The Innerbelt National Forest is now temporarily open to the public, bringing new green space to downtown Akron.
Adirondack chairs, potted trees and an amphitheater are now nestled into a spot adjacent to the Innerbelt, a now-closed highway. The forest was funded by more than $214,000 from the Knight Foundation.
One of the volunteers who helped plant trees was Patricia Mosley from Fairlawn, who says she hopes the city is receptive to expanding the project.
“Green space is always a good thing,” she says. “There’s enough pavement to go around the world how many times? Too many times. So anything that will bring families just to come out and be with nature and support our downtown.”
The idea is the result of a 2015 poll of residents from Akron neighborhoods showing that 87 percent preferred some kind of green space in place of the decommissioned expressway.
Stephanie Leonardi from Summit Lake says that, with so much focus on economic development in Akron, she hopes the idea is expanded.
“It could be downtown, you know what I mean? It’s big enough to do that,” Leonardi says. “And leave Main Street to be a street with all the businesses. And this could be that open, bigger space. It’s cool to see. It’s cool to drive by and see the process of everything being done around here, and knowing everything around here is being worked on. We’re growing.”
The forest will be in place for two months, and organizer Hunter Franks hopes it will be popular enough that the city considers expanding it onto what used to be the nearby Innerbelt expressway.
Organizers of the Innerbelt National Forest are asking for public feedback on the project at innerbeltnationalforest.com.