Crooked River Reflections | The Downhill Slide at Virginia Kendall

by Arrye Rosser, Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Twin lines snake down a bare, snow-covered hillside. Two tiny figures trudge up the middle. This quiet winter scene was captured in January 1940, a time when America was poised between two global calamities. The Great Depression was in its tenth year. A few months earlier, Nazi Germany had invaded Poland. The economic deep freeze was about to be broken by the fever of World War II. 

The country endured the hardships of the 1930s, in part, through massive public jobs programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “tree army” enlisted young men to transform depleted farmland into forested parkland that offered wholesome outdoor pursuits. This historic photo shows a local example, Virginia Kendall Park, now part of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Here “CCC boys” (as enrollees were called) built a Winter Sports Center and other amenities for the Akron Metropolitan Park District, the precursor to Summit Metro Parks. 

For $1, thrill seekers could rent a toboggan and spend two hours speeding 50 miles per hour down one of these iced chutes. The drop was 82 feet high and 420 feet long, emptying onto frozen Kendall Lake, out of view on the right. 

Notice the young evergreens planted in the foreground and at the hilltop starting gates. These trees are so tall now that they completely block the view. If you want to investigate, hikers can still take the Lake Trail through a 1939 concrete tunnel under this slope. It is that dark shape just left of the ant-people. 

Winter Sports Center sign, circa 1959. (Photo: NPS Collection.) 

Although the toboggan runs were dismantled in 1991, sledding continues at the neighboring Kendall Hills. The color photo captures staff from the national park’s Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center having some winter fun. Slightly older and more diverse than the CCC boys, they are among the many young adults who continue the conservation legacy.

Tobogganers whoosh down nearby Kendall Hills. (Photo: NPS / D.J. Reiser.)

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.