Crooked River Reflections | Who represents National Park visitors?

 by Arrye Rosser

Four large scrolls hang down in the historic storefront of Boston Mill Visitor Center. Each has a tall photo and two letters, spelling out CU-YA-HO-GA. Their shape evokes the giant sheets of paper manufactured a century ago at the nearby Cleveland-Akron Bag Company. The factory workers — a mix of locals and German and Polish immigrants — once shopped here. Some paid for goods using company scrip. Today, people arrive with credit cards and questions for the rangers, eager to plan their trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and browse for souvenirs.

First impressions matter, especially to anyone who isn’t sure they will see someone like themselves out on the trails. 

This month I want to share the stories behind two of the welcome images the exhibit team selected.

The first was taken in 2015 when I hosted Ashley Lyn Olson, the founder and CEO of Cuyahoga Valley was one of three national parks she was profiling in her Access to Parks Project. This casual photo catches us headed to the Horseshoe Pond fishing pier. By this point, the frustrations of solo cross-country travel were giving way to the fun of adventure. I like how this vibrant young woman is confidently leading the way. 

In the second photo, Kim Smith-Woodford of Journey On Yonder (JOY) and Outdoor Afro Cleveland hikes alone on the Ledges Trail. During the exhibit development process, community members pointed out the lack of photos showing black adults exercising on park trails. Kim and several friends kindly agreed to be our models. She wore bright colors to add pop to this November landscape. 

Getting to know both of these women has inspired me to do better. Each has given me new lenses through which to view my park. Now their photos help welcome every newcomer who enters our new visitor center.

Arrye Rosser is an interpretive and education specialist at Cuyahoga Valley National Park and co-curator of Crooked River Contrasts, a photo series on the past and present of the Cuyahoga River. 

Photos used with permission from Katie Montgomery and the National Park Service/D.J. Reiser.