Akron’s ‘Innerbelt National Forest’ opens just outside downtown
AKRON, Ohio - Akronites looking to enjoy time in nature can head over Friday to the Innerbelt National Forest, a new green space just outside downtown.
An opening reception for the long-awaited forest, winner of the Knight Foundation 2017 Cities Challenge, will run 3 to 6 p.m. at the intersection of Ash and Quaker streets behind Cascade Plaza. The event is open to the public and will include children’s activities, live music by Akron performers, local food vendors and remarks by community leaders.
In addition to 86 planted and potted trees, the Innerbelt National Forest offers trails, a kids area, an outdoor museum on the history of the Innerbelt, a stage and an outdoor space for art workshops, church services and other collaborative activities.
For two years, Mayor Dan Horrigan’s administration has been eying long-term redevelopment of the northernmost 31 acres of the Innerbelt freeway now closed to traffic. Officials have said the city will eventually consider proposals for parkland, housing and recreational amenities. Horrigan has said he would like a central park for the city, and possibly a water feature there.
In 2016, the north end of the Innerbelt was closed to traffic so crews could begin removing thousands of tons of concrete and clear the way for redevelopment.
In 2017, the League of Creative Interventionists was awarded the $214,420 Knight grant to create a temporary green space on the freeway, but ongoing construction hindered the project.
So the city provided the league with land next to the freeway to propose different ideas. The result is the temporary Innerbelt National Forest, which will remain up through September. While the city would like green space to be part of any permanent development there, no plans are yet in place.
The idea for the forest was sparked in 2015, when the league hosted a “500 Plates” a community meal on the Innerbelt to talk about the future of the area. At the event, 87 percent of the 500 attendees said they wanted space for nature and connection with neighbors, said League of Creative Interventionists Founder Hunter Franks in a news release.
“We are thrilled to see this inquiry into re-imagining this space that began in 2015 come to life this summer,” Franks said in the release. “Creating this temporary forest next to the freeway will allow residents to come together in a unique space while also creating a discussion around the long-term future of the freeway.”
Akronite Ace Epps will lead Story Circles featuring the stories of residents who were uprooted or affected by the Innerbelt when it was built in the 1970s. An article published in 1977 by The Ohio Journal of Science reported that the Innerbelt cut a “model cities neighborhood in half,” positioning black residents on the north side of Interstate 77 where a portion of the Innerbelt cut through, and white residents on the south side.
Once the current project ends, the trees will be given new homes, Franks said.
For more information, about the Innerbelt National Forest, visit the website.
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