MEDINA COUNTY -- It’s the late 1960s. More than a thousand people are crowded into The Ballroom at Chippewa Lake Park -- a then thriving music venue located at an amusement park located along Chippewa Lake in Medina County.
The venue is alive with excitement. As the crowd waits for The Box Tops to take the stage, they hear the click-clack of a roller coaster train ascending an incline and distant screams as the train descends the steep hill.
“The Ballroom at Chip was built for touring big bands. It was indoor-outdoor, so you could open up the sides if it was nice outside,” Mansfield native Terry VanAuker said.
His band, The Wildlife, frequently played at the amusement park, but their largest show at that particular venue was opening for The Box Tops, an American rock band, known for hits like “The Letter” and “Cry Like a Baby.”
“It was the place to be if you liked music. So they had big name national acts, but smaller gigs still saw crowds of 400, 500 in the same Ballroom," VanAuker said.
About a decade later, the park closed. Three decades later, The Ballroom burnt down. Other buildings met a similar fate in the 2000’s.
Today, the abandoned theme park is overgrown. An old Ferris Wheel, a metal roller coaster track and the remnants of a few other rides are the only features that indicate the property’s history.
But a project led by the Medina County Park District and funded largely through the H2Ohio initiative may one day allow the public to enjoy the site again -- as wetlands and a park.
As part of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine's H2Ohio initiative, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) announced in late January that it will partner with the Medina County Park District to help eliminate toxic algal blooms in Chippewa Lake, Ohio's largest glacial lake.
"Through this new partnership, the Chippewa Lake Wetland Restoration Project will restore more than 20 acres of wetlands in Medina County, including the site of the former Chippewa Lake Amusement Park," Governor DeWine said in a press release. "This property will be transformed into a public park and functioning wetland that will capture nutrients that, otherwise, feed algal blooms in Chippewa Lake."
The Park District also received $750,000 in the state’s capital budget.
The Chippewa Lake Wetland Restoration Project spans three sites in Lafayette and Westfield Townships, one of which is the former amusement park. It is expected to cost $1.52 million and be complete by December 2023.
"Chippewa Lake Amusement Park once attracted visitors from far and wide to the shores of Ohio's largest natural inland lake, and we are excited that this site will, once again, be an area for public recreation when it is reborn as a conservation-focused public park," Medina County Park District Board of Commissioners member Andrew J. de Luna said. "There is a lot of work ahead, but this funding from H2Ohio dramatically accelerates the timeline for making it happen."
The Medina County Park District acquired the amusement park property in June 2020.
The project will focus on diverting water from the Chippewa inlet into more than half a mile of newly restored stream channel to reduce nutrients flowing into the lake, including more than twenty acres of restored wetlands, and will add two acres of restored wetlands geared toward public outreach and educational opportunities for visitors to learn the benefits of these projects.
"Our H2Ohio project will not only benefit Medina County, but also everyone who lives downstream," said Medina County Park District Director Nathan D. Eppink. "The return on this significant investment by H2Ohio will be exponential.”
The immediate goal of the project is to ensure clean and safe water. H2Ohio was launched by Governor Mike DeWine in 2019 as a collaborative water-quality effort.
But it’s the vision for future public access that has people from across the region excited.
“I can’t go anywhere without someone talking about the amusement park,” Eppink said. “I’ve seen a lot of neat old photos. Many people have memories of the park.”
Chippewa Lake Park operated from 1878 through 1978. It featured three roller coasters, a ferris wheel, a carousel, tumble bug and a number of other rides. At one point, there was live music seven days a week.
“Before age ten, my dad took me there. I don’t remember the rides I rode, but I had fun,” Ashland resident Nancy Wasen said.
As a teen, the park fostered her love for rock n’ roll music. Wasen would regularly attend concerts at The Ballroom.
Wasen visited the abandoned park in 2010. At that time, the space was supposed to become a housing development called “Chippewa Landing.” It would include a hotel, spa, fitness center and more.
Regular tours led curious community members through the former amusement park as trees were removed and demolition began.
“I’m one of those people, I find a lot of beauty in decay. Part of me thought it was really cool, but part of me knew my childhood, my teenage years were being erased. It was a mixture of feeling this was really cool and this was sad,” Wasen said.
But the plans for the housing development fell through, and the park sat for another decade.
In 2020, Ashland resident Mark Soergel saw twisted iron tracks and the ferris wheel while visiting the site. He wandered some well-worn paths with a camera in hand.
“It’s mostly trees. It’s basically woods. There’s not very much left of buildings or structures,” he said.
He and Wasen were excited to recently learn that the former amusement would become a space for the public to enjoy in a new way, but hoped the site’s history wouldn’t be erased.
“We’d love to get some public access within the next couple of years, then, more could take place over the next decade,” Eppink said. “People could see the park grow and visit again and again.”
The park district intends to work with a consultant this spring to map out a plan for the property. The park director said in a recent interview that “respecting the past” and “preservation” would be a part of that conversation.
“I’ve had a couple people ask about bringing back an amusement park. It won’t be another amusement park. That’s not in our mission, but resource preservation is, and we hope people will come to enjoy it for what it is today,” Eppink said.
The Medina County Park District, established in 1965, connects people with nature through education and conservation, managing more than 7,500 acres that include 18 parks and preserves, almost 50 trails, Susan Hambley Nature Center, and Wolf Creek Environmental Center.