Federal land management agencies are increasingly receptive to innovative partnerships that can help share the burden of managing millions of acres of public land. In the case of Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, farmers are being sought to run about 35 small family farms.
The legislation that created the 33,000-acre national park 25 years ago stipulated that the area would be preserved for its historic, scenic, natural and recreational values. Restoring the valley’s agricultural landscape is one way to meet these goals.
Previous efforts failed because the National Park Service offered only one- to three-year-leases, and many of the tenants lacked farming experience. The new program benefits from the experiences of the past. New leases will run for 50 years, and applicants must submit their credentials along with a proposal for how they intend to use the land. In addition, park officials have formed the Cuyahoga Countryside Conservancy, which will provide technical assistance and recruit qualified farmers.
Certain restrictions go with the leases, including raising livestock and crops that are important to the traditions of the region. And because of the high visibility of the farms, the tenants must also be skilled at dealing with the public.
Ultimately, all parties should benefit. Eager farmers will have access to homesteads for long periods of time, the Park Service will collect rent, and visitors, most of whom come from nearby Cleveland and Akron, will have the pleasure of seeing a beautiful valley inhabited by working farms.