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PENINSULA -- Visitors can become lost in the 33,000 acres along the Cuyahoga River in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park between Cleveland and Akron.
A new $5.9 million visitor center is planned for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 2019 to help orientate visitors to the landscape, activities and programs offered within the national park that ranked 11th most visited last year, said Conservancy for CVNP Chief Deb Yandala.
Out-of-town visitors make up about 20 percent of CVNP users, and more Northeast Ohioans are discovering the national park in their own backyard, she said.
In response to that growing interest, Cuyahoga Valley National Park will open a new Visitor Center.
"People are so excited to spend time in the park that our existing Boston Store Visitor Center doesn't meet the needs of our visitors," Yandala said. "We knew it was time to open a bigger space to accommodate demand."
The Conservancy's board voted Dec. 19 to authorize the purchase of land and buildings on the southeast corner of Riverview and Boston Mill roads in Boston Township, Yandala said. The historic property will be renovated to serve as a central, one-stop resource where visitors can plan their journeys in the national park and Ohio & Erie Canalway.
The property owner wanted to sell the buildings and property to the national park service, Yandala said. The red building contains four apartments and will be converted to a visitor center and the two adjoining buildings will be offices and restrooms.
According to the www.conservancyforcvnp.org site the buildings costs $2.5 million and property another $675,000. Design, exhibits and other expenses add up to a total of $6 million.
"The fun part of the story is the building was origianlly a store for the Boston Mills area," Yandala said. "We're happy to restore it as a historic building."
The structures are near the train tracks, the river and not far from the bike and hike trails plus it has easy access from the Turnpike and state Routes, she said.
"It's right along the Cuyahoga River and tells the story of the Cuyahoga River," Yandala said.
When the visitor center opens in the summer of 2019, it will be the 50th anniversary for the burning of the Cuyahoga River, which led to the Clean Water Act, Yandala said. A celebration of the recovery and transformation is planned.
The Conservancy, which is the nonprofit friends group for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, will manage fundraising, planning, design and construction, and the Visitor Center which will be operated by the National Park Service. Full funding is expected by June 30, 2017.
"This project is a great example of a strong public-private partnership in that local donors have been instrumental in making it happen," said Conservancy Board Chairman Jim Nash. "The $4.87 million already raised shows that Northeast Ohioans value the park as a regional asset."
Park Superintendent Craig Kenkel welcomed the project as a fitting end to 2016's National Park Service Centennial.
"This new Visitor Center will help us better serve the next century of park visitors," he said.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Conservancy staff and volunteers will move ahead with planning and design in 2017. Construction will start in 2018.
For more information about the Conservancy and its programs, visit conservancyforcvnp.org or call 330-657-2909.
For more information and Cuyahoga Valley National Park, visit nps.gov/cuva or call 330-657-2752.