I refused to stay in during the one genuinely rainy day I experienced in Ohio. During the worst of the downpours I was inside my car or a building, but in between I was outside. One place I visited was the newest Ohio State Park, Wingfoot Lake.
Located outside Akron, Wingfoot Lake has an interesting history. While American parks celebrate nature and the outdoors, their history is tied to the history of business. And often its not the Manicheistic struggle between ‘good’ Nature and ‘evil’ Man the media trumpets to us.
Wingfoot Lake State Park is on land previously owned by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, headquartered in nearby Akron. The lake and surrounding property were purchased in 1916 for the construction of airships for the US Navy. While the airplane was a weapon with potential, the airship was also of keen interest to the military, and for the next five decades Goodyear constructed both blimps and the US Navy’s two dirigible airships, USS Macon and USS Akron. Goodyear’s first corporate blimp was launched in 1925.
As the the navy’s need for blimps declined following World War II Goodyear found itself with lots of vacant wooded land near their Wingfoot Lake facility. Since much of the workforce of the company was located near Akron, they opened Wingfoot Lake Park as a recreational facility for their employees. Park attendance peaked in the 1980s at 100 thousand visitors a year. But in 2006 Goodyear closed the park as fewer and fewer visitors used it each year. The state of Ohio purchased 600 some acres, and opened 121 acres along the lake as a State Park in 2009.
The day I visited I was the only person their aside from park staff and a fisherman. I walked the paved pathways that ran along the lake, ducking into a picnic shelter or under trees as the rain waxed and waned. The lake is the main attraction at the park, and even in the rain it was pretty. I walked about a mile on the pavement, following the shore of the lake past a small marsh filled with frogs. Had it been a sunny day, the park would have picnickers and boats would have been on the lake. Now it was just the frogs, the birds, and me.
The boaters and picnickers weren’t the only ones affected by the weather. When Goodyear closed their employee park and sold the land, they kept their airship facility on the far side of the lake. There are four Goodyear blimps, three in the US and one in China, and the Spirit of Goodyear is based at Wingfoot Lake. Looking across the lake, one can see the hanger, the mooring mast, and, this day, the Spirit of Goodyear. The weather kept the airship grounded, and the Spirit of Goodyear floated at its mast, drifting as the wind blew. Yes, its an advertising icon, and some might object to seeing that on a hike or park visit, but the blimp is also a piece of history, much like a steam train. And floating across the lake the big balloon was an example of corporate ‘good citizenship’ as I walked the pathways at an Ohio State Park.