Our national parks contain some of the most beautiful and breathtaking pristine nature in the country. If you’ve ever visited or camped in one, you might have thought that living in one would be a dream come true. Thanks to a program run in part by the National Park Service (NPS), you might get that chance.
NPS and its partner nonprofit, the Countryside Conservancy, will award three 60-year leases to people who want to rehabilitate old farmhouses and farm the surrounding land in the Cuyahoga Valley of Ohio. The valley is about 33,000 ares between Cleveland and Akron and was conceived of as an island of undeveloped recreational and agricultural space amidst major nearby cities. Successful applicants will join the 10 farmers already on the land.
“The Countryside Initiative program began as a way to protect the rural character of the Cuyahoga Valley,” says Heather Roszczyk, education and marketing manager for the Countryside Conservancy. “In this unique partnership between Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Countryside Conservancy, and the farmers, the cultural resources of the area are preserved while the land is farmed in a sustainable manner.”
Over the years, a number of programs have developed in conjunction with this modern homesteading effort. The Country Initiative manages farmers’ markets for the farm. In 2014, sales at those markets totaled over $1 million. Countryside Initiative also offers gardening classes, food preservation workshops, and tours of the farms themselves. All of these activities generate interest in the farms, which in turn drives up sales of local food, making the whole operation financially sustainable.
“What is so interesting about the program it that it has intersected well with the trends of local farming and fresh foods,” says Craig Kenkel, superintendent of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. “While we were focused on creating this unique program in our park to preserve the valley heritage, we were unknowingly a part of a social movement. One of the values we bring to local foods is that visitors come looking for a national park experience and have the discovery of local farms and fresh foods when they are here.”
Applications will open up later in May or early June. NPS doesn’t expect there will be more leases offered in the near future–so now might be your only chance to live and farm in a national park. People interested in applying can look at past proposals that were accepted to get an idea of what the NPS is looking for. Follow the Countryside Conservancy for news about when applications officially open up.