words and photos by Anthony Boarman
Call me naive, but we are the beneficiaries of some pretty awesome parks. You won’t find a 1,000 foot waterfall, unusual wildlife, or some exotic type of rock (nobody ever accused Bedford Shale of being sexy), but a certain feeling lies within our public lands. Each of them tells a story of trials and tribulations that gives them some serious street cred. It’s hard to find a park around here that doesn’t have a connection to Akron’s canal or rubber era. “This land used to be what?!” is a common response when I’m researching these parks. To know, understand, and appreciate a park, you must first know its story.
Firestone Metro Park is connected to much of Akron’s history. According to the Summit Metro Park’s website, “Dairy cows once grazed the hillsides, and coal was transported on a railroad bed along the Tuscarawas Race that channeled water to the Ohio & Erie Canal.” In 1949, the Firestone Tire and Rubber company donated 89 acres of land to the park system. This donation, along with other parcels of land that were acquired along the way, helped to create the 258-acre Firestone Metro Park that we know today.
In the 1950s, when a dam was put in place to create a reservoir for industrial water needs, the water table rose downstream, which naturally created marshy meadows and wetlands. These wetlands help to support a vast array of species that complement the park’s diverse wildlife and wildflowers.
Firestone was one of the places that I kept putting off visiting simply because I thought it wouldn’t be interesting. It was the exact opposite of my assumption. Along the Willow Trail, I came across about a dozen white-tailed deer on my first morning there. I don’t care how long I live, I will always act like a kid when I see deer.
Eventually, the trail takes you to Little Turtle Pond, a popular fishing spot. There’s one catch: you can only fish if you’re 15 years of age or younger. If you have a little one, this is a great place to teach them how to fish.
On my second visit, I found some bird seed that someone had put in a small pile on the ground after a fresh snowfall. I picked up some seed and put it in my hand and held it out (I learned this trick at the Nature Realm), but I wasn’t confident that much would happen. Sure enough, after about a minute, a bird landed on my hand and started eating the seed.
As I returned to my car, I could hear kids screaming with laughter. In the distance, there was a large hill that they were speeding down on their sleds. I thought about those cows that once grazed that hillside, which is now utilized for the enjoyment of kids (and some adults!) after a fresh snow.
I have been lucky enough to touch the granite of Yosemite, hang with moose at Glacier, chase waterfalls in Shenandoah, see for days in the Grand Canyon, hike Angels Landing in Zion, and slither through slot canyons in Arizona. Those parks offered jaw-dropping scenes that would make the holiest of men cuss out of pure amazement. As many of those unbelievable (and horribly touristy) parks as I visit, their awesomeness can never replace the pride and joy I feel for our local parks in the big little city of Akron, Ohio.
Firestone Metro Park is located at 2400 Harrington Rd in Akron.
Check out more photos from this edition of NEO Outdoor Gems at thedevilstrip.com.
Anthony Boarman is a social studies teacher and coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He lives in Wallhaven with his wife Emily and his dog Ava. He is a lover of all things Akron. To check out more of his work, follow Anthony on Instagram at @aboarman.