History of the
The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes is a 501(c)(3) that was founded in 1966 as the result of a grassroots community effort to preserve the Shaker Parklands from becoming the route for a new freeway connecting Cleveland's East Side to downtown.
The parklands had been designated in the late 19th century as a natural green space, set aside by the city of Cleveland for the benefit of its fast growing population. Citizens used the park as an escape to the "country" as the industrial city pushed eastward and as the land that had been farmed by the North Union Shaker community began to be transformed into the new suburban communities of the Heights. City and suburban residents found that they could enjoy the area along the Doan Brook, from Warrensville Center Road through Rockefeller Park to Lake Erie, and stay in touch with the natural world.
That setting was threatened in the mid-1960s by the proposed Clark-Lee freeway, which would have cut through and over the Shaker Lakes section. Citizens organized to fight the freeway through a number of strategies, including the establishment of a Nature Center. Thus the Nature Center stands today. Its goals have remained consistent, yet simple: to teach environmental education and to preserve the area's important natural habitats ~ lake, stream, marsh, field, ravine and forest.
In 1971 the National Park Service of the United States Department of the Interior named the Center a National Environmental Education Landmark, one of the first organizations to be recognized by the Park Service. In addition, the Park Service designated the Nature Center a National Environmental Study Area, noting the unique education opportunities offered by the diverse habitats found in such an urban setting. The parklands are also registered on the Register of National Historic Sites, is an Important Bird Area (Audubon Society), and an official Wildlife Habitat site (National Wildlife Federation).
Fifteen thousand children participate annually in more than 40,000 hours of curriculum-related school programs, including a strong early childhood program for several East Side school districts and the Cleveland Public Schools. Additionally, an estimated 10,000 walkers, runners, and bird-watchers use the trails and grounds for exercise and enjoyment of nature.
In 2003, the Nature Center renovated and updated its indoor facilities to include: upgraded and expanded classrooms, community meeting rooms, a nature experience area called the Jean Eakin bird observation station, an elevator, accessible rest rooms and a gift shop. Sustainable building practices, including reusing existing building components and recycling construction materials, limited impact on trees and natural, adjacent habitats, and a geothermal heating and cooling system were part of the renovation.
The Nature Center has served the community well for more than four decades with its dual purpose of preservation and education. Its challenge now is to plan the continuation and improvement of its excellent programs and facilities to serve all of the diverse communities that surround it into the first decades of the new century.