ELYRIA — Cascade Park, which stretches more than 135 acres along Black River, has offered some of Elyria natives’ greatest memories with its trails, the slope of its sledding hill, and injuries earned there years ago.
A large portion of the park reopened Sunday, a culmination of the efforts of the city, Lorain County Metro Parks and Elyria Rotary Club to rejuvenate the park for future generations.
In late 2013, with an eye toward 2018 when the Elyria Rotary Club would celebrate its centennial, the community service organization decided to fund Elyria’s first inclusive playground. The Rotary Club, which funneled $350,000 into the project, believes the money was well spent.
“I’m super proud of our club, I always have been, the motto of Rotary is ‘service above self,’ so we are known for that, but we have gone above and beyond that in terms of the service for the community,” said Jeanine Donaldson, the Rotary’s chairwoman for centennial events.
Starting in 2017 and for most of this year, the park was closed to construct a new entrance off Furnace Street, signage, parking, gate and overlook, plus shelters and restrooms. But the highlight of the project is the new playground.
Nearly 100 people came to the historic park’s reopening Sunday afternoon, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new playground.
At the ceremony Mayor Holly Brinda thanked Lorain County Metro Parks, Rotary Club and other individuals, organizations and foundations that helped make the park renovations possible.
Recalling the project’s start, she said it was certainly the right decision.
“It was a difficult decision for the city of Elyria to think about joining in with a partnership with the Metro Parks in the beginning, but we knew we couldn’t take care of it the way they could,” she said.
Mica Powell, 24, of Elyria, who came with her 1-year-old son, Izaius, said she enjoys the changes to the new park.
“It’s a blessing in its own because it’s been gone for a while and it’s actually nice to have it back open and really new,” she said.
When she was younger, she used to play on the old playground and frequent the merry-go-round. One of her fondest memories was hitting her knee on the merry-go-round so hard she had to go to the hospital at age 16.
“I was spinning it and I went to run and jump on it with both knees and hit one of my knees,” she said, laughing. “They gave me Voltaren Gel for the pain, it was bad.”
As a mother now herself, Powell said, she hopes to bring young Izaius to the park to make his own memories — but maybe not as painful.
The colorful playground is a rock- and water-themed play area that can be enjoyed by children of all abilities. The water portion of the park stops short of being a full splash pad but offers a wet play experience for children, said Metro Parks Director Jim Ziemnik, also an Elyria Rotarian. A bear statue peeks over one of the play structures as a nod to the bears that lived in the park under a rock ledge from 1920 to 1980.
Reactions to park
Grafton residents Terri Clark, 51, Mike Clark, 60, and Roger Canterbury, 65, came to the reopening to see the transformation and were surprised.
Terri said she remembered the sledding hill near the entrance of the park and how it has changed. The hill is still there, but it was cut near the top to make way for the new road entrance to wrap around behind Mendel Court. The hill also has been a popular spot for sitting to watch the fireworks when they were held at Cascade.
The three also remembered the Pink Floyd rock, a beloved feature that depicted the band’s 1979 album cover “The Wall,” which is still there.
Jim Smith, park historian and a Friends of Cascade member, said he liked the changes but wasn’t open about it at first, like many people who grew up with the old Cascade.
“It looks beautiful. … I wasn’t thrilled about the whole concept of the Metro Parks taking over the hallowed park, but I knew Metro Parks would do a heck of a job; they always do.”
As someone who lived close to the park growing up, Smith said, he enjoyed the peaceful walks he took with his border collie Boots no matter what weather they were in.
Although some feel the park has improved, some people like Demeatrice Camel, of Elyria, don’t like the changes.
“It’s not the old Cascade Park that I’m used to seeing; you miss all the activities you could do,” she said. She said the new playground isn’t as good as the old one, and the old one was much bigger than the new one.
Camel said she has lived in Elyria her entire life and has fond memories of Cascade Park — the snake skin slide, the bears, picnics in the park and driving across Black River. In her opinion, that all changed, and not for the better.
“It used to be really nice; it’s not the same anymore,” she said.
Canterbury also thinks the changes to the park have made it nearly unrecognizable, but maybe that isn’t such a bad thing, he said.
“I can stand here and look around here and think about what it used to be, and it’s totally different, but it’s part of life,” he said. “Things change and things never stay the same, and the loud people are complaining because they lost all their memories. Well, it’ll be new memories for new kids.”
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