Since 1994, the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center has been providing transformative learning experiences to youth and adults in Ohio’s national park.

Located on a 500-acre campus in the heart of Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Peninsula, Ohio, the Education Center serves over 10,000 children and adults each year with overnight and day programs. Our programs provide unique, hands-on learning opportunities for participants to connect with the natural world and explore the stunning beauty of the Cuyahoga Valley.

The Education Center is the flagship program of the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the park’s nonprofit friends group, whose mission is to engage public support for CVNP and provide services to enhance public use and enjoyment of the park.

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History of Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center Programs

The Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center has roots reaching back to the creation of the original Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in 1974. The first formal interpretive and visitor services program began in 1979, and the park’s first Environmental Education Specialist was hired in 1982. That same year, the Earthlore Environmental Education Center opened in a former park dormitory on Oak Hill Road, a precursor to the Education Center we know today.

In its first year, the Earthlore Center served about 700 students with day programs and limited residential programs. Visiting teachers wrote their own curriculum for a one- or two-night stay after attending a workshop at the Center conducted by park staff. This precursor to the Education Center continued to operate until 1992, increasing its reach to several thousand students per year.

Late in the 1980s, faculty from the University of Akron began meeting with park staff and local teachers to begin plans for a more formal environmental education center within the park. Formal planning began with the writing of the Environmental Education Plan in 1987, and the project was launched in 1993 with construction on the new campus. The Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center officially opened on March 8, 1994, with a pilot program for school children.

The facility consists of two main campuses, the Lipscomb Campus and the White Pines Campus. The Lipscomb Campus was formerly the historic John H. Gilson farm, dating back to 1854. This campus is named for James S. Lipscomb, the first director of the George Gund Foundation, whose vision and early support were crucial to the establishment of the park. The former Earthlore Environmental Education Center became the Education Center’s new administrative office.

In those early years, the Cuyahoga Valley Association—predecessor to the Conservancy—was the Education Center’s first operational partner. In 2002, the two organizations merged into one, forming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which continues to operate today as the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

History of the Education Center Campus

White Pines Campus

The dorm on this campus was once a private house, built in 1963, with a nearby garage built in 1965. The property was acquired by the National Park Service in 1981. A barn was also part of the property, but it was unusable and thus demolished. The barn was reconstructed, however, to provide classroom space—the only new building on-site. The new building was designed to look like a barn and preserve the historic character of the campus, with the “silo” of the new building acting as a wheelchair lift. The house was extensively remodeled, with an entirely new exterior and substantial changes inside. The fireplace in the dining room is one of the few features remaining from the former building. The two sides of the fireplace were once in different rooms, however.

Lipscomb Campus

The buildings on the James S. Lipscomb Campus were part of the historic John H. Gilson farmstead. The core of the main house (the brick part) was built in 1854. You can see the date etched in stone above the doorway, broken up with the initials JHG for John H. Gilson. The core of the barn was built in the mid-1800s as well. In addition to farming, John Gilson served as local postmaster. This house dates to the same time period as the Jonathan Hale farm preserved at Hale Farm and Village. In 1877, while returning from visiting neighbors with his wife, John Gilson drowned while trying to ford Furnace Run. His tragic death led the community to construct Everett Covered Bridge.

The structures on the Lipscomb Campus were elaborately remodeled in the late 1970s and 80s. The historic frame barn was converted into a guest house in 1979, and the property was acquired by the National Park Service in 1983. It was used on a limited basis for environmental education programming. Teacher workshops and University of Akron college courses met in the barn, and student congresses for the Cuyahoga River Water Monitoring Project were held there.

 

Administration Building

The administration building of the Education Center was formerly the Earthlore Environmental Education Center, a precursor to today’s Center. The building and a little over 100 acres of land were acquired by the National Park Service in 1978. The Earthlore Center opened in 1982 and continued operation until 1992, when programs were halted for construction of the full Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center.

When operating, the Earthlore Center hosted by day and overnight programs. For overnight programs, teachers came to a weekend workshop to learn about environmental education and how to manage a group for an overnight experience. Teachers could then bring a group of 20-25 students to stay for one or two nights. Students rolled out sleeping bags on the carpeted floors of the upstairs bedrooms. Picnic tables for dining were located in the space now occupied by the conference room and offices. There were no fees for day-use or residential programs. The first year of operation, Earthlore hosted 670 students; by 1992, it hosted about 5,000 students in its last year of operation.

All the buildings in the immediate area of the administration building are around 50 years old (or less) and were the first buildings acquired by the park. After acquisition, the house was first used by the park as a dormitory for seasonal staff.