Geauga Park District: 60 years, 27 parks, and unlimited family fun
Free kayak and canoe rentals, and more at Headwaters Park. Photo credit: Grace Rybak
By Stacy Turner
What began as a donation of land to county commissioners back in 1959, a parcel set aside where “the children can roam,” led to the establishment of the Geauga Park District in 1961. Throughout the 60 years that followed its inception, the Geauga Park District has blossomed, encompassing over 10,500 acres and creating 27 public parks where children and their families have plenty of space to roam and enjoy. With so many parks and activities to choose from, it may be helpful to gather some insight before you head out to explore all that Geauga Parks have to offer.
“To be honest, when people ask me what my favorite GPD park is, I tell them whichever one I am in at the moment!,” explained John Kolar, GPD’s chief naturalist. “Our parks offer a rich diversity of experiences for everyone and also protect unique ecosystems which are home to a large variety of plants and animals,” he added. “That being said,” Kolar continued, “if I had to pick the best parks that offer the greatest variety of experiences for families, I’d suggest Headwaters Park, The West Woods, and Claridon Woodlands as the top three picks.”
Kolar’s first suggestion, Headwaters Park in Huntsburg, offers the most amenities and activities of any of GPD’s parks. With free kayak and canoe rental for county residents and a boat launch for private watercraft on the East Branch Reservoir, Headwaters Park offers an excellent opportunity to experience nature and get a glimpse of wildlife. Whether picnicking, camping at one of the lean-to or tent sites, bird watching, fishing, hiking or the riding trails, this park offers something for everyone. And according to Kolar, the Eagle Trail at Headwaters Park is also one of the best places in the county to see spring wildflowers.
His next suggestion for family fun is the West Woods in Russell. “The West Woods is one of our largest parks and has miles and miles of trails that get people out into the great outdoors,” Kolar remarked. It also features the West Woods Nature Center that provides a variety of natural history exhibits, children’s discovery room, live animals, a gift shop and seasonal art exhibits. Outside the Nature Center, the 902-acre park offers almost seven miles of trails for strolling, running, dog walking, or horseback riding, as well as access to fishing and primitive camping. And don’t forget to check out the sandstone cliffs along the trail that leads to Ansel’s Cave.
One of the GPD’s newest parks, Claridon Woodlands, also made the list of top parks for families. With three trails that total just over two miles, even the smallest of adventurers can manage the trek around the man-made ponds to enjoy the reward of the nature-based playground. The park also features a mountain bike track and freeform boulder wall for young climbers, as well as a high ropes course for adventurers of all ages. Claridon Woodlands is an excellent place to picnic; the lodge is available to reserve for events as well.
Other parks offer great opportunities for families, as well. Big Creek Park in Chardon includes nine hiking trails, a mountain bike trail, and a campground nestled in this 644-acre park. This park features an amphitheater for outdoor programs, a reservable lodge, as well as a campground with lean-to shelters and a unique “tree house” cabin.
Orchard Hills in Chesterland is a park being reclaimed from its former life as a golf course. Six trails wind through its 237 acres, which is home to an orchard-themed playground.
Swine Creek Reservation in Middlefield features eleven trails as well as a playground, horseshoe pits, and the GPD’s sugar bush where the Park volunteers collect sap and make maple syrup.
Beartown Lakes in Bainbridge is a dog walker’s paradise with nearly three miles of trails wandering through a mature beech-maple forest and near more than 22 acres of open water.
In addition to hiking trails, Observatory Park in Montville features an indoor planetarium viewing as well as outdoor viewing events and access to the Nassau Astronomical Station and telescope.
Holbrook Hollows in Chagrin Falls features a nature-based playground and nearly three miles of trails through this 131-acre property. It’s also home to a reservable lodge with a back garage door that opens to a unique tiered patio and a fire pit, making it the perfect location for spring and summer events.
A former Boy Scout camp, Chickagami Park in Parkman provides lean-tos and tent pads for camping, as well as an activity field, horseshoe pits and tetherball, setting the scene for a fun family picnic at one of the park’s scenic shelters.
For more information on the Parks, naturalist-led programs, and events at GPD, call (440) 286-9516 or visit geaugaparkdistrict.org.