Rare birds new stars at former Coliseum site
Residents can find out what became
of the former Richfield Coliseum site during the Cuyahoga
Valley National Park’s “After the Coliseum”
event May 20.
Photo courtesy of Cuyahoga
Valley National Park
By Kathleen Folkerth
RICHFIELD — On the property where rock stars and sports heroes once strutted their stuff, a new breed of performers is taking center stage.
They go by the names of bobolink, eastern meadowlark and Henslow’s sparrow.
But these entertainers aren’t of the highly paid, two-legged kind. Instead, they’re birds that have come to nest in the grasslands left in the wake of the demolition of the Richfield Coliseum.
The unnamed area, which is now
part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), will
be open to visitors during “After the Coliseum,”
an open house program May 20 from 9 to 11 a.m. at the
site. The morning event will allow visitors to find
out more about what has happened at the site since the
20,000-seat arena was torn down in 1999.
“Where the big building
once stood with the huge parking lot has been restored
to a grassland,” said Arrye Rosser, education
operations manager with the park. “The change
in the landscape is so dramatic.”
For those unfamiliar with the
arena, the precursor to today’s Quicken Loans
Arena in downtown Cleveland, Rosser admits the site
may look unremarkable. Driving by the area, on state
Route 303 just west of Interstate 271, it appears to
be just a vacant piece of land. But what’s happening
there is quite remarkable, according to park officials.
“The transformation of
this property from a 20,000-seat arena with a giant
parking lot into restored grassland that attracts rare
birds is such an amazing story,” said CVNP Superintendent
John Debo Jr. “It could have ended much differently.
A major commercial development bordering
the national park would have had a negative impact on
park resources. Instead the area’s rural character
Rosser said avid birders first
discovered that species of birds rare to this part of
the country were making their home in the 60 acres that
was restored as a grassland.
“The habitat is really
rare,” Rosser said. “We just don’t
have large chunks of grassland. The amazing thing is
the birds found it so quickly.”
In addition to the birds named
above, the site has attracted the Savannah sparrow,
grasshopper sparrow and sedge wren. In 2004, Audubon
Ohio named CVNP an Important Bird Area for providing
critical natural habitats, such as this new grassland,
for breeding and migrating birds.
Rosser said the idea of converting
the full 327 acres formerly owned by the Gund family
goes to Ralph Waszak Sr.,
who served as mayor of Richfield Village from 1988 to
1995, during the closure of the Coliseum. Waszak has
been credited with “planting the seed” for
the expansion of the park’s boundary and the acquisition
of the site by the park. He served as a member of the
village council during the demolition and restoration
“Cuyahoga Valley National
Park is a tremendous asset for Richfield and our region
that adds significantly to our quality of life,”
Waszak said. “This open house gives people a chance
to visit the Coliseum site to talk with some of the
staff involved in planning for the park.”
Rosser said Lisa Petit, chief
of science and resource management for CVNP, will be
on hand during the event. Petit is an ornithologist
by training, so she will be able to answer questions
about the new feathered residents of the area.
Park staff will have binoculars
available for visitors to see for themselves the brightly
colored bobolink and other birds. And Waszak will be
at the open house to tell people about the political
side of the process of the park’s acquisition
of the property.
Rosser said an interpretive trail
is planned in the future for visitors. Currently the
site is not set up for public access, she said.
“The public can informally
go, but it’s not easy,” she said. “One
of our concerns is that people don’t get too close
to the birds.”
Rosser said the site has not
been named yet.
“We’ve been struggling
with that,” she said. “We still talk of
it as the Coliseum site.”
Limited parking will be available
for the open house. For
more information, call CVNP at (330) 657-2796 or go
Bobolink nest in the grasslands
left in the wake of the demolition of the Richfield
Photo: Jim Roetzel/courtesy
of Cuyahoga Valley National Park