Metroparks' Zip Line Course Angers Residents, Underscores Existential Crisis

The Cleveland Metroparks — Come Out and Play! — has entered into an agreement with a Maryland-based company to manage a treetop adventure experience in Strongsville's Mill Stream Run Reservation.

The Go Ape! course, complete with zip lines and "agility structures" (great for family fun days or corporate retreats!) is currently under construction and is expected to open sometime in the spring, according to Metroparks marketing chief Sanaa Julien.

Dismayed Strongsville residents aren't exactly waiting with bated breath. A vocal contingent, many of whom moved to the southern suburb for its proximity to Mill Stream Run, say that the Metroparks misled them, that the adventure course isn't where they were told it would be, and that obnoxious shit like this (in their view), designed specifically to increase activity and revenue at the reservation year round, is going to be a "perpetual nuisance";  to say nothing of the fact that trees are being cut down, a known deer habitat is being irrevocably fucked up, and backyards are being made a whole lot more unpleasant and vulnerable to peeping toms.

Both the NEOMG and the Strongsville Post have reported on the residents' disapproval of the project. And though they (the residents) and city officials acknowledge there's really nothing they can do — it's Metroparks' land, after all — they feel betrayed. 

“I thought this was something that the park was going to do, not that they were going to allow an outside vendor to come in on public land [sic]," one resident vented to the Post. "We, the voters, vote on so many other things as far as their finances go. This is just the start. Who knows what else they’re going to do. You should not be building on park land.”

Strongsville Councilman at large Joseph DeMio told the NEOMG that he was "a little miffed" that the Metroparks weren't up front with City Hall about the project. 

"I think there's been some confusion," DeMio told Scene, "because I've been getting phone calls. Residents felt we were involved, but we weren't." 

Mayor Thomas Perciak spoke with Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman (who is also a Strongsville resident) one evening last week, according to the Mayor's secretary, but Perciak did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the content and context of that conversation.

Nor did Strongsville Councilman Michael Daymut, in whose ward the the adventure course is being erected as we speak. Councilman DeMio did say that he thought Daymut had been getting some unhappy phone calls. 

For the Metroparks' part, according to Sanaa Julien, they'll continue to be responsive to questions moving forward.

"Cleveland Metroparks has engaged the public through a community mailing and public meeting. Additionally, the project was discussed at several public board meetings. The public response from these meetings did not create reason for pause," Julien wrote in an email.

Residents might counter that the only reason for pause now is that the information has changed.  They say the Go Ape adventure course is much closer to residential areas than they were initially told.

Julien said she couldn't provide any maps or artists' renderings of the course layout, but did say it would likely be consistent with Go Ape's six other adventure courses in the U.S.,  the closest of which is in Pittsburgh. 

Julien also provided the Metroparks' revenue sharing structure with Go Ape, which involves a tiered payment system and should net the Metroparks a minimum of about $20,000 in rent per year. Approximately $935,000 is also expected in capital investments. Julien said, on average, roughly 70 participants a day will use the course.  

Added Julien in an email: "CEO Brian Zimmerman called and even stopped at a resident’s home to view the project and answer questions. Zimmerman asked at this visit to allow time to verify information to answer his questions. Less than a week later Park District staff along with Go Ape staff are gathering the answers to the specific questions the homeowner asked."

Go Ape communications' personnel did not respond to a request for comment regarding the course's size, location, and construction schedule.

At this point, It's hard to tell if anger from Strongsville residents pertain to Metroparks activities across-the-board, or derive more from private, inflamed NIMBYism.

It's certainly true that the vast majority of commenters see the Metroparks recent corporate aspirations and millennial-focused development strategy— Merwin's Wharf, Beer at the Pier, Foot Golf, Food trucks, etc. — as net positives for the Emerald Necklace.

They suggest, on the whole, that the "crybabies" in the Strongsville subdivisions directly affected by the course ought not to have moved there in the first place if they wanted to be close to nature.

"Nearly anything the Metroparks or developers desire can be built near or within its borders," commenter 'Big M' chimed in, "whether it is a housing development or a horse stable."  

Which seems to be true, And therein lies the issue, at least for some skeptics who can't quite reconcile Brian Zimmerman's amusement-empire vision with that of Metroparks founder and father William Stinchcomb.

From the Metroparks' website: "Always, Stinchcomb maintained that people weary of a busy and commercial urban life needed a refuge of woodlands, water, hills, grass, and wildlife to provide healthful rest and recreation." 

A treetop adventure course is by no means an evil development in and of itself. But it continues the pronounced, if gradual, shifting from a mission designed to preserve and protect wildlife toward a "strategic plan" that uses nature as only one in an array of marketing tools, a strategic plan hellbent on "keep[ing] pace with market trends and contribut[ing] to Northeast Ohio’s attractiveness as a place to live, work and play.”  

“Going back a number of years there was concern by the Metroparks that the toboggan run was inconsistent with the mission, which was preserving nature,” one concerned resident told the Strongsville Post, in light of the recent news. “There was a little bit of an uproar, but residents approved the chutes and the Metroparks acquiesced to that. I’m shocked they are going this route because if the toboggan run was inconsistent, I can’t imagine that the zip-line and obstacle course would be. I would think they would be less so.”

To underscore and echo (if not to distract from?) these controversies is a similar one playing out in the Geauga Parks District. The NEOMG's editorial board came out in qualified opposition to Probate Judge and known Tea Party enthusiast Tim Grendell, who is tasked (much like Probate Judge Anthony J. Russo in Cuyahoga County) with the appointment of the park district's commissioners.

Grendell has angered residents by micromanaging (aka "Wreaking Havoc" on) the GPD: appointing controversial leaders, dramatically cutting staff and budget, and trying to equate recreation with conservation in the parks' bylaws.  

The NEOMG took notice. But on the Metroparks' front, other than Mark Naymik's "Hey Taxpayer" examination of Brian Zimmerman's ever-ballooning executive salary back in December, 2013, the only thing being examined with any rigor or sense of journalistic curiosity is the Merwin's Wharf brunch menu.  

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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