Acacia: From Elite Golf Course To Public Greenspace
In the fall of 2012, a nonprofit group, The Conservation Fund, purchased Acacia Country Club in Lyndhurst from its members for $14.75 million dollars. A month later, the fund donated the 155-acre property to Cleveland Metroparks, attaching deed restrictions that prohibited using it as a golf course and guaranteed its future as public greenspace.
Senior Natural Resource Manager Jennifer Grieser said Metroparks began transforming Acacia from a postcard-perfect, Donald Ross-designed country club to a nature preserve with a simple act of suburban rebellion: They stopped cutting the grass.
“That's right,” she said. “Just kind of stop cutting the grass and you can see all of the seedlings from these mother trees here.”
Senior Natural Resource Manager Jennifer Grieser stands in front of a group of wetland plants that have returned to Acacia after 88 years as a manicured golf course. [Mary Fecteau/ideastream]
During Acacia’s first year under Metroparks control, soil specialists played detective -- trying to determine the land’s natural state before settlers and developers began manipulating it.
“Golf courses manage water very heavily. They want water on the landscape when they want it, but then they want the water off the landscape pretty quickly too,” said Grieser. “So it leads to a very unnatural conditions.”
A close inspection by a wetland ecologist revealed that Acacia was originally forested wetland.
A soil sample from Acacia shows mottled soil, characteristic of a wetland. [Cleveland Metroparks]
“The soils really told the story that if they were allowed to, it probably would be very wet,” said Grieser.
As Metroparks removed the underground tile drains that the golf course had installed, parts of Acacia began reverting to wetlands – and vegetation the likes of which neither Donald Ross nor most suburbanites could imagine -- reclaimed their niche in the ecosystem.
But Metroparks didn’t simply wait to see what nature might yield. Using public and private grants, the west branch of Euclid Creek, which flowed through the old golf course, has been returned to its natural banks, including flood plains, which naturally filter pollutants from the concrete-heavy Beachwood Mall.
“It reduces downstream flooding, it reduces downstream erosion, and it reduces pollution,” said Grieser.
During a one-day ‘Bioblitz’ this spring, naturalists, other scientists, and volunteers counted more than 350 species of plants, animals, insects and other critters in the reservation.
Since 2013, they’ve documented more than 175 different birds here – some full-time residents, others who use the former fairways and water traps as places to breed or rest during migration. Deer are plentiful – as are other many smaller mammals, including minks.
A bumble bee sits on one of Acacia's wetland plants. Over the past five years, Metroparks has planted over 6,000 trees and shrubs in the park.
But Metroparks didn’t acquire Acacia to maintain its formerly closed status – only this time as sheltered property rather than a members-only club. The idea has always been to restore a place where people can touch nature – and be touched by it.
“Folks visit this area every day just for their own daily livelihood, their personal health,” said Grieser. “We have a number of hospitals in the area. I've talked to a gentleman that, after he visits his mom at the nursing home, he comes over here and, I think, it's just a bit of emotional reprieve for him.”
These days at Acacia, you can find families pushing strollers and walking dogs on the former cart paths, bird-watchers staring into the trees, bikers, joggers and walkers enjoying an island of bucolic quiet hard by two of the region’s busiest shopping centers. Over the first five years, Metroparks has counted more than half a million visitors, but, according to Grieser, the park benefits even those who never set foot on the former golf course.
“These green spaces and the waterways that flow through them benefit everyone in northeast Ohio by providing clean air and clean water,” said Grieser. “So that's where the park district is a service to all of the region.”
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly identifed Jennifer Grieser as a Naturalist. Her correct title is Natural Resources Manager.