The joy of winter wonders at Richfield Heritage Preserve

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Richfield Heritage Preserve
Richfield Heritage Preserve, before ownership by the Richfield Joint Recreation District, served as a Girl Scout camp. (Julie Geiss photo)

I feel like I don’t really know a park and its trails well until I have been there during all four seasons. Luckily for me, living in Ohio means potentially encountering all four seasons in one week. 

Rare 50-degree weather in December provided an opportunity for a hike in the woods with my youngest son and our energetic dog. 

I have been looking forward to returning to the Richfield Heritage Preserve in Richfield, Ohio, ever since my first time there a little over a year ago. The park layout and remnants of camp buildings remind me of the best week of my childhood summers. 

I experienced the joy and magic of summer camp at a different camp in central Ohio. It was my favorite week of the summer. I loved sleeping in a cabin, fishing in the lake, and nightly vespers in the woods. 

Girl Scout camp

Richfield Heritage Preserve, before ownership by the Richfield Joint Recreation District, served as a Girl Scout camp. Crowell Hilaka welcomed campers into the woods as a resident camp from 1937 until 2000. Thousands of girls over the decades found peace and comfort in the natural setting while learning life skills and developing meaningful friendships. 

We started walking on the trail by the lodge. The Camp Hilaka Lake Loop trail is 2.5 miles and showcases beautiful trees, valleys and wildlife. The Lake Loop trail merges with the Buckeye Trail and cuts right through the heart of the park. 

The Buckeye Trail is one of the longest loop hiking trails in the United States at a distance of nearly 1,444 miles. It takes hikers into the best scenery in the state, including the Richfield Heritage Preserve. 

Winter wonders

Richfield Heritage Preserve
Many local businesses and
friends of the Richfield Heritage Preserve decorated trees as a part of the Winter Wonders program
at the park. (Julie Geiss photo)

Right in front of the lodge, we saw a decorated evergreen tree. Many local businesses and friends of the park decorated trees as a part of the Winter Wonders program at the park. 

The organization Friends of Crowell Hilaka has sponsored four mini-events at the park this holiday season. The final free event, A Day to Relax and Enjoy a Cozy Fire, is going to be at the lodge Dec. 26. 

The group also established self-guided “Trails and Trivia” hikes throughout the park. We scanned QR codes on signs to learn more about the history of the park as we hiked. 

The Camp Hilaka Lake Loop trail is like a history lesson in itself. Old camp buildings and the former home of Inventor James Kirby can be seen along the way. We peeked in the windows and imagined what the interesting buildings were like in the past. 

Inventor

Kirby sold the land to the Cleveland Girl Scout Council in 1936. He had spent just over 15 years making improvements to the property which was his primary residence. When he purchased the land, it did not have electricity. 

Kirby exemplified the phrase, “Necessity is the mother of inventions.” To meet the need for power, he designed and built a hydroelectric mill. He bragged that the wheel would turn with only a trickle of water. 

His workshop was at the top of the mill. In his ingenious mind, he came up with ideas for over 150 patents, including the self-cleaning silt free lake on the property. The lake, we discovered, is currently drained while work is being done to restore the mill. 

Friends of Crowell Hilaka is using funds from donations to restore the mill in phases. It is their hope that the mill will be used in education to inspire future inventors. 

Kirby is unique in that while he thrived on creating inventions, he still respected the tranquility of nature. He hired a botanist to bring plants to the property from all over Ohio. The lake was stocked with a variety of fish from other states and Canada. He didn’t disrupt the natural environment, he added to it. 

As I enter into the final days before Christmas, I can’t help but reflect on what can be learned from this land. The past should be honored and restored to teach our children. With these lessons, they can learn to respect and preserve nature while at the same time making innovations to shape the future. 

More information about the Winter Wonders program can be found at the website Winter Wonders 2021 (friendsofcrowellhilaka.org).

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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