The Best Acre in the Woods

By Guest Blogger Julie Schuler

As a volunteer at Cuyahoga Valley National Park for 10+ years, Gene Stepanik knows a thing or two about life in and around the valley. As a wildlife watcher, hike assistant, scenic railroad volunteer, speaker’s bureau presenter and Elf at the North Pole for the Polar Express – people often turn to Gene with questions about where to go and what to do. In this ongoing series, Gene shares some of his favorite spots within the park.

As a National Park, Cuyahoga Valley is for everyone, and Gene takes this ownership seriously. When the Conservancy invited people to Sponsor an Acre in the park, he knew just the acre he wanted.

Unfortunately, it was already taken.

“So I adopted the acre next to it. I’m just waiting for that guy to give up his acre, and I’m taking it over,” he says with a laugh.

©Jeffrey Gibson

The acre Gene loves most is on the Buckeye Trail between Columbia Run and Boston Mills Road. “It’s just absolutely gorgeous. You hike upstream and bushwhack a bit off of Columbia Run, going west about 100 yards. That spot is my absolute favorite: it’s Buckeye Trail overlooking the Buckeye Run. It’s surrounded by beautiful hemlock trees. Any time of year it’s beautiful, but it’s especially gorgeous in the fall. You just want to take a folding chair there, crack a book and enjoy the day.”

Gene may joke about taking over sponsorship of that acre, but it’s something he’s thought a lot about. Not only does he sponsor the acre next to his favorite, he knows his “neighbor” well. “Bob has the spot I want. He’s had it for years.”

Indeed, Bob’s spot is featured on the Conservancy’s website, touting the Sponsorship program. The program allows park lovers to buy or give an acre, honoring a spot they love while giving back to the park. In return, they receive Conservancy membership along with several gifts, like a map of their sponsored spot.

For Gene, and others, the sponsorship program provides a deeper meaning.

“Although sponsoring an acre gives a sense of ownership, it’s knowing that the funds raised through the program helps the Conservancy carry out their mission to continue to make Cuyahoga Valley National Park an outstanding entity in the Midwest. Having met so many people as a volunteer, I know firsthand how the park attracts visitors from around the country and the world. It’s also a great place of recreation, respite, entertainment and education for the local population.”

To sponsor your own acre, visit: