Trailside Interpretation Center

The Trailside Interpretation Center was built in 1971, and is currently known as the Rocky River Nature Center. Located in the Rocky River South Reservation, it is the paragon of naturalist interpretation and education within the Cleveland Metroparks. Although constructed after his time, it could be said that the Rocky River Nature Center is the culmination of Arthur B. Williams' career with the Cleveland Metroparks.

Williams had a passion for and extensive knowledge of the ecology of the Cleveland Metroparks. His doctoral thesis concerned the ecosystem found within what would eventually become the North Chagrin Reservation of the Metroparks. He was appointed as a naturalist for the Cleveland Metropolitan Park Board in 1930 to interpret the natural history of the Metroparks for the public. Williams took it upon himself to personally investigate each reservation within the Metropolitan Parks System, and the data he collected on these field studies would eventually be compiled to form educational programs. For some time he personally educated the public by leading people on interpretive nature walks.

Williams' nature walks and educational nature programs became so popular that Williams and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History realized a need for public facilities to carry out his interpretation of local natural history. During the 1930s, Arthur Williams was ultimately responsible for the founding of three trailside museums. These were located in the North Chagrin Reservation, the Brecksville Reservation, and the Rocky River Reservation (not to be confused with the later Trailside Interpretation Center in the Rocky River North Reservation).

The trailside museum in the North Chagrin Reservation is reputedly the first such museum established in the entire nation, and is known for a fact to be the first in Ohio. During its first year, the trailside museum in North Chagrin did not close until December because of its outstanding public visitation. More than 150,000 visitors came to the museum that year. The museum served as a bridge between nature and civilization. It aimed to introduce visitors to "natural wonders" so that they would develop an affinity for nature and wildlife in general but specifically for those in the geographic area of Cleveland which Williams found so unique. The trailside museum in North Chagrin utilized tactics such as making the museum accessible only by foot to preserve its wooded location, talks and lectures led by local naturalists, and even living exhibits containing local wildlife.

The Rocky River Nature Center represents the evolution of Williams' trailside museums. Here, visitors of all ages can become educated on geological formations by simply taking a step outside to the observation deck that overlooks the Rocky River, explore indoor exhibits which focus on wildlife and the early inhabitants of the area, and experience the gardens and nature trails surrounding the building. Through exhibits on the first Native Americans to inhabit Ohio, living-history presentations on Ohio pioneer life, and scientific experiments to maintain local fish populations, the nature center combines preservation and education of both the natural and historical aspects of the Cleveland Metroparks in a recreational setting. By doing so, the Rocky River Nature Center embodies the mission which Williams carried out as the park naturalist.

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