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Akron's Summit Lake Renewal Takes Next Step with Nature Center Opening

Summit Lake ribbon.jpg
Kabir Bhatia
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan (right) joined city, county and MetroParks officials to officially open the Summit Lake Nature Center, built in the 110-year-old pump house that's been unused since the 1960s.

Summit MetroParks' new nature center is officially open at Akron’s Summit Lake. The center offers a panoramic view of the lake, as well as exhibits which highlight the area’s history and ecology.

At the grand opening Thursday, city and county officials lauded the MetroParks’ efforts to transform the building, which was used to pump water to the city’s rubber factories until the 1960s.

Summit County Councilwoman Veronica Sims became emotional remembering what it was like to grow up in the neighborhood.

“We used to pull up to the fence and imagine – I might be dating myself here – that ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’ lived upstairs. Every community had a scary house, and this was ours. But today, it became something totally different. So, I thank God first, and I thank everyone here who saw beyond what people thought we were."

The Summit Lake pump house was built in 1911. Funding for the four year project came from a $1.5 million grant from Reimagining the Civic Commons. Lisa King, executive director of the parks, says the building originally contained living quarters on the second floor.

"The upstairs was originally the pump master’s suite because [of] the importance of that water continuing to flow. It would pump the lake water to the cooling processes for the rubber industry and then bring back the effluent water. At no time could that be down, so they had someone living here to make sure that didn’t happen."

The series of small rooms on the second floor have been combined into one. Kyle Kutuchief with the Knight Foundation describes it as having "at least a 180-degree view of Akron’s largest body of water. It is a postcard-painting-beautiful space."

Iowa Darters.jpg
Kabir Bhatia
As part of the nature center's opening, Summit MetroParks Biologists Jennifer Daring and Ramsey Langford re-introduced Iowa Darters to the lake -- a species which has been on the decline in Ohio.

Dion Harris is a landscape architect with Summit MetroParks and was project manager for the Nature Center. He remembers visiting the building four years ago, before any work had begun.

"The first floor was cleared out from all the pumps. Everything was boarded up. It was really dirty, dark, grimy, scary -- all of that. It was abandoned; it was terrible. But the views out of the windows, when you took down the plywood, were amazing. We knew there would be a lot of potential here.

"Since the basement was hollow, we had to fill it in with lots of stone and mortar. Lots of pipes were coming in and out of the building, so we had to demolish some of those. We did have to raise the basement floor four inches to get it to the right level."

The nature center is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays. There are also community garden plots next to the building, managed by Let’s Grow Akron.

Today's ceremony:

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.