Thompson Ledges Shows Off New, Evolving Improvements
July 11, 2024 by Rose Nemunaitis

It’s a tradition for the Malones, of Thompson Township, to attend their town’s Fourth of July parade every year.

It’s a tradition for the Malones, of Thompson Township, to attend their town’s Fourth of July parade every year.

After this year’s Independence Day celebration, the young family enjoyed one more familiar stop before heading home — Thompson Ledges Township Park.

“It’s a perfect day for all of us,” said Nari Malone. “Thompson Ledges is an amazing place to visit in our town. We go all the time.”

Foundation for Geauga Parks sent a soft-opening e-invite to the public and parade attendees to visit the park at 16755 Thompson Road, which has had significant and ongoing improvements, including the establishment of a nature education center focusing on geology, ecology and the history of Thompson Ledges, along with a host of outdoor enhancements.

TLTP has a rich history of firsts.

Its timeline, according to township records, shows the site was initially looked at to become a state park in the 1920s until The Great Depression hit and projects were dropped.

In 1940, the citizens of Thompson Township, by a majority vote, established the first park district in Geauga County and one year later, starting with 13 acres, TLTP became the first park managed by the Thompson Township Park Commission.

In 1989, Alex Zebehazy donated funds to build the present park building. In 1997, Richard and Beverly Znidarsic donated toward the purchase of more acreage, and R.W. Sidley, Inc., donated 26 acres at the south end of the park in October of 2021 — making good on a longtime pledge.

The largest monetary donation, however, came from the trust of former resident Francis Spatz Leighton.

Leighton’s Legacy Lives On

Leighton’s dream was to provide and maintain natural land for residents, friends and children in the surrounding area.

Born in 1919 and raised on a small dairy farm in Thompson, Leighton graduated in 1937 from Thompson High School and left her small-town roots to graduate from The Ohio State University.

She went on to become a prolific author, whose book, “My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House,” became an NBC mini-series in 1979.

Leighton, however, never forgot her roots.

After her death in 2007, her trust bequeathed Thompson Township with funds earmarked for the development of a Nature and Learning Center to be housed in the TLTP building constructed in 1989.

Her intention was for the funds to be used for nature, literacy, improving education and encouraging reading.

“I have had a wonderful life and hope my will brings years of added happiness to others,” Leighton had said.


Park Improvements

“We want the visitors to take away an experience that shows and teaches the very unique ecology and geology that can only be found here at the Thompson Ledges,” TLTP Board’s Mike Kuehn said.

Improvements include an observation deck and stairs to access the lower ledges trails, which also received upgrades, including drainage, a gravel base, coverings, boardwalks and a paved parking area.

The Nature and Learning Center project includes both indoor and outdoor displays. Outdoor enhancements boast a life-size black bear, two-dimensional animal silhouettes and seven interpretive panels along the trails slated to be installed late this summer.

The indoor center includes both static and interactive displays focusing on the geology, ecology, floral and fauna that is unique to the northernmost piece of the Sharon Conglomerate in Thompson and that makes the park unique.

A future Donor Wall Branch will allow donors to purchase a leaf with their name, family’s name or business name engraved on a leaf displayed in the center’s entry way.

Artist Robert Kolcum, of Hambden Township, created wall murals depicting the history of Thompson and the ledges, and the township purchased picnic tables using 2020 U.S. Department of Treasury Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding.

A holiday lighting display is also planned if some additional funding can be secured.

“We were just awarded our first grant through the ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) Nature Works program,” Kuehn said. “Special thanks to Geauga Soil and Water (Conservation District) and to Lisa Berkheimer for helping with the grant writing process.”

The $16,000 grant (with an additional 25% match) will be used for more boardwalks and trail improvements slated to start this fall, he said.

“We want the visitors to take away an experience that shows and teaches the very unique ecology and geology that can only be found here at the Thompson Ledges,” Kuehn said.

Nari said she and her family love the new addition.

“It’s a smaller place and this gives it a very personalized touch,” she said. “We enjoy walking down into the ledges on the bottom loop. The rocks and crevices are so big, they make this place seem like a different world. The staircase with the grated floor grants a lot of accessibility now, too, and you feel a lot of excitement standing up there looking all the way down.”

She added, “The trail down through the cliffs is beautiful and we always stop to enjoy the view from the gazebo. It’s not a very long trail, but it’s the perfect length for our family with little kids.”

Geauga Park District Naturalist Dottie Drockton held two free program hikes July 7 at the park.

“First time visitors always tell me they will return,” Drockton said. “The trail and nature center improvements allow easier access and education of visitors to the unique geology, plants, animals and history of this amazing place.”


A Painted History

“This Thompson Ledges Park is a gem within Geauga County and it’s great to see its development into a known park, showcasing its history and contributions to Geauga County and surrounding counties,” said Kolcum, who painted eight murals highlighting the township and ledges’ history, along with a couple murals dedicated to Leighton and her family.

One large mural depicts Thompson Square in the early 1900s, with seven smaller murals showcasing the first inhabitants, settlers, Irish immigrants, World’s Fair, Josef and Bertha Ornstein’s dairy farm, an ownership map for the southeast portion of Thompson Township and Thompson Ledges Township Park in 1941.

“I don’t know the amount of hours I put into painting them, but I worked on the project on and off over a four-month period,” Kolcum said. “It involved researching Thompson Township and the ledges’ history, along with sketching out ideas and talking things over with the very knowledgeable park board members.”

Kolcum would then do a final-colored sketch for the board to approve, before painting each mural.

“It’s great to be part of this project,” he said. “I learned a lot about this very interesting and amazing area within Geauga County. I hope my contribution will be around for a long time for people to enjoy and help them learn about the ledges and Thompson Township.”