One of the pleasures of historical research is when you discover people in the past who loved what you love. This was the case for Mallory Klein when she came across the story of Peggy and Tress Pittenger.
Mallory is wrapping up a one-year position with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Volunteer Management Office, where she has supported a major habitat restoration project along the Wetmore Trail. If you have hiked in this area, you may have noticed fields of tall white tubes. These protect thousands of new trees planted by volunteers and staff, including many local students. Their work is part of a larger effort to slow and filter stormwater flowing into nearby Dickerson Run and onward to the Cuyahoga River.
Mallory learned about Peggy and Tress through the written memories of their youngest son David and a 2011 oral history with their neighbor Phil Urbank. These accounts describe an Akron couple whose vacations in Cuyahoga Valley turned into a love affair with the land. In 1958, the Pittengers bought a summer home on Quick Road, across from Armington Pond. Their family enjoyed it so much that they sold their city home to begin their life in the countryside. While Tress continued to work as an attorney, Peggy developed Blackacre Farm into a successful horse breeding business.
In 1968, the Pittengers expanded by purchasing an adjacent farm, where Wetmore Trailhead is today. A high point was when their colt Burglary was named 1974 Ohio Horse of the Year.
While Peggy ran the operations, Tress became a skilled steward of the land. For example, he only cleared forest for pasture in flat areas, not on slopes which are prone to erosion. In these fields, he dug large basins to collect rainwater for the horses. When a pasture became overgrown with unwanted plants, Tress used penned goats instead of pesticides to clear the area. On hillsides too steep for grazing, he planted native trees, such as fast-growing evergreens and locusts, that would hold the soil in place. He also strategically felled larger trees to provide more sunlight to smaller ones.
Wherever you live, look around you. What is your relationship with the land? Do you feel connected to a place? Perhaps you will uncover a story from the past that roots you more firmly in the present.
To learn more about Wetmore and link to our photo gallery, visit https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/the-pittengers-conservation-legacy-at-wetmore.htm.
Arrye Rosser is an interpretive and education specialist at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Featured Photo: Volunteers help reforest acres of old fields in the Wetmore area, by NPS / Mallory Klein