winter activities over the years. Here, in no particular order, are some of my findings.
Annual Report, 1930
The first mention of winter activities found in the annual reports is just a photograph from 1930. It shows a group of Boy Scouts out for a hike. They pose among Whipp’s Ledges in Hinckley Reservation. A couple of boys sit in the snow, seemingly impervious to the cold seeping into their woolen knee pants. That same winter the Cleveland Plain Dealer listed just a few skating and sledding areas open in the Rocky River Reservation.
In 1933 the North Chagrin Trailside museum was in its second year of operation. While the museum was closed for the winter, a list of “interesting things to look for in the winter woods” was posted on the door, and the naturalist, A.B. Williams, noted that footprints showed visitors came to the door and then headed out to the Nature and Wildflower Trails. In 1939 an official winter walk program was initiated at the newly opened trailside museum in Brecksville. These hikes were usually followed by a cup of hot chocolate back at the museum.
CMP Historic Photo Archives, circa 1945
One of the most iconic photos of our first naturalist, A.B. Williams, shows him with a bird perched on his outstretched hand in the 1940s. I have not found an exact start date for the official programs that allows visitors to enjoy hand feeding the birds The program was named “Hand-feed a Chickadee,” in 1980, but by then this popular activity had already delighted participants for many years, as it still does today.
Annual Report, 1940-41
30 years before the refrigerated chutes opened at the Chalet in the 1960s, there was a more modest toboggan run in South Chagrin. This one depended, however, on Mother Nature to supply the snow and cold needed for the ride. Most downhill winter thrills, however, were confined to individual coaster type sleds on natural hills found throughout the park system.
CMP Historic Photo Archives, 1967(location unknown)
Sadly, icy tree lined slopes often tempted kids to engage in risky sled rides that sometimes resulted in major injuries or death. Ignoring signs posted by the park police regarding dangerous conditions these children went looking for the thrills of winter sports, but ended up as the subject of tragic news stories. Then, as now, safety should always dictate activities.
On a lighter note, some unusual activities I found include:
Skiing on Puritas Hill, near present day Mastick Woods Golf Course. (While we no longer offer this option, you can participate in cross country skiing and snowshoeing.)
Groundhog walks in February of 1940. One walk took place in North Chagrin with naturalist A.B. Williams and another walk was in Rocky River Reservation led by naturalist, Harold Wallin. Both men had “insider knowledge” on where to find resident groundhogs.
Archery Golf by the Cleveland Archery Club on Golf Course Number 1 (now Big Met) in the 1950s. This involved setting up targets on each tee and shooting your way around the course. I imagine major skill was involved in shooting an arrow amidst the winds of a Cleveland winter.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 1954
Over the years winter sports have blossomed, by the 1980s the Emerald Necklace lists sixteen coasting hills, nine skating and ice fishing areas, as well as cross country ski and snow shoe rentals in Brecksville and North Chagrin. Many of the activities that our parents and grandparents enjoyed in the parks still delight new generations of visitors. Skating, sledding, ice fishing and cross-country skiing get the blood pumping. Or, some visitors just enjoy walking among the beauty of snow covered trees and sparkling ice sculptures created by frozen waterfalls. Why not bundle up and join them?
Annual Report, 1960