After hosting an overwhelmingly successful pop-up nature center at Akron's Summit Lake, Summit Metro Parks plans to establish a more permanent presence in the neighborhood.
Summit Metro Parks will create a community-based nature center in the former Summit Lake Pump House at 411 Ira Ave. after the city formally transferred the facility to the park district this month.
“I hope the space helps to generate a new storyline for the Summit Lake neighborhood,” Summit Metro Parks chief of community engagement Demetrius Lambert-Falconer said of the future nature center. “I hope it brings a sense of pride to the Summit Lake neighborhood as well as a sense of authenticity.”
The pop-up, which started in June 2017 at the nearby Reach Opportunity Center, was supposed to be a short, two-month program made possible through the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation-funded Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.
“We quickly realized that we were having a great response, and to be perfectly honest, a response we had not anticipated on that level,” Lambert-Falconer said. “And at that point, it was like, how could we have a more authentic presence here, a more permanent presence here in this space, in this neighborhood?"
The park district liked the pump house because of its historical significance; its location on the lake and next to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail; and its accessibility, as it’s located just off a bus line.
“It was pretty untapped,” Lambert-Falconer said. “A lot of people have no idea what this building that has been vacant for so long, what it really meant to the city of Akron.”
According to Beacon Journal records, the pump house, southwest of downtown, was built in 1911 to push water from Summit Lake to nearby factories but hasn’t served its original purpose since those industries began to fade in the mid-20th century.
For years, Summit Lake was too polluted for recreational use. But over the years, Lambert-Falconer said, the lake healed itself. After positive water-quality test results, the park district began offering kayaking, fishing and other water-based programs this year.
“The lake itself has created a revival,” said Lambert-Falconer, who added that the lake now has a healthy, diverse fish population.
Plans for the space are tentative but could include history- and nature-themed exhibits on the pump house and the Summit Lake community. According to a news release, other possible uses include a community meeting and program space, office space and outdoor gathering areas.
“We are ready to get to work creating a world-class nature center at Summit Lake, and we thank the city for making this possible,” Summit Metro Parks Executive Director Lisa King said in the news release.
The park district will partner with Let’s Grow Akron, which maintains gardens and composting sites at the property, on future programming, like food production and cooking demonstrations, Lambert-Falconer said. The gardens will remain on the property.
The renovation is expected to cost around $1.2 million. A $600,000 Knight Foundation grant got the park district halfway there.
This fall, Great Lakes Construction removed the pumps from the building, which includes a space that served as living quarters for the pump master and his wife when the pump house was still active.
“The lower level is a big, open, vacant space at this moment,” Lambert-Falconer said, adding that the space looks like the inside of an old factory.
She said the park district plans to bid out the project by early March, with the nature center slated to open to the public by the spring of 2020.
In the meantime, the park district will maintain its Summit Lake Nature Center at the Reach Opportunity Center, 390 W. Crosier St., from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays.
"I just want this to be a continuation of the growth that has already occurred in the neighborhood and a growth of the collaboration that has already been present in the neighborhood,” Lambert-Falconer said.
“This has been a wonderful partnership with Summit Metro Parks,” Akron At-Large Councilwoman Veronica Sims said in the news release. “And I can only imagine it growing exponentially in the years to come.”
Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.