Randy Bergdorf reflects on his role in the 1992 study for the funding of roads and his work on the Towpath Trail project. A library employee with a passion for history, Bergdorf discusses his passion for preserving and relating the history of the park to citizens. Challenges to this and other endeavors such as the Roads Project include the inability to tax local residents, since the park owns many of the houses.
Bergdorf, Randy (interviewee)
Sumen, Amy (interviewer)
Rivers Roads and Rails 2008
"Randy Bergdorf Interview, 2008" (2008). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 517032.
Transcription sponsored by Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Mark Tebeau [00:00:00] It sounds fine so we go ahead and...
Amy Sumen [00:00:02] I'm just going to get you to state for name for the tape and... Go ahead.
Randy Bergdorf [00:00:07] My name is Randy Bergdorf.
Amy Sumen [00:00:09] And Randy where were you born?
Randy Bergdorf [00:00:11] Akron, Ohio.
Amy Sumen [00:00:13] And how long have you lived in Akron?
Randy Bergdorf [00:00:15] Almost my whole life.
Amy Sumen [00:00:17] Oh. Okay. What is your role in the project of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
Randy Bergdorf [00:00:24] Well, I don't know that I have a direct role. I've been at the Peninsula Library for twenty-nine years and I've been a Boston Township trustee for 20 years. So I'm assuming that's my role.
Amy Sumen [00:00:41] How did you get involved with all of it?
Randy Bergdorf [00:00:43] Just by the very nature of doing local history at the library and also being the elected representative for Boston Township is how I've been involved.
Amy Sumen [00:00:57] So did anything motivate you to get this going and all the different things in the Valley?
Randy Bergdorf [00:01:08] Well, I've not ever really directly participated in any of the programming or... I've, yeah, I don't know how to say it. I'm a public figure in the Valley, and that's how I become involved, but it's not that I made a conscious decision to be involved.
Amy Sumen [00:01:33] Okay, so we're going to talk about the Cuyahoga Valley. Tell me some things about the project that... Some things that have developed that you have been a part of them and things like that.
Randy Bergdorf [00:01:49] Well. directly, what I've been involved in through the library is some of the cooperative things we've done regarding local history. Specifically, we worked together to publish the book, the Arcadia Book, in 2004 that has all of the photographs in it called Cuyahoga Valley. That's one project that I've been involved with. From a township trustee standpoint, going back to 1992 we were involved in the study that ended up becoming the program whereby the Park Service provides money to the local communities to help do capital improvements to the roads. So I suppose those are probably two of the biggest things that I've been involved in.
Amy Sumen [00:02:41] So what what things might get in the way of things like that happening or projects in the Valley coming to be? So, some roadblocks or hurdles that had to be overcome.
Randy Bergdorf [00:03:03] Well, of course, financing is always a... It's always an issue. And I'm trying to think what else would be. I don't know, maybe we can think about that one and something will come up later.
Amy Sumen [00:03:22] Okay.
Randy Bergdorf [00:03:23] Yeah.
Amy Sumen [00:03:23] So when you talk about the Valley, what are some places that you frequent as a result of your position in the project?
Randy Bergdorf [00:03:38] Well, I live here [laughs], so I don't. I mean, every place I frequent is here probably. I grew up with the Boy Scout camps. My dad ran those and now my brother does, so [I] always have had a natural affinity for the Boy Scout camps.
Amy Sumen [00:04:03] Where are the Boy Scouts, what is the Boy Scout camp? Where is that? Where does that take place and what do they do?
Randy Bergdorf [00:04:10] Camp Manatoc and Camp Butler on the western side of, or the eastern side of Peninsula in Boston Township. They do all sorts of programmings for the scout troops, they do summer camp right now, a summer camp and weekend camps during the rest of the year. They've been there since like 1923.
Amy Sumen [00:04:34] Wow. And how long have you been a trustee?
Randy Bergdorf [00:04:41] Since 1988.
Amy Sumen [00:04:42] '88? So you've been kind of instrumental in what for the parks, since 1988? Just the...
Randy Bergdorf [00:04:51] Well.
Amy Sumen [00:04:52] I mean, I just need an example, I don't really know.
Randy Bergdorf [00:04:55] We're not always on the same page.
Amy Sumen [00:04:57] Okay,.
Randy Bergdorf [00:04:59] [Laughs].
Amy Sumen [00:04:59] So give me an example of that. I'm trying to get a feel for where you are and what you...
Randy Bergdorf [00:05:02] Well. Sometimes, you know, the road assistance project came out of the fact that the community really didn't have enough money to sustain itself because of the loss of taxes to the tax base. So we were seriously discussing which roads we were going to have to close out of necessity. And and that ended up being the, well, let's talk about what might be able to happen in order to come up with some funds to keep certain roads open. Because, you know, like Stanford Road, there's only two houses left that are privately owned on Stanford Road. So there's not much tax revenue comes in from those properties to... I mean, snow falls on a road, whether it's got tax dollars coming in to help plow it or not. So. So that was that project that we we got to...
Amy Sumen [00:05:56] What happened with that project? [inaudible]
Randy Bergdorf [00:05:59] Well, we made a case that we were in a financial situation that warranted additional assistance and it was pretty much agreed upon. And then they were able to use that in order to create that road assistance program. And it ended up being that two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year was allocated to all of the communities in the Valley. You have to submit an application and compete, and then the Park Service awards money for that. So it is only for capital improvement projects, you know, paving, guardrails, things like that. It can't be used for basic up to date, you know, day to day maintenance, snowplowing and things like that. So that was a big project that as a township trustee we worked on.
Amy Sumen [00:06:57] And are these roads that run through the park or to the park and then...
Randy Bergdorf [00:07:00] Through.
Amy Sumen [00:07:06] They have interest now.
Randy Bergdorf [00:07:06] Mm-hmm.
Amy Sumen [00:07:06] That's good. What about some changes that you've seen over the years... [inaudible]
Randy Bergdorf [00:07:12] Well, changes I have seen, because when I moved here I was in junior high school is, I saw a lot of families, the kids I went to school with, that moved away and I saw that aspect of it. I saw a lot of the history of the Valley pack up and move away with people to the four corners of the Earth after they left, and from a historian standpoint, they took all of their photographs and journals and diaries, stuff with them. Each one of the little communities up and down the Valley was sort of like a microcosm with its own culture, own traditions, own history, its own folklore. And I saw a lot of that has disappeared over the years. So that's one of our jobs at the library, is to try to record that before it all disappears. So...
Amy Sumen [00:08:09] What... So what history has the parks been brought? I mean, the parks have been here a long time. And there are things, for example, the building we're sitting in a very historical piece. And so what are some things that the parks have brought into the communities?
Randy Bergdorf [00:08:25] Well, some of the historic properties have been preserved and repurposed. This is all part of the Jaite property. This barn was the Jaite barn. There used to be hay in here. [laughs] And Mr. [Bob] Gioia bought this property and he was in demolition of old buildings, and things that he saved from those demolition sites he incorporated into this property. And that's where all of these unique elements come from. So after he passed away, his wife tried to sell the property and she couldn't find anybody to buy, so the park bought it from her. So...
Amy Sumen [00:09:11] What kind of things do you see the park doing now that will be history in years to come?
Randy Bergdorf [00:09:19] Well, definitely all the development of the Towpath Trail was definitely, probably the... I would say their biggest achievement is the creation of the Towpath Trail and getting that recognized for beyond just in the Valley here is something that people take part in all up and down the eastern half of the state. So I think that's probably their biggest.
Amy Sumen [00:09:45] Who are some of the other people that were involved in the project to maintain roads and things like that throughout the park?
Randy Bergdorf [00:09:53] Well, the task force that I was involved in was myself and Mayor Ruoff from Peninsula, Jay Ruoff and John Debo from the Park Service was the three of us that that worked on that. And we had a consultant that we worked with out of Hudson that did some different analysis and looked at the financial impact that all of that tax-exempt land... Plus an influx of visitors was requiring that the community step up and do certain things in order to meet that. So I guess I think that was 1992 we did that study.
Amy Sumen [00:10:38] Well, you had mentioned that there were a couple of houses on that road that you, what was the road you mentioned?
Randy Bergdorf [00:10:43] Stanford.
Amy Sumen [00:10:44] Stanford?
Randy Bergdorf [00:10:44] Mm-hmm.
Amy Sumen [00:10:45] How did the residents feel about everything that was going on?
Randy Bergdorf [00:10:50] Well, you know, I can't speak for everyone. And by the time that we got to doing that study, a great many of the residents were already gone. There's, two, like I said, two houses left that are privately owned on Stanford and the rest is all federal. I guess there's some Akron Metro Park property up there, too, up at the end.
Amy Sumen [00:11:20] But they were probably appreciative of...
Randy Bergdorf [00:11:23] Oh, yeah.
Amy Sumen [00:11:23] Otherwise the road would have been...
Randy Bergdorf [00:11:25] We'd had to have done something. There just was no way to keep the roads open.
Amy Sumen [00:11:31] What about... Were there people who felt that there could have been something else done or...
Randy Bergdorf [00:11:38] In terms of just the roads?
Amy Sumen [00:11:40] Yeah. Or yeah.
Randy Bergdorf [00:11:42] Well, I think that assistance needed to come from somewhere, whether it was the federal government, the state government, or the Summit County government. There needed to be some assistance to come from somewhere because obviously the roads were being used. But if there's no tax base to support even the basic maintenance, then the money to do that has to come from somewhere. So I think that's what most people were wanting, was some income to come from somewhere.
Amy Sumen [00:12:14] What surprised you about [inaudible]
Randy Bergdorf [00:12:18] Well, I understand that it was a process we had to go through, but it seemed rather self-evident to me from the outset that there was this need and that there was dire financial circumstances that were requiring some kind of assistance from somebody. So the fact that, I mean we had to go through that process. It took, I think, a year, year and a half for that to happen, so I think that's probably what surprised me, that it seemed like an obvious... You know that it didn't need that much investigation, but in order to make the case, I think it needed to take that much time.
Amy Sumen [00:12:59] So can you give me a little bit of a timeline from the time that they realized this was a need to the time that it was taken care of?
Randy Bergdorf [00:13:09] It was about two years, it was about two years before the program got started where there was some money to be made available.
Amy Sumen [00:13:16] What was the year when you discovered when the township discovered that, gee, we have a problem with this road?
Randy Bergdorf [00:13:22] Well, it wasn't just that road. It was just basically all the roads in the Valley. I think it was probably early on, probably even before I came into office.
Amy Sumen [00:13:33] Wow.
Randy Bergdorf [00:13:33] But in 1990, I had made a presentation to the Cuyahoga Valley Communities Council, where I was telling them that we were going to have to close roads in order to keep ourselves from. Going out of business financially, not that a township really can, it just becomes like a ward of the county, I guess.
Amy Sumen [00:13:59] So can we reiterate just some of the benefits of having stuff like this accomplished?
Randy Bergdorf [00:14:09] Well, the benefit is that in addition to the residents also being guaranteed, the remaining residents being guaranteed safe passage on roads that certainly the visitors would also have roads that they could use, that they're up to date, up to standards in pretty good repair.
Amy Sumen [00:14:30] So what do you see happening down the road? Does this... Is this something that needs to be renewed or what do you see happening in the future?
Randy Bergdorf [00:14:38] Oh, it's definitely going to somehow it's going to have to be renewed or some other somehow some way it's going to have to be addressed. If you have a community like, say, and I'm a trustee in Boston Township so I can speak most of that. You know, 85 percent of the township pays no property taxes. So in order to provide all of the services that everybody takes advantage of, police, fire, roads, the money has to come from somewhere. And you can't just keep raising the tax rates on those remaining taxpayers who are here, so I don't know, at some point it would seem to me that the region in some way ought to come up with a way to pay for.
Amy Sumen [00:15:27] What happened to the other houses?
Randy Bergdorf [00:15:29] The park bought them.
Amy Sumen [00:15:30] I see.
Randy Bergdorf [00:15:31] And either they're... Some were moved, some some were knocked down, some were...
Amy Sumen [00:15:36] Was this, in regard to the road, was this a vote? Did this go to the vote? This was taken to the elections?
Randy Bergdorf [00:15:46] For what?
Amy Sumen [00:15:47] To decide what to do with the road or did the park just step in and say build. Well, I think I'm a little confused on that part.
Randy Bergdorf [00:15:56] You mean how did we come up with the program to start it?
Amy Sumen [00:16:01] Right, right.
Randy Bergdorf [00:16:01] There was no vote in the township.
Amy Sumen [00:16:04] Okay.
Randy Bergdorf [00:16:04] Just that the residents were saying, you know, there's only so much money. We can't afford to give you any more money. Something has to go. Something has to get cut. If you cut police, you could go with the sheriff's department and they would give you on-call protection. There would be nobody in the township, but if you called them, they would drive from Northfield or Franklin Township or wherever they are at that time and come and respond to your call. So, I mean, there's things that could be cut. And one of the most obvious ones in our mind was different sections of road that had no residents on them or no taxpayers. So I think that was fairly accepted. And, well, the case then got made to the Park Service that, you know, this is... As an example, Hines Hill Road, I think there's only two privately owned properties on Hines Hill Road in the township. Maybe three. There's two houses this way and I think one house still up that way, but in between you've got some very treacherous, hard to maintain road that's not helping pay for it. So...
Amy Sumen [00:17:18] So each of the cities and/or townships along the parkway are responsible for their own roads within the park?
Randy Bergdorf [00:17:27] Yes, and there are some county roads that the county maintains.
Amy Sumen [00:17:30] Okay.
Randy Bergdorf [00:17:32] Like Boston Mills Road is a county road out here. So the whole county supports and subsidizes the maintenance of that road. And that's what I was saying is that some of these other smaller roads but also roads that are necessary in order to get around the Valley also need to get some sort of a[n] input from the region, the larger region than the township.
Amy Sumen [00:17:57] You said there were two other houses. I'm using that road as particularly because that's a road that you mentioned, and I'm not real familiar with this area.
Randy Bergdorf [00:18:06] Mm-hmm.
Amy Sumen [00:18:06] Why hasn't the park taken those two houses too or bought those two houses? Are those for sale?
Randy Bergdorf [00:18:12] I, well, I don't know. I can't say. Whether or not they're offered for sale has never necessarily been the determining factor. So I don't know particularly.
Amy Sumen [00:18:30] What are some other... And you're from Boston Township?
Randy Bergdorf [00:18:33] Mm-hmm.
Amy Sumen [00:18:35] So what are... You mentioned one road. How many roads are there that are part of the park that the park maintains?
Randy Bergdorf [00:18:41] Well, the park doesn't.
Amy Sumen [00:18:43] Not that they maintain, but that they help financially.
Randy Bergdorf [00:18:45] But I don't know for the whole Valley, but we've been able to get some money over the years for Oak Hill, Scobie, Major, Wetmore, Stanford, Hines Hill. Little bits and pieces for major capital projects that, you know, needed to be done, like we put guardrails on Hines Hill so that, to help keep people on the hill.
Amy Sumen [00:19:17] [Laughs] It's pretty windy.
Randy Bergdorf [00:19:17] Yeah.
Amy Sumen [00:19:19] Huh. Well, is there anything else that you want to let me know about the whole project? I mean, I actually didn't really know much about the project.
Randy Bergdorf [00:19:26] Uh huh. Uh huh.
Amy Sumen [00:19:26] But it sounds very interesting.
Randy Bergdorf [00:19:34] Uh huh. Not that comes to my mind. Probably after I leave, I'll come up with all sorts of things. [laughs]
Amy Sumen [00:19:41] How about [inaudible] do you have any questions?
unknown speaker [00:19:44] Being in the background just listening, what tweaked my interest in finding more about was you described history...
Randy Bergdorf [00:19:54] Mm-hmm.
unknown speaker [00:19:54] And I heard a passion there about history. Can you tell me how how did you get where does that initially come from in? Because you have to talk so much about school and went to school and did that. And how did how does history become that much a part of your life that you say people are leaving and they're taking the history with them and that's not good? That to me is a very powerful statement about your belief in what's happening in your community.
Randy Bergdorf [00:20:21] Well, my undergraduate degree was in American studies, which is a cross-cultural discipline, where you study art, music, literature, history, the whole, the whole thing. And just growing up here, I saw each one of these little communities had its own different unique culture, history, mythology, folklore, the whole, the whole business. Most of the people in each little town were related, shirttail cousins, whatever you want to call them. But in addition to that, somebody from Boston would marry someone from Everett, which would then tie those two little communities together. And there was just this whole web of interconnectedness that just doesn't exist today. It's basically for the most part gone. So as much as I can through our historical collections at the library, we're trying to document that and collect that and at least preserve what we can of that. So, I don't know if that answers your question.
unknown speaker [00:21:29] How did you get involved with the library?
Randy Bergdorf [00:21:31] I started there in 1979 as a page coming in to put the books away.
unknown speaker [00:21:38] Had you finished college?
Randy Bergdorf [00:21:40] No, I was in high school
unknown speaker [00:21:41] Oh, in high school, okay.
Randy Bergdorf [00:21:42] Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah, I was 17 and just sort of gravitated towards the local history part of the organization. And when a position opened to be part-time archivist historian, I asked for and was put in that position. So I've always had that sort of aspect to the job there.
unknown speaker [00:22:09] On the job training, is that what we're talking in terms of of being at the library and doing that, and then now there's a position's opening up?
Randy Bergdorf [00:22:18] Well, I was entering into... When the position opened up, I was entering into library science school.
unknown speaker [00:22:26] Okay.
Randy Bergdorf [00:22:26] So I had my master's degree in library science.
unknown speaker [00:22:29] What made you choose to go that way?
Randy Bergdorf [00:22:31] Well, because I had already been at the library five, six years.
unknown speaker [00:22:38] Okay, so there's where the...
Randy Bergdorf [00:22:38] I was like a duck taking the water and I knew that's what I wanted to do there. So. Yeah, and so then when I was going in then to get the master's degree in library science is when the position opened up. And so they...
Amy Sumen [00:22:54] Luckily, huh?
Randy Bergdorf [00:22:55] Yeah, luckily. So yeah, I did that for quite some time.
unknown speaker [00:23:00] Was there was there somebody that hooked you or that mentored, that helped, or was it just being in there?
Randy Bergdorf [00:23:07] And I think it was a combination of being there and seeing the things and always having a sort of nerdy interest in local history and then having done the undergraduate degree in American studies that I think probably was the...
Amy Sumen [00:23:24] You mentioned people moved away and took things with them. Had you ever thought of inviting these people back with some of their photographs and things like that, you know, nowadays people copy stuff and scan things?
Randy Bergdorf [00:23:36] It takes a while to do that because there's a certain period of time, especially if people didn't want to move.
Amy Sumen [00:23:42] Oh, okay.
Randy Bergdorf [00:23:43] And a lot of times you weren't given the choice.
Amy Sumen [00:23:48] Give me an example of that, if you have one, if you would.
Randy Bergdorf [00:23:55] People whose properties were needed or whatever for different park purposes that didn't want to sell that, they went through eminent domain proceedings. Some went as far as condemnation proceedings. And you go before the federal judge in Cleveland and they tell you how much property here, how much your property is worth. So some of those people still have a hard time talking about that period.
Amy Sumen [00:24:28] I see.
Randy Bergdorf [00:24:30] And it's hard to get some of those people talking about that and talking about the history, so that's a big challenge many times. And I've done pretty well with some people. I don't think there's other people I'm ever going to get to or get through to that it's important for their future family generations to have an understanding of what their life was like when they lived here. So...
Amy Sumen [00:25:01] So what are some of the landscape changes that you've seen, either good or bad, that have happened over the years?
Randy Bergdorf [00:25:09] Oh, some of the good landscape changes are, you know, anybody... I mean.... A lot of Boston Township was poor. There was a lot of, you know, country living, people with, you know, chicken yards and, you know, tractors that didn't work that just sat there. I mean, there was a lot of that out here. So visually, that being gone is probably for the better that that stuff isn't there. But, you know, also some of those same people may have had generations back in the community, four or five, six generations. And they had the history and they had the knowledge and they had the... You know, so that's a change. The little shops and little businesses and the little gas stations like MD Garage was an actual working gas station. There was an actual working gas station in Everett, you know, a general store type of thing. A lot of that has gone away. That doesn't mean necessarily that it would have... It wouldn't have eventually anyway. Competing against Giant Eagle, I don't know that the little stores could have stayed. I don't think anybody is going to be able to compete against Giant Eagle. But so, I mean, a lot of that kind of stuff has disappeared, but mostly just the, you know, the family relationships and the interconnectedness and interrelatedness. And you dare not say anything about anybody because you didn't know whose cousin you were talking to or who you were talking to. And inevitably it would have been the wrong person to have said something about someone to. [laughs]
Amy Sumen [00:27:04] So you said you were born in Akron.
Randy Bergdorf [00:27:05] Yes.
Amy Sumen [00:27:06] And then what did you... You came up this way or you...
Randy Bergdorf [00:27:09] My dad has always worked for the Boy Scouts.
Amy Sumen [00:27:12] Right.
Randy Bergdorf [00:27:12] And he got the position to run the scout camps. So we moved from West Akron over near fairlawn School. I guess they call it Judith Resnik Learning Center or something like that now. We lived right behind there, and when my dad got the position out here at scout camp, then we moved into one of the houses that the scout camp provides.
Amy Sumen [00:27:35] Oh cool.
Randy Bergdorf [00:27:35] So that was in 1975. And then when he retired from there, my parents bought a house further up the street. And then when I moved out on my own, I bought a house even further up the street. So...
Amy Sumen [00:27:48] So you kind of have your roots over here in this area.
Randy Bergdorf [00:27:51] Right.
Amy Sumen [00:27:52] In this Boston Heights area.
Randy Bergdorf [00:27:53] Yeah.
Amy Sumen [00:27:54] So very close. And some of these people are your friends?
Randy Bergdorf [00:27:57] Oh, yeah. Yeah. It came to be came to be friends because, you know, as a kid in junior high school, you know, you have your friends on that level, but then as you grow up you get to be friends with most of the kids, especially being in the elected position, you get to know practically everybody, and then being at the library you get to know practically everybody else that comes in. So... Mm hmm.
Amy Sumen [00:28:22] The area that the park took over. What do they do with it now? What is the purpose of it...
Randy Bergdorf [00:28:27] Well, you know...
Amy Sumen [00:28:28] Besides hiking.
Randy Bergdorf [00:28:29] Well, there's, you know, there's different things. A lot of the Oak Hill area became the environmental center and the day use area. Everett is now just all student housing. Some areas are just vacant. There's nothing there. Some trails have been put through some areas. It would depend. There'd be just all sorts of different outcomes.
Amy Sumen [00:28:59] Do you ever use any of those parts of the park?
Randy Bergdorf [00:29:02] Well, see, I use them. I mean, well, we lived at the scout camp. Right across the street was Virginia Kendall. So we were always, I mean, that was where we grew up was between the six hundred acres that was the Boy Scout camp and the three thousand acres that was Virginia Kendall. That was our, as kids, that was our neighborhood. So have always, you know, used things like that, have always visited the Metro Parks and done the hiking and things like that. So.
Amy Sumen [00:29:36] Sounds very nice.
Randy Bergdorf [00:29:38] Mm hmm.
Amy Sumen [00:29:39] I don't I don't really have any other questions. I'm very surprised by all of this, and I wondered if you wanted me to know anything else.
Randy Bergdorf [00:29:51] Not that I can think of. Like I said, it usually comes to me later, like oh, I should have said or...
unknown speaker [00:29:58] I have another question.
Randy Bergdorf [00:29:58] Sure.
unknown speaker [00:29:59] I'm interested in hearing more about creating a book of the history of the Cuyahoga Valley. How did that all come about?
Randy Bergdorf [00:30:08] Well, interestingly, we had opened... Our Cuyahoga Valley Historical Museum and I had worked on putting together the first exhibit. And in the back of my mind when I was putting that exhibit together, I thought with a little bit of finesse and some tweaking here and there, I could turn it into one of those Arcadia books that you see that different communities have. So after the exhibit was up, I called the Arcadia Publishing Company and said, this is, you know, we'd like to... And they said, noope, we don't do books for communities that don't have at least ten thousand people in their zip code. It's our rule. We won't do it. We won't do it. And I tr
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