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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.

Images

Interpreting the Ecosystem Arthur B. Williams was a park naturalist who worked for both the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Metroparks. He is greatly responsible for the development of multiple interpretive nature centers throughout the Cleveland Metroparks. This photo was taken in the Rocky River Reservation in 1942. Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Admiring Nature This 1932 photo of Arthur B. Williams in the North Chagrin Reservation captures the typical Williams as he was in the Cleveland Metroparks. Here, he is observing birds just after the tree on which he sits was taken down in a storm. Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Birdwatching Reminiscent of one of Arthur B. Williams's interpretive walks and talks in the wilderness of the Cleveland Metroparks, this 1974 photo demonstrates how the Rocky River Nature Center has continued to do Williams's work and carry out his mission of connecting people with the local ecosystem through birdwatching. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Rocky River Nature Center The Rocky River Nature Center is the culmination of the development of Arthur B. Williams interpretive talks which originated in the 1930s. These talks led to the development of three trail-side museums during the same decade, located in different reservations of the Cleveland Metroparks. Eventually, these museums could not meet their demand due to increased population in the area, and attendance in the Metroparks. This led to the construction of the Rocky River Nature Center in 1971. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
The Main Atrium A view of the main atrium of the Rocky River Nature Center from outside. The Rocky River Nature Center was built in 1971 in response to the tremendous number of visitors that the three trailside museums could no longer accommodate. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Reflections in the Rocky River This photo shows the Rocky River Nature Center's scenic overlook from the perspective of the Rocky River itself. The Nature Center's location and its potential for observing nature coincides perfectly with the purpose of Arthur B. Williams's educational programs – to bring people and nature together. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Williams' Teachings Carried On Here two park rangers educate a group of adults and children from the balcony of the newly constructed Rocky River Trailside Interpretation Center, overlooking the Rocky River as it appeared in 1972. Now known as the Rocky River Nature Center, the building was the result of a growing demand within the community for greater access to expert knowledge on the geology and ecology of the Cleveland Metroparks. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Classes Inside the Nature Center This 1972 photo demonstrates the educational intent of the Rocky River Nature Center and highlights the natural history of the Rocky River Reservation in the Cleveland Metroparks. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

Metadata

Matthew Sisson, “Trailside Interpretation Center,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 4, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/389.