Christine Freitag, curator of Botany at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and native of Akron talks about her work with Ohio's conservation effort, focusing primarily on the the impact on the natural landscape, wildlife, and environment in the region.
Freitag, Christine (interviewee)
Yaxley, Rhonda (interviewer); Culley, Joe (participant)
Rivers Roads and Rails 2008
"Christine Freitag Interview, 2008" (2008). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 517059.
Transcription sponsored by Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Rhonda Yaxley [00:00:01] Okay, I would... I already introduced myself as Rhonda Yaxley, and this is Joe Culley, and I'd like you to, for the record, you know, state your name.
Christine Freitag [00:00:10] I'm Christine Dietrich Freitag.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:00:13] Alright. And we also would like your birthday. [crosstalk] I know it's not one of the things we like to do.
Christine Freitag [00:00:16] I was... I was born here in Akron in 1934.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:00:21] And the month?
Christine Freitag [00:00:22] May [...]
Rhonda Yaxley [00:00:24] We have something in common. I'm a May person too. How long have you lived in the area?
Christine Freitag [00:00:30] I have lived here all of my life.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:00:32] Never any?
Christine Freitag [00:00:34] We... There was a brief time when Bob and I lived in Pittsburgh when we were first married. He worked for the Bettis Atomic Energy Plant and but that was just a year and a half, a couple of years.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:00:49] Okay. Nowadays, I don't like to make assumptions, but I'm assuming Bob is your...
Christine Freitag [00:00:51] Husband.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:00:52] Your husband.
Christine Freitag [00:00:52] Exactly.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:00:55] Okay. So, lived in the area all along. So you consider, of course, this area your home.
Christine Freitag [00:00:59] I do.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:01:00] Anything in particular about this area that... Memories? Things that you enjoy about?
Christine Freitag [00:01:08] Well, I was fortunate enough to grow up in the country in Ghent, Ohio, which is between Akron and Cleveland.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:01:17] Okay.
Christine Freitag [00:01:17] So I was very familiar with the Cuyahoga Valley and used to ride my horse through the park up Portage Path to a friend's then wonderful estate, which is now a complex of condominiums. But it was at that time the old B. A. [sic] Seiberling mansion. And we'd, his granddaughter and I would ride our horses and spend the night and ride home again.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:01:45] Wonderful memories.
Christine Freitag [00:01:45] You could ride a horse right into Akron.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:01:49] Alright. So as your, your childhood, your, a little bit about your educational background. Where did you go to school as a child?
Christine Freitag [00:01:56] I went to school. I, my parents briefly when we were, when I was first born, lived at on Turkeyfoot Island out at the Portage Lakes. And our mothers were determining that we were not being well educated in that school system. So from there, my parents moved to Ghent and I went to Bath School until I was in high school and then I went to Old Trail. And from Old Trail, I went to Randolph-Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, which is now Randolph College.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:02:29] Okay.
Christine Freitag [00:02:29] They've changed the name and they are coeducation[al].
Rhonda Yaxley [00:02:31] And what were your field study?
Christine Freitag [00:02:34] I was a English major and Fine Arts minor.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:02:39] And what have you I mean, professionally, what kind of situations or jobs?
Christine Freitag [00:02:45] I have been a volunteer all of my life, except I have worked for my husband had a company, his own company, and I did some work for him, just kind of office manager and in charge of hazardous waste management for the company. So but most of my time has been spent... Even when I was doing that, I was doing volunteer work.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:03:09] What is your current role with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association?
Christine Freitag [00:03:13] I have no role at all. I just recently was part of the long-range planning committee. I did that from September to March this year.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:03:27] Okay, can you explain a little bit about what [inaudible]?
Christine Freitag [00:03:29] Well, it was an interesting experience. And I was, I was fascinated that I was asked to do it because I was really not connected with the park. However, I do play a small volunteer role in the park in that I have been in charge or coordinator of a lot of invasive pulls in two parks in the Ledges and in Stumpy Basin. And I take a group of volunteers out to deal with the invasive plants in those. So I have a knowledge of the park in that respect. Plus early history. When the park was formed, I was involved with the Cuyahoga National Park Association, so I was really rather surprised, except I've been very vocal. I am very much of an advocate and I feel they could do a much better job with advocacy. And they have a huge problem in the national park with stormwater management. And I have felt for a long time that Kevin Skerl, who is their sort of the person with the park in charge of this situation, would fare a lot better if he could take residents, the community to his trustee meetings where he discusses this problem hoping to have better development and better water management happen. I think a park employee would always do better with a someone who knows those trustees and can talk with them, so I was very vocal about this with John Debo and I think maybe that's how I got put on the long-range planning committee, which now has a little category for advocacy, which it didn't have before. So.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:05:15] Okay, so share a little bit more, too, about how you feel, you know, this role... They saw the need for you.
Christine Freitag [00:05:23] I think they saw the need anyway. And they have... They've had an advisory committee that board, the [Cuyahoga Valley Park Association] board. By the way, we also talked about a simpler name, which I don't think is maybe going to happen, but because it basically is a friends group of the park. And I don't think the name necessarily tells you that, so it's sort of nice if they think about maybe calling themselves Friends of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. But anyway, they had an advocacy committee, but it was very much controlled by the board of trustees who didn't want to make a wave. So it never really went any place. And Tom Jenkins, who was their chairman, passed away in, I think... Not sure, I think in '05, but anyway the committee just sort of disappeared after that, and those of us, and I'm sure there are people who you'll be interviewing Bob Hunker and others who served on that committee that were kind of surprised. We've never been asked to do anything. [laughs] So as far as I'm concerned, we're not involved now as an advocacy committee.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:06:31] Okay. Well, what would you like then to see happen?
Christine Freitag [00:06:35] Well, I mean, I would love to see an advocacy committee created that would indeed look at this tremendous list of members that they have and particularly those members who have given a great deal of money, who I think have a great deal of influence in the community, who live in those communities where there's a great deal of development going on and there could be better management of stormwater and so on.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:07:01] Do you have a vision of what would be the solution or what to do?
Christine Freitag [00:07:07] Well, I do. And I think that it's pretty clear that they just need to get more people involved. And the advocacy could be very effective. And I think it can be, and in many ways, I think it could be much more of a positive thing than they're sort of afraid of making a wave. But I think people like to know they belong to an organization that is taking action and is doing something. So.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:07:32] Do you live in the area?
Christine Freitag [00:07:34] Yes, well, actually, I live in Akron.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:07:37] Okay.
Christine Freitag [00:07:38] In Ward 1, which is I live about ten minutes from here, so.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:07:44] Okay. Alright. What has motivated you to stay involved, even though you said there was a period of time when?
Christine Freitag [00:07:54] Well, you know, it's interesting. When the park became a park in '74, I looked at my bio. I had to look this up because I just don't remember what I was doing in '73 and '74. But I was, I was conservation chairman of the League of Women Voters. And during that period, I was also conservation chairman for the Junior League. And we were just very much aware of what was happening in our community. And I think we all just adored John Seiberling And while I didn't know Ralph Regula, I think, you know, John was a real inspiration to all of us. Actually, he was on that advocacy committee, too, that I mentioned earlier. And I'm sure he wonders whatever happened. But it was just, I mean, this park was just very important. And so we all were very actively encouraging the support. Wrote to our legislators. And I wasn't part of the original group way, way back when. But from '73 on, I was pretty much involved.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:08:59] And you stayed involved?
Christine Freitag [00:09:01] Yes. Yes. In fact, when I was president of the friends group, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association friends group, from... I was president from '90 to '92, I hired Peg Bobel. We really wanted to become more professional and actually attract a membership for the park, and that's how it... George Klein was the first chairman and then I was the second of that organization.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:09:30] Okay. What changes do you think occurred because of that?
Christine Freitag [00:09:35] Well, I think it just made people more aware that we had the park and I think at times when, when you look at how that park is grown and I give John Debo just huge credit for looking beyond the boundaries of the park and creating the Towpath that's going to go all the way from downtown Cleveland to Zoar. I mean, I think it took an interested citizenry to talk to their local planning departments to make sure that that was a priority with them. And so I think the friends group has had a huge, huge impact on helping with the trail development, that sort of thing.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:10:15] When you look at all the things that you've been involved in—your own personal milestones or claims to achievement, or like, you know, somebody comes up, what's the most important thing that you've done?—you think you could? I mean, it doesn't happen one or several.
Christine Freitag [00:10:33] Well, I've just been very involved with Planned Parenthood and with Old Trail School and Art Museum. I was president of the Garden Club of America, and that came through conservation, my conservation interests. I went up sort of through the ranks because of that. In fact, that was the only organization that I belong to that I, that was an all-woman organization, but most of my involvement have been with men on boards. And I will tell you, it was a long two years, really long. It was like being in a room with a bunch of female CEOs, you know, it was just... Getting anything done was really a challenge.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:11:22] That's interesting.
Christine Freitag [00:11:22] Yeah.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:11:22] The difference.
Christine Freitag [00:11:22] So, yeah. So that was probably the biggest job. I also started an organization that is called Scenic Ohio, which is Columbus-based now pretty much, dealing with an Ohio Department of Transportation. That's our sole target, ugly sound walls and digital billboards, that kind of thing.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:11:47] Okay, and it's interesting that you were saying that. So do you mind expanding a little bit more on that with what you're trying to do there?
Christine Freitag [00:11:56] Well, we're quite excited. Akron has the first vegetative sound wall. And if you think of driving from the inner belt, interchange, central interchange towards 59 on 77, it's on the right. And it's kind of a wonderful hillside of trees and black-eyed Susans, which may be blooming now. I'm not sure. And it has proven to be hugely successful at curbing the noise rather than those concrete things where the noise blocks the people who are right behind it. But then it shoots the noise to the people who live back here. So quite effective anyway, that was funded through funds that were not that were not, that were not sound wall funds. It was just enhancement funding that came through. And we're trying to, at this point in time, talking to ODOT Director Baisley trying to convince him that this is a great way and a much more handsome way of sound attenuation. And so we're trying to get him to and, and he's very interested in this. And I think it's going to happen to declare that indeed this is a sound wall, even though it's not concrete. And that then opens the door for other communities. Cincinnati, for instance, wants to do this. They are a very hilly community and could easily take some of those hills and do what we've done here. So it's interesting.
Joe Culley [00:13:35] So, what is it composed of? I'm sorry.
Christine Freitag [00:13:37] You have to have about four inches of good mulch and you just do extensive planting into that and it absorbs the sound. The sound doesn't bounce. In fact, in Akron, they've done sound tests, decibel testing on the other side of the street, and they have found that it even absorbs enough sound that their side, that side is has also had sound reduction. It's really fascinating. So that's what we're working on right now. One of the things I'm involved with right now.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:14:11] You'd mentioned that conservation is a big thing and, and going in and doing invasive plant
Christine Freitag [00:14:19] invasive plants are a huge problem. Yeah.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:14:22] So, expound on that a little bit.
Christine Freitag [00:14:23] Well, what's interesting, about five years ago, the park hired a gentleman by the name of Eddie Dengg, D-E-N-G-G-, I think. Anyway, Eddie was a plant biologist. He is now working for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy. But he... I had talked to him. I had talked to the park about the fact that it seemed to me a shame that these invasive plants were invading and into the park and there was no attempt to remove them. So Eddie and the Akron Garden Club did, which I belong to, did... Actually with the help of Shaker Lakes Garden Club and I think some members from Garden Club of Cleveland, and I even got someone to come from the Garden Club of Dayton and Columbus. We did an inventory of all the invasive plants in two locations, in Stumpy Basin and the Ledges, and those are the two parks that we have since adopted and we've been removing the invasives that we found. So that's we've been working on. And garlic mustard has taken over the world. Let me tell you, I don't know if you know what that is, but that's a real problem for us right now.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:15:45] What have you found that and I know polls are one of the things, but... [crosstalk]
Christine Freitag [00:15:48] Listen, I had to go...
Rhonda Yaxley [00:15:50] Things that you've done.
Christine Freitag [00:15:50] Well, what you have to know is that in order to do this, because I am, because the park is so cautious about how they use their volunteers, I actually went to the Department of Agriculture and I am a commercial... I have a commercial license to spray and we're talking Roundup, we're not talking any deadly, really awful stuff. But so that's how we've been able to keep this program going, because I can go out there with my Roundup and my volunteers.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:16:20] Okay, but that's one thing too, for people listening to this too is, you know, being a park, you do have to have those licenses.
Christine Freitag [00:16:27] You do. You have to have and I have accused the park. I mean, it's a wonderful cultural landscape. And I think the farming program they're doing there now is so exciting. And if you haven't been to the market on Saturday morning in Peninsula, you really ought to do it. My daughter, who is a park commissioner in New York City, said that it beats Union Square. So, you know, it's got to be a pretty good farmer's market for Amy to say that. [laughs] So. But they are what I started to say is that I think they've been weak on natural resources. I think they could have been stronger. And I have been told that a plant biologist is coming and will be a permanent fixture there. And I hope so because we need that kind of leadership.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:17:18] To encourage other people to get involved... [crosstalk]
Christine Freitag [00:17:20] Well, yes, I think so, yeah.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:17:22] What are some things that you could say or feel...
Christine Freitag [00:17:27] Well.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:17:28] In your experiences?
Christine Freitag [00:17:28] My experience has been and I've seen this, so is our Metro Parks. I don't know if you talk to anybody about our Metropolitan Parks, but this Mike Johnson, who's now head or chief, who was chief of natural resources. He has convinced, for instance, the people that mow that you've got to be really careful about how you clean your equipment because you could be spreading this garlic mustard and these other things. We just haven't, don't, we have not achieved that greatness in our national park. And I think it's just because there is very little thought. The people who mow don't really care about the fact that we may have left a whole bunch of bags full of garlic mustard there, that we go back four weeks later and the bags are still there. I mean, they just don't... One division doesn't work with the other division. It's a very difficult situation because I don't think there's anybody in-house that's really kind of screaming about this. Me screaming is not doing much good, but I think once we get a plant manager in there, it's going to make a big difference.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:18:34] I feel that you've just given some advice for something that really needs to be done.
Christine Freitag [00:18:39] Well and they know it. They know it. It's just that it's the, they're so inflexible. Is that the word? They just. They do something the same way year after year. And unlike our Metro Parks that have the ability to in-house make changes, it's very hard for the national park to do that.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:19:01] Why do you think it's hard for them?
Christine Freitag [00:19:05] I think it, I think that they have, I think they have poor leadership probably in Washington that allows them to make changes. I think it's very inflexible up there and so it comes down to being rather inflexible.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:19:20] I was just thinking the same thing so that's funny.
Christine Freitag [00:19:24] Starts at the top, I guess.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:19:27] I, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I'm sure is a very special place for you.
Christine Freitag [00:19:31] Absolutely.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:19:32] So, we're looking for some special memories, some special things that have happened, maybe a special place, a moment in time that you'd like to share about the park, something that's happened while you've been there.
Christine Freitag [00:19:46] I think one of the things that pleased me very much was the little park that they created for John Seiberling that's by the covered bridge. Have you seen that? I don't know. Just sometimes just park in that on Everett Road and walk back there. It's really quite lovely. And I think it was important that John have something that was his. And that certainly is, is a very special place. And we just adored John. We're so sorry that he's not better.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:20:19] Would you recommend I mean, that would be a place. Is there any place else that if you, you know, like today, if you have the opportunity where would you head?
Christine Freitag [00:20:29] You know, I'm quite excited about the partnership between Old Trail School and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association. And they have now purchased the property next to Old Trail, which is called the Gould Farm or something like that. They're going to have a program to teach gardening to children. And I think that's going to be just fabulous. And I'm really anxious to see that happen soon.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:20:58] Do you think you're going to get involved in that?
Christine Freitag [00:21:00] Well, I don't know that I'll get involved in it, but I will sure see. I'm a master gardener and I will certainly see that they have some part of it. You know, some participate in some way as far as the education part of it. I think it'll be very good.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:21:18] I was going to say the reflection of the Old Trail School. I had a friend that had her son that went there and I just remembered they used one of the requirements was to have a sled at school for the winter time, so they could sleigh ride.
Christine Freitag [00:21:27] Yes, yep. [laughs]
Rhonda Yaxley [00:21:29] So and to hear that, you know, you were gardening.
Christine Freitag [00:21:30] I was. Yeah. I tell you that school has, is just, is a. When I was involved with Old Trail, in fact, I graduated from there, but it was, the school was in Fairlawn. And then a group of trustees raised the money and moved the school into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. And my children went to school there. And I might, in fact, my daughter Amy, the one now in living in New Jersey and working in the city in New York, was in the last graduating class because we determined that it could not make it as it could not compete with Western Reserve and it could not attract the quality of students that they needed to be a successful high school, so we closed it. And it's now a preschool through eighth grade. And it's a fabulous school, it's what it should have been. And I think it's taken those trustees who had to make that decision a long time to realize how really good the decision was. But I think they all agree now. But I see a lot of potential for Old Trail because it is in the national park and can it's a very special place. It really is.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:22:44] In realizing talking about your daughter back in our background information, they really didn't discuss too much about your family. So give a little background about.
Christine Freitag [00:22:52] I told you, Tina, my daughter Tina, is in the... She graduated from CIA and then got a master's from Case. Also has a master's in Art Therapy. When they don't pass the next levy and she doesn't have a job, she's going to be an art therapist. So she's in Cleveland on the west side. And then my daughter Amy, who started as a Theater major... I just think it's so interesting the way the kids develop it. I used to take her to Williamsburg because I am very fascinated with gardening and with history and so on. And she'd say, Mom, you've seen one, you've seen them all. And she ended up going back to graduate school and getting a degree in historic preservation and landscape architecture. So it's interesting how you drag your kids places and you don't know if you're going to have an impact or not, but I guess you do. So.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:23:42] Historic preservation...
Christine Freitag [00:23:42] Mhm.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:23:43] In New York City?
Christine Freitag [00:23:45] Yeah, she works for the city. She is a deputy commissioner for capital development projects. She builds tennis courts and repairs little community gardens and all that kind of thing.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:24:01] Yeah, well this slight connection, I have a son that lives in Brooklyn.
Christine Freitag [00:24:04] Oh, do you? I love Brooklyn.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:24:06] A theater major, so.
Christine Freitag [00:24:07] Oh, really? Well, look what he could become if that doesn't work out.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:24:14] Okay. You mentioned the special garden. Is there any other place that you would say would be your favorite place in the parks?
Christine Freitag [00:24:21] Well, of course, I have to say I love the two areas. That, we were given the Ledges and Stumpy Basin to work on because they are the two parks that have more really valuable rare plants. And the feeling was that it shouldn't just be turned over to a group of Boy Scouts to tromp through. I mean, it should be somebody who's stepping carefully. So I think that's why the Akron Garden Club was given those two sites.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:24:46] Do you see any other site that probably needs, I mean, there's... [crosstalk]
Christine Freitag [00:24:50] Oh, it's everywhere. Yeah, it's everywhere.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:24:53] What do you think should be a next focus that you'd like to see?
Christine Freitag [00:24:59] I just look along the roadside, even in our Metro Parks. There's just so much garlic mustard and so many invasives. I can't tell you which would be another spot that we should... That's why we need the plant biologist to come in and really look at it and figure it out
Rhonda Yaxley [00:25:19] During your life, what factor do you think had the biggest impact on who you are today and what you're doing?
Christine Freitag [00:25:28] I would say that's a hard one. I would say probably my dad, because he was a great gardener and he was very interested. A great fisherman really liked the outdoors and really valued the way it was and I think would probably turn over in his grave if he could see how it is now. So.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:25:52] You shared the fact that you lived on the farm and...
Christine Freitag [00:25:55] Yep.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:25:58] A little bit more...
Christine Freitag [00:25:59] Oh, I mean, this was World War II. We had a victory garden that you wouldn't believe. I mean, we had just a ton of fresh... My, my grandmother, I can still smell that awful smell of pulling the, pulling the feathers off the chicken. God, what a smell. [laughs] It's awful. I can remember. I mean, we had a pond across from our house and we used to go out and catch pollywogs and bring them home. And they'd turn into frogs jumping all over our laundry room. You know, great memories as a kid being outside.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:26:35] You spent a lot of time doing those.
Christine Freitag [00:26:37] Yep.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:26:39] Oh. Brothers or sisters?
Christine Freitag [00:26:40] Yep. I have a, I have a brother who is a physician in Vermont who's a great outdoorsman. And then a brother who lives here in Akron who loves to fish and that sort of thing. So Daddy had a big influence on all of us.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:27:01] We've spent a lot of time with the conservation and, and landscapes, and the ways that protecting and benefiting the region. Any expectations that are different, or then the results have been different than you expected?
Christine Freitag [00:27:20] No, I, actually, you know, I have to say, I also served on the Akron City Planning Commission for twelve years. So I have a pretty keen knowledge of local land-use planning and that sort of thing. And I am, I'm very impressed with what's happening in Akron. I really think that we are going, you know. As, as much as I value open space, I do think that the city has very carefully planned how they've managed empty buildings and so on. I think Akron is really I think our mayor is doing a very good job. And I think, I think I'm very, I feel very positive about Akron.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:28:06] What are some things that you think we need to do to inspire others to get involved like you've been definitely an advocate?
Christine Freitag [00:28:15] Well, I think one of the things we're doing in Metro Parks is just figuring out how to get more people outside. And I think the more people that have an opportunity to visit Metro Parks or visit the national park, just everybody's going to benefit from that because they're going to realize what value, how valuable it is and how worth protecting saving it. And I think as the Towpath moves through Akron, that's going to be a huge incentive for people to get out and ride their bikes and walk and that sort of thing. Got to be careful on weekends though. You can get run over by little children on bicycles. It's quite busy on the weekends, so we do a lot of our hiking during the week.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:29:02] Okay. Is there something... I know you know you brought a notebook along... [crosstalk]
Christine Freitag [00:29:04] I just brought this along. I didn't know. I just didn't... I didn't... I wrote down that members of the advocacy committee. I didn't know if you wanted to know who we were back in 2004.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:29:16] Sure, go ahead. Give us those names.
Christine Freitag [00:29:16] Tom Jenkins was the chairman. Peter Henderson, Robert Hunker, Sandra Smith, Kathy VanDevere, and John Seiberling, and myself.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:29:30] You mentioned, I don't even know if it was before we started recording too, that you're part of the Friends of the Metro Parks Association in Summit. Do you want to?
Christine Freitag [00:29:39] We have a friends group that started in 1991. And basically, our initial job was to help pass the levy, the park levy every four years. And we've since grown into more of an advocacy kind of thing. And we write to our legislators. In fact, on our web, you should look at our website. It's friendsofmetroparks.org. And we keep a current list of legislators, Summit County legislators and so on. So the public can refer to that if they are interested in writing about an issue that impacts our park. And one of our goals now and in fact, I've got about six grants I'm working on. We're going to try to raise money to bring more Akron public children into the park, particularly inner city.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:30:33] Okay, what are, what grants information? How are you going to go about doing that?
Christine Freitag [00:30:38] Well, I, you know, I specifically have just a description of what I want to do, but I've got to get it out to a number and I have to do this by October. So I am working on it now. But I'm hoping to get, we're going to, we've raised $12,000. We're hoping to get a match of $12,000. And that will bring 450 inner city children. They come out, they start at Camp Christopher, which is out on him Hametown Road. I don't know if you're familiar with that. And they have the overnight experience. And then they, the next day they work with the naturalists in the Metro Parks and they work with the curriculum that these kids have at school. So it's all meaningful, but they work with Metro Parks. And the next day, so they have a not quite 24 hours, but almost 24 hours.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:31:28] And what grade level would this?
Christine Freitag [00:31:29] They're sixth graders.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:31:31] Okay.
Christine Freitag [00:31:33] And the sixth grade, it's funny, the comments that came from these kids, some liked it. Some were scared at night. You know, we got all these funny things. Everyone said one hundred percent. They love the Nature Realm, which is our, is, are one of our parks, which has the visitor center, more of a visitors center on Smith Road. They love it one hundred percent. And then a whole bunch of comments came. It should be offered for seventh graders, too, so they could come back. So that was a very favorable. Those kids really got a lot out of it.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:32:04] Did you spend the time? I mean, stay with them?
Christine Freitag [00:32:07] I was not with them at all because it was a, we did it once this spring and it was absolutely trial, a trial thing with just the chief of interpretation of Metro Parks working with Camp Christopher. But with this, with 450 kids, I can promise you, we will be part my board will be part of that because they're going to need some help.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:32:27] So the trial was done with how many?
Christine Freitag [00:32:30] I think it was done with fifty, fifty kids. It cost us about... [crosstalk]
Rhonda Yaxley [00:32:34] And how were the students selected?
Christine Freitag [00:32:37] I have no idea that was handled between the chief and with the public school. And they were all kids from, from one or two, I think two different schools, but they were aiming primarily to the inner city. Those kids generally do not have a park nearby, so they haven't had the park experience unless they've gone, unless they've been fortunate enough to go to the Environmental Education Center, which is, aims, I think they're their age group is between fourth grade and eighth grade. If they've had that experience, that's great. But most of these kids don't have the kind of money or the schools don't have the kind of money to pay for these kids to go. So this is really their...
Rhonda Yaxley [00:33:19] I think probably Joe and I have both felt that in our schools, you know, they make cuts and unfortunately...
Christine Freitag [00:33:25] Yeah.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:33:25] Outdoor education is one of them...
Christine Freitag [00:33:27] Yeah. Yeah.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:33:28] That ends up being... So I'm very pleased too see that... [crosstalk]
Christine Freitag [00:33:30] Yeah. We're, we're just hoping that this becomes a permanent thing that we can do. And I think if it becomes a permanent thing, the park will help us pay for it too.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:33:40] Are you fam[iliar]... I'm sure you're familiar with Holden Arboretum?
Christine Freitag [00:33:43] Oh yes. I belong to Holden.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:33:44] They have a pretty extensive program that involves the third and fourth-grade classrooms that they come. Docents come to the classroom, as well as then the children are taken to the park and it's all done with grants.
Christine Freitag [00:34:00] I think that's, I think that is what we would like to see more involvement. The Nature Realm is in the process. They are going to close their doors in November and they'll be closed for one year. And they're totally redoing the interior of that building and the outside of the building to better coordinate, introduce people to what's outside, which I think would be fabulous. And they're working with an organization. One of the hardest things for them to do is get these people to think in terms of we don't want so much electric, electronic stuff inside that people don't want to go outside. It's very hard to convince these people that they have to think, how can I do this so that the people will want to go outside. That's what we're aiming for. So that's good. Should be very good. And then I think at that point there'll be a lot of good educational information that will be really pertinent for these kids that we hope to bring in every year, these sixth graders.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:35:04] You are definitely very active. If you had to choose one of all the many things that you're involved in...
Christine Freitag [00:35:12] I would choose the Friends of Metro Park. Yeah, that's the thing that I'm really focusing on now. I've sort of turned a, Scenic Ohio, I am pretty much out of that now, except for local lobbying kind of things working on this vegetative sound wall that Akron has. I just think it was time for other people to get more involved. So it's definitely Friends of Metro Park would be my, will be my focus trying to find a board members who are thirty years younger than I am. That's my goal this year.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:35:50] Okay.
Christine Freitag [00:35:50] Yeah, we want to get some young people involved.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:35:54] Have we missed any things you wish that we were recording or I've asked?
Christine Freitag [00:36:03] No, I'm just trying to think if there's anything else about Friends, the friends group that... I presume you're going to talk to Peg Bobel?
Rhonda Yaxley [00:36:15] I don't have the list in front of me, but I would imagine.
Christine Freitag [00:36:18] Yeah, [crosstalk] I would think you'd be talking to Peggy. Bob Hunker certainly has an early on history. I know he's coming down here and I think he's bringing all of his documents.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:36:27] Okay.
Christine Freitag [00:36:27] With him. So if he hasn't already been here.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:36:32] The notebook that you did bring with you.
Christine Freitag [00:36:34] Oh, this was just the.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:36:36] The board. The planning committee.
Christine Freitag [00:36:37] Yeah. Yes. I didn't know if you want to know who those people were, that kind of thing. I think.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:36:44] There's going to be... [crossalk]
Christine Freitag [00:36:45] They know out there.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:36:47] Right. Right. Yes. Yeah. Joe, was there something that you'd like to add?
Joe Culley [00:36:53] Yeah. I'd like to talk about... You brought up several times about kind of reminiscing about Old Trail School and how you just adore that school. What, I mean, I know that you, you've gone there, but what specifically, what is the most fondest memories you have of that place? And why does that place really stick out in your memory?
Christine Freitag [00:37:18] Well, I think, I'm on the alumni council now, and so I've gone back and had an opportunity to meet more of the staff and see the programs that they're doing. I'm just extraordinarily impressed with, you know, one thing that they did this [past] year, which I thought was so cool, they got past graduates who are in college to come back and sit down with these kids who are eighth-graders going into ninth grade. And just give them a little bit of an education and let them ask questions about what they can expect in this next four years. And then when they go off to college and they discuss sex, they discuss drugs, they discuss applying yourself, which you have to do. I mean, I just really, I just thought it was the coolest thing. And that's the kind of stuff the way they think, which I think is really wonderful, including the fact that they're building their campus to be a lesson in conservation. They're going to do the same kind of waste management that they've done at Oberlin. You know, in that building that you go to the bathroom and all goes through all this greenery and comes out drinking water or something like that. I mean, Old Trail is doing this. And I think the fact that they're interested in getting into this gardening, I think is extraordinarily important for people to know that a carrot grows in the ground. You know, a lot of kids don't know that. They don't have a clue where the carrot comes from. So I think there's potential there for being really.
Joe Culley [00:38:58] And when you were a little girl, do you remember any of the teachers that you had there or any lessons or anything that?
Christine Freitag [00:39:07] I, I can't...
Joe Culley [00:39:09] Memory of being back or?
Christine Freitag [00:39:09] I just... Yeah. I just remember, you know, and I can't remember teachers' names, but I just remember that was by the time you graduated from that school, you could have gone anywhere because you could really write and you you were well prepared. My math was always a total challenge to me, but I got through high school and took physics twice in college trying to get I had to have a science to graduate from Randolph-Macon. And I was just so bad and so uninterested in it. I'm very right brained. And boy, that math, just anything that had to do with figures. It's always been a problem for me.
Joe Culley [00:39:50] But they really taught you how to write.
Christine Freitag [00:39:52] Really taught me how to write. Yeah. And that's valuable. I mean, you don't realize until you have to sit down at my age and write a grant, for God's sakes. And, and I also love computers and spellcheck and all that.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:40:08] Do you have people assisting you when you were doing the grant or... [crosstalk]
Christine Freitag [00:40:12] Yes, I have. The park has some wonderful professional people and they edit everything that I do. So I know it always looks good. And everything I do has to be approved by the park director- secretary Keith Shy.
Joe Culley [00:40:27] I'm sure they are very glad that you're doing this... [crosstalk]
Christine Freitag [00:40:30] Well, they are glad. They are glad. But I've got to get more people involved. That's my challenge. It's very easy for me to sit down and do it, but other people should be doing it too.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:40:40] The more they get involved.
Christine Freitag [00:40:41] Yeah.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:40:42] I also wrote a note down here with the stormwater management. We didn't really elaborate much on that. What...
Christine Freitag [00:40:50] It's cost the park something like five million dollars. Well, I just think that they have to have more involvement in more input in the kind of development that's happening around the park. And I just firmly believe that the people that live around that park who also suffer the problems with stormwater management should be more, should be more involved and should be asked to participate in the kinds of meetings they have, where they have a developer who is proposing his plan. Somebody else should be there to say this is good or bad. And it shouldn't just be one park official. It should be a group of people. I mean, I have property out in Ghent, and I can assure you that I, if, if you're aware of what's happening around you, you can go to a meeting and have an impact. Your testimony has an impact. My left ear just opened up, I was riding on Route 80 all way from New Jersey. [laughs] My ear just popped. Just like I think I'm talking too loud now, but I can hear myself.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:42:05] Oh you're fine.You're fine.
Christine Freitag [00:42:05] That's, you know, I just feel that. I remember I once stopped an oil well from... They were going to drain a pond out in Bath. To drill a well, you have to have, I think, thirty truckloads of water to fracture the well. And their plan was to take the water from a pond that was behind a house my parents had out in Ghent. And I got a guy to come down from the Natural History Museum and walk the property. And he gave me a list of all the plants that were there that were rare or endangered. And I learned the Latin name of every one of those. And when I stood up at that meeting, I read every Latin name... [laughs] And, do you know, it made a difference? They just said, well, he can't take the water from there. They'll have to truck in their water to fracture the well. I wasn't trying to stop the well. I was just trying to stop them from... So, you know, you can have an impact. You really can. And I think that I believe that people do. And it's important that citizens be involved in the kinds of decisions that are being made.
Joe Culley [00:43:18] Okay, how has your family felt about your... [Christine laughs] Your...
Christine Freitag [00:43:28] My family, I have a very supportive husband who... He is a dyed in the wool Republican, but we'll get over that. [laughs]
Joe Culley [00:43:37] Wow!
Rhonda Yaxley [00:43:37] Must have some interesting conversations.
Christine Freitag [00:43:43] [laughs] We do. We do. Well, I actually I'm, I'm somewhat conservative, too, but I just do believe the environment's very important. He's been very generous because, I mean, when I was president of Garden Club, that is no inexpensive job. I mean, I was in New York once a month and it's expensive to be in New York. And I don't think I could even afford it today. It's so expensive. But he's just always been very supportive. And he also is, since he's retired, has been quite involved. In fact, he was the first president of Friends of Metro Parks in '91. He was the very first president. So he's very involved with park issues. And now he is treasurer of the citizens group in the park, which is a PAC. They formed a PAC and they have a bicycle ride in the fall called STOMP, Summer Tour of Metro Parks, and they raise the money that will pay for the next levy. So he's, he's quite involved too.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:44:55] I have been through my list here. It seems like. You've added what you've want to. I'm always wanting to push for that wow moment, that personal moment that you wish you could live forever.
Christine Freitag [00:45:16] I've had quite a few wonderful moments, and it's very hard for me to pinpoint one, one in the park. I don't know, I think the I thought that I went to the 20th anniversary of John Debo last week in Cleveland. I thought that was just wonderful, just a wonderful. I looked at the people around who had been part of this group since day one, and it was really great to see everybody together. And I thought that was a very special time. And I think John must have felt that way too. So.
Joe Culley [00:46:02] I think the, the question I'm interested in is a lot of people, you know, they'll be, they'll see an issue and they'll get impassioned by it but they won't take any action. And they'll hear about it and not complain about it and what not. But, you...
Christine Freitag [00:46:19] Well, I have been very fortunate and I have made an effort and I believe this. And I, in fact, I had to do a little talk for the Junior League last... Week ago Saturday. I believe that you create a network and if you have a good network, you don't have to be afraid to stand up and speak, but you've gotta know your facts and you have to be perceived as being accurate. And also you have to be perceived as being someone who is going to follow through. I really and I think the people who are kind of shy are people who are not knowledgeable enough about the issue maybe to speak out. I don't know.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:47:04] No, I agree with you there. And I have to say, I, I'm inspired by all the things that, you know, you've done advocacy wise. You know, I've sat back sometimes. So, we need to do something about it. Well.
Christine Freitag [00:47:17] Well, it's really... Sometimes I just write the letter. I don't actually go down there and, and speak. But I think you have to let them know how you feel about something. I'm not as active with city council now as I used to be. When I was involved with the league, we used to go to every one of those planning commission meetings and that's how they got to know me. I was there all the time, but we did. I mean, this was way back in the '70s when Akron was looking at land use planning and they actually came up with a plan, which is they followed, which is, is great. So many plans sit on shelves, I bet. I don't know how many land-use plans there must be for Summit County that's sitting on a shelf... They're sitting on a shelf someplace. No one ever looks at them. [laughs] So.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:48:06] Probably need to revisit some of them. And, you know, say, hey, you know, there really was a good plan here.
Christine Freitag [00:48:11] Yeah. Yeah, it just hasn't happened.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:48:15] So, well, I really appreciate you taking the time.
Christine Freitag [00:48:18] Well, I'm glad to do it.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:48:20] It's been very interesting. You have definitely been an active and involved person. [crosstalk]
Christine Freitag [00:48:24] Now, do you have, do you have to do this all day long?
Rhonda Yaxley [00:48:28] No, we don't do it all day long.
Christine Freitag [00:48:29] Do you take a break?
Rhonda Yaxley [00:48:30] We do two. And I think we both discovered it's very interesting. I'm loving the experience, but I'm.
Christine Freitag [00:48:39] And this is a volunteer thing that you all are doing?
Rhonda Yaxley [00:48:42] Yes and no. We're involved in the Rivers, Roads, and Rails. It's been a three-year kind of commitment as teachers. We do receive some stipend. We've received tons of material and experiences.
Christine Freitag [00:48:57] Uh huh.
Rhonda Yaxley [00:48:59] Just this summer, last week, we, you know, had a tour down that Cuyahoga River and not, you know, the Goodtime tour. This was with I forget the gentleman's name [Captain Wayne Bratton]. [recording ends]
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.