Recap: March Summit Lake Neighborhood Association Meeting

April 3, 2017
By Bob Downing

The Summit Lake Pride, the Spirit, the News, the Leader, the Heronry. Those were among the names proposed in a brainstorming session for the new community newsletter that is taking shape in Akron’s Summit Lake neighborhood.

A community softball tournament is being planned for June 24 at the Summit Lake ball fields. Groups in the community are planning teams for the co-ed tourney. Bi-weekly cooking classes for adults and for youngsters are taking shape, too. This may require improvements to the cooking facilities at the city-owned Summit Lake Community Center. A summer family art festival is also in the works, perhaps with support from Summit Metro Parks.

Welcome to the developing and evolving Akron Civic Commons, where talk and ideas have given way to action to make community improvements in and around Summit Lake. “We’re ready to move forward,” Dan Rice, president and chief executive officer of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, told about 40 people at the March 16 meeting of the Summit Lake Neighborhood Association. Grant money is available to implement the ideas and suggestions from the community, and sponsors want to see things happen around Summit Lake as soon as possible, he said.

Neighbors had suggested numerous projects at community meetings in January and February. Now, the best of those plans are taking shape. Summit Metro Parks is interested in partnering with the Summit Lake neighborhood to install new benches, picnic tables, swings and grills along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. That appears to be one of the biggest needs in the community, based on comments at previous Summit Lake meetings. The park district is also interested in canoe paddling classes and bicycling, along with outdoor movies.

“[This] is only happening because of all of you,” Rice told the audience. Rice and Eric Nelson of Students With A Goal (SWAG) explained an upcoming initiative in which 10 local students will each earn $500 stipends to take digital photos in and around Summit Lake in the coming months. The students will try to capture beauty along the Towpath Trail from Lock 4 to Summit Lake and in the neighborhood–with the best photos being used to illustrate a community calendar, the pair said.

Other Summit Lake projects, including a farmer’s market, sand volleyball, a bicycle group, senior citizen mentors, a crochet-knitting group, a neighborhood Olympics and outdoor movies, are all in various stages of planning and development. Stewards or volunteers have stepped forward to help on each of the developing projects. Getting suggested names for the community newsletter is one way to get neighbors invested in the new grass-roots journalistic initiative, said steward Joe Tucker of South Street Ministries. No name has been chosen, and it may be late 2017 or early 2018 before the newsletter begins publication, he added.

What is envisioned is “Summit Lake stories for Summit Lake residents by Summit Lake residents,” Tucker said. It would print and distribute neighborhood news in blog-like stories. Asked how great the need for such a publication is, Tucker responded: “It’s 110%. There is no mechanism out there right now for effective neighborhood communication.” He added, “The newsletter is one the centerpieces of projects proposed for the Akron Civic Commons. The need in the Summit Lake community is just incredible. Getting a newsletter going would be huge.”

The Summit Lake neighborhood is diverse socio-economically and it communicates differently than other Akron neighborhoods, according to Tucker. He adds that Summit Lake is a neighborhood where people trust one another and are willing to work together; it is a place where people are willing to put the needs of others before their own, and that’s what makes it special.

What’s happening around Summit Lake is drawing rave reviews from neighbors. Aliyah Webb, 14, and Juliet Bounchalun, 17, both said they were especially excited by the upcoming softball tournament. “I’m willing to try new things,” Juliet said. What’s happening with Akron Civic Commons is triggering big and needed changes in the community, Aliyah added. “People want to see change and that’s what’s happening,” she said. “This whole process is bringing the community together a little bit, too. And people are interacting more.” Her sister, Ruth, 13, said she was especially pleased to see the recreational opportunities growing at Summit Lake. The Akron Civic Commons “is bringing people together because a lot of people don’t really know their neighbors…and you can see the difference,” she said.

The “need in the Summit Lake neighborhood is great” and the community is getting involved to make improvements, and that is a big step, said 25-year-old Ruth Chapman. “It’s really exciting.” Rice also noted that the environmental review of 100-acre Summit Lake and its sediments is continuing. That initial review has uncovered more than 1,300 pages of documentation on the lake and its condition.“That has been a very, very exhaustive first step,” admitted Rice. That review will likely be completed by the fall and will provide the community with a documented look at environmental conditions at Summit Lake.

Such work is being funded by the Trust for Public Land and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, along with the Akron-based Northeast Ohio Four County Regional Planning and Development Organization (NEFCO). The environmental examination of the lake is important because it supports the goals of Akron Civic Commons and will assure neighbors that the lake is safe and that water programs can be safely conducted, Rice said. Programming activities could include swimming lessons and canoe training.