Summit Metro Parks intends to maintain a permanent presence at Summit Lake

An Interview with Lisa King, Executive Director, Summit Metro Parks

October 27, 2017
By Bob Downing

Summit Metro Parks intends to maintain a permanent presence at Summit Lake. Lisa King, executive director of the park district, stated that it is not clear what that presence will be or where it might be located, but an announcement is likely in a couple of months. The district is working intently with partners in an effort to create a year-round park district presence at Summit Lake.

The Pop-up Nature Center in the Reach Opportunity Center at Summit Lake is doing well and the park is extremely satisfied with how the Summit Lake community has gotten involved. The small nature center that opened June 17 was a new initiative for the park district. It's a new way of doing business and although it is very difficult to quantify how much the center has been used but participation has been more than ever expected, based on reports, stories, comments, anecdotes and a steady stream of visitors.

“We could never have guessed how popular the center would be,” King said. “Participation is way more than we ever expected…. Never in our wildest dreams did we ever expect a response like this.” She added, “We knew that what we were doing was different. It was uncharted territory. We knew that initially we weren’t going to worry about numbers and we weren’t going to worry about impact.”

Some of the biggest supporters of the nature center are neighborhood grandmothers who are helping daughters and daughters-in-law with child rearing and are taking advantage of the new park-sponsored offerings, said King, which suprised park officials.

The center, directed by dynamo Demetrius Lambert-Falconer and several seasonal workers, has displays, a reading corner and a small learning lab is part of the multi-partner Akron Civic Commons program. It became a base for nature programs, walking, fishing programs and paddling adventures for nearby residents. It is right next to the Towpath Trail. The center gave away fishing poles and reels and provided instruction to pint-sized anglers. It also become home for unusual park district programs including couponing, canning, yoga, poetry, painting.

It was initially to close Sept. 9, but the park district is keeping it open through Dec. 15 – with a new focus.

It's open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for programs with neighborhood audiences and groups already using the Reach Opportunity Center like Head Start. Each weekday from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., the district is hosting nature club for 15 to 20 students in kindergarten through fifth grade that includes a hot meal offered through the Children’s Hunger Alliance, plus a nature lesson and time for homework, crafting and more. The Akron Civic Commons grant continues to fund the lease, supplies and staffing costs.

King states that the center is unlikely be get bigger in the future, but it offers a wonderful opportunity. “It’s a perfect little jewel of a hub” for nature programs, paddling, fishing, biking and hiking. Lambert-Falconer said the park district is already exploring ways to expand recreational options including canoeing and teaching water skills. This would possibly require contracting with a canoe livery or perhaps starting a canoe club to provide boats and instruction to the Summit Lake neighborhood. 

The park district got $320,000 in Akron Civic Commons grants to fund the pop-up nature center and to add benches, picnic tables, swings and a tent at Summit Lake. That work also included clearing brush from the shoreline to improve visibility of the lake and shoring up a section of shoreline with rock and sand to improve safety. The playground at Summit Lake was also improved with the addition of logs and oversized boulders to create a different outdoor play space. The park district has begun an informal evaluation to determine where the Summit Lake community wants a permanent picnic shelter built to replace the temporary tent. That evaluation should be completed by next spring.

There's a possibility that another section of shoreline might be cleared and treated, but the park district cannot afford to do that to the whole shoreline.