Unpacking – Rewild the park

March 7, 2020

I took a mental health day a couple of weeks ago. The stars aligned and I seized a sunny window to get outside and enjoy my closest Cleveland Metropark, which is now Acacia Reservation. I strolled down the wide, paved path, thinking about how my friends in wheelchairs or with unsure footing would be able to join me here, and reading the informational placards about conservation efforts, including the efforts to rewild the park.

Former golf course remnants are sometimes visible.

Acacia is tucked in a very urban area, across the road from not one but three malls, and the sound of traffic permeates the entire park. A large clubhouse blocks park views from the parking lot, and the entire place feels less wild than like someone’s backyard that’s run slightly to seed. And that’s kind of the truth – Acacia is a former golf course that’s being rewilded, and I fell completely in love with it as I read about the Metroparks’s efforts.

I learned the word “littoral” on this hike!

They’ve broken up all the covered and blocked streams and allowed them to flow more naturally, creating wetlands and open water where none was there before. Formerly open fairways are covered with wildflowers, providing a habitat and food for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Majestic oak trees are freely seeding large swathes of the park, and some saplings are protected from deer with wire cages, and others left to natural selection. Two enormous elm trees are the object of active preservation. The edges of water features have been softened, creating zones for wildlife to flourish. All these efforts have created a park that feels transitional, and encourages long term thinking about environmental care. I thought about how Acacia appears to me today, and how it will appear to my kids in 5 years, in 10, in 20.

Ohio winter is an exercise in minimalism.

I’ve heard of other golf courses being turned into mountain bike tracks, and wondered what the overall environmental impact would be to transforming even 10% of our golf courses into parks or other public lands. It seems so small – uncover one creek, let four oak trees seed down, how much could it really matter? But I kept coming back to the thought that this park is better than it was. Not only is the environmental impact of a resource-intensive golf course lifted, but a formerly closed and exclusive space is now open to all. A change for the better can’t be discounted just because it’s not the single solution for all problems. Climate change is huge, and scary, and it’s easy to respond by shooting down solutions as too small and not impactful enough. But as a dear friend says, “small drops make an ocean,” and change for the better can happen now. Are there spaces in your life that could be rewilded, even in a small way?

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