Nature Center at Shaker Lakes
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The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, a nonprofit organization in Shaker Heights, Ohio that is dedicated to conserving a natural area, connecting people with nature, and inspiring environmental stewardship, was founded in 1966 as the result of a grassroots community effort to preserve the Shaker Parklands from becoming the route for a new freeway connecting Clevelands's East Side to downtown.
Each year, about 10,000 children participate in more than 30,000 hours of curriculum-related school programs, including a strong early childhood program for several East Side school districts and the Cleveland Public Schools. In addition, an estimated 20,000 walkers, runners, and bird-watchers use the trails and grounds for exercise and enjoyment of nature.
The Nature Center is home to extensive wildlife and plant species living in a variety of natural habitats, including lake, stream, field, forest, marsh and ravine.
The Shaker Lakes
The Shaker Lakes are a system of parklands, connected to the Doan Brook Parklands, through which the Doan Brook runs. The Shaker Lakes Park is a natural and semi-wild area located at the intersection of three municipalities. It includes two lakes created by the Shakers at the North Union Shaker community when they dammed Doan Brook to power their industries. The swamp and woodland areas constitute a small wilderness in the heart of the heaviest concentration of population in Ohio, making it readily available for study and recreation. It is available to people of Greater Cleveland on a day-to-day, year-round basis for walking, photography, painting, nature study, rest and quiet family recreation.
Who does the Nature Center serve?
The Nature Center serves much of Cleveland’s East Side including the Shaker Square and Buckeye neighborhoods. It also serves eastside suburbs of Cleveland including Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights, University Heights, East Cleveland, Beachwood and South Euclid, as well as numerous others. The Nature Center has 1,400 members across Northeastern Ohio and beyond. The Center reaches more than 10,000 students through school field trips and its Outdoor Adventure Camp and Outdoor Adventure Classes and thousands more through nature events and programs. Several thousand more adults and children come to formal programs.
The Nature Center offers a variety of year-round and seasonal programming. Among its offerings are Nature Hikes through the Shaker Parklands in addition to an environmental town hall series and numerous special events put on throughout the year for both families and adults. In addition, the Nature Center houses educational programs for both adults and children; including school field trips and its educational Outdoor Adventure Classes and Outdoor Adventure Camp for children each summer, as well as rain barrel and composting workshops for adults. The Nature Center also has early childhood environmental education programs and nature outreach programs.
The Nature Center has extensive volunteer opportunities open to the public. Additionally, a variety of events are held throughout the year for volunteers to get to know each other and to learn about the Nature Center and the Shaker Parklands, and also for the Nature Center to thank them for their dedication to the environment.
The Nature Center’s Photography Club meets on the second Thursday of each month. For the latest information on club happenings, visit www.shakerlakes.org/photographyclub. The Nature Center is also home to the Shaker Lakes Runners, an 18-and-over running club meeting several times each week for group runs through the parklands.
The Nature Center has indoor and outdoor facilities open to the public and is available for rentals. The Nature Center houses classrooms, a meeting room, exhibit areas, a library, and the Duck Pond Gift Store. In addition to these spaces, the Jean Eakin Bird Observation Station, the Murphy Carfagna Wildlife Balcony and the gallery overlook the Nature Center’s grounds. The indoor facilities are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
In addition to its indoor facilities, the Friends Pavilion of the Nature Center sits among the trees beside the Center, and the All People’s Trail and Stearns Trail wind through the woodlands surrounding the Center. The one-third mile long All People’s Trail is a barrier-free, elevated boardwalk, opening the wonders of nature to people of all physical abilities. Trails leading to Lower Lake are accessible by stairs from the All People’s Trail. The Stearns Trail is one mile long and begins at the Nature Center’s Wildflower Garden. The trail winds through the grounds and along the south branch of the Doan Brook. The Nature Center also manages the Rusty Knight Wildflower Garden and a butterfly garden.
The Nature Center was named a National Environmental Education Landmark in 1971 by the National Park Service of the United States Department of the Interior, making it one of the first organizations to be recognized as such. It is also designated as a National Environmental Study Area by the Park Service for the unique educational opportunities offered by the diverse natural habitats found in its urban setting. In 2003, the Audubon Society designated it as a worldwide Important Bird Area. After renovating and expanding its facilities in 2003 using sustainable building practices, the Nature Center received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2004 Energy Star Award for Excellence in Energy Efficiency. In 2006, the Nature Center was certified as an official Wildlife Habitat site by the National Wildlife Federation. The Nature Center is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1896, the Shaker Lakes Park was deeded to the Doan Brook Park Commission to become part of the park system which included Ambler, Wade, Rockefeller and Gordon Parks. In 1915, the deed transferred to the city of Cleveland by order of the Ohio Supreme Court. In 1947, the Shaker Lakes Park was leased to the cities of Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights for the portions of the park falling within their boundaries. 1964 and '65 saw the proposal for construction of the Clark Freeway and Lee Freeway which would provide a more direct route from downtown Cleveland to Interstate 271. The Clark Freeway would run through the park on either side of the Doan Brook. The intersection of the proposed Clark and Lee freeways would have intersected right where the Nature Center stands today.
Many members of the community felt that the proposed freeway was a "done deal," as it was already on the map and the national highway system was at its peak of expansion. Other members of the community felt that measures had to be taken to stop the plan from becoming a reality. The effort to fight the freeway was led by the Park Conservation Committee and 35 garden clubs and six civic organizations. An overall committee, the Committee for Sane Transportation and Environmental Policy (CSTEP) was formed and developed several strategies. Strategies included walks for officials and residents through the parklands, discussions with schools in the surrounding communities about the need for nature education, an effort to get citizens to write letters and protest the construction of the freeway and the commissioning of an Audubon Report about the feasibility of a nature center. The Audubon appraisal concluded that, "For the study of conservation and nature in an outdoor laboratory, there is no comparable area to the park within the limits of Greater Cleveland."
In the summer of 1966, recreation programs were held in the lakes area and funding was given to continue with a naturalist for school classes in the fall. On September 15, 1966, The Shaker Lakes Regional Nature Center was formed and incorporated, and fundraising began for the establishment of a building. A lease and permission to build the center was negotiated with the City of Cleveland, while the Park Conservation Committee simultaneously worked toward getting the Center designated as a National Environmental Education Landmark. In 1970, a meeting was held at Shaker Heights Middle School with a presentation to Governor James Rhodes about the proposed freeway. It was not long before Rhodes announced that no community should have a freeway it did not want and directed that the route for the Clark Freeway be withdrawn from the Interstate System.
Maxwell Norcross, a prominent architect in Cleveland from 1923 to 1970 and a member of the Shaker Heights architectural board designed the nature center. The building was paid for largely through individual contributions and was completed in November 1969. Gary Nelson was hired as the first full-time director in 1971. That same year, the Stearns Memorial Nature Trail and the Wildflower Garden were constructed with contributions from the Shaker Lakes Garden Club. In 1973, the building was remodeled to create additional office and library space. In 1982, the award-winning All People’s Trail was constructed, followed by the redesign of the Stearns Memorial Trail and the addition of an East Wing in 1985. In 2003, the Nature Center used sustainable building practices to renovate and update its indoor facilities to include upgraded and expanded classrooms, community meeting rooms, a nature experience area, a bird observation station, and the Duck Pond gift shop.
In recognition of its leadership in the environmental movement, the National Park Service designated the Nature Center a National Environmental Education Landmark, as well as a National Environmental Study Area, noting the unique educational opportunities offered by the diverse natural habitats found in an urban setting. In 2004, the Ohio Audubon Society designated the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes an Important Birding Area in recognition of the Center’s exceptionally diverse resident and migratory birdlife.
Since its founding in 1966, an estimated 250,000 children from the surrounding area have taken classes at the Nature Center. The Nature Center provides on- and off-site, year-round educational programming for children from several East Side school districts including Cleveland Municipal Schools, Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School, and Shaker Heights Schools. Programming is also offered for members, as well as the general public, designed to connect people to nature and inspire environmental stewardship.
- Nature Center Homepage
- Cleveland Heights Historical Society: A Brief History Of Shaker Lakes
- The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: SHAKER LAKES