Upscale camping coming soon to Cuyahoga Valley National Park at new Valley Overlook campground and cabins

Congratulations to our client on their renewed plans for a private campground inside the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. H&LA was pleased to work with the Schoen family on the feasibility study for this project. We look forward to seeing all come together!

Published by: Glaser
Published Date: June 2023

You can hike throughout Cuyahoga Valley National Park. You can bike, bird, kayak and ski in the park too. You can even ride a scenic railroad.

What you haven’t been able to do – at least not recently – was camp.

That’s about to change, with the debut of Valley Overlook at Camp Mueller, a new private campground and cabin community in the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley.

A Brecksville family is planning to open the upscale campground next month on the 62-acre property that formerly housed Camp Mueller, a former summer camp for city kids.

“It’s a really special place,” said Terry Schoen, who is working with his wife, Janet, and adult children to ready the space. “The towpath is across the street. The river’s right here. We’re a mile from Blossom.”

It was never Schoen’s intent to open a campground inside the national park, but after repeatedly driving by the fenced property, he called the owner, the Phillis Wheatley Association, a Cleveland-based social service organization that opened Camp Mueller back in the 1930s.

Schoen’s original plan was to help the organization clean up the property. “Six months later, I called back and asked that if they would ever think of selling the property, please let me know,” said Schoen.

The sale went through in March 2022, after a lengthy back and forth with the national park.

An easement between the park and the Phillis Wheatley Association, signed in 2016, guarantees minimal development on the land and transferred with the sale of the property to the Schoens.

The Schoens paid $900,000 for the camp, according to Summit County property records.

The national park had an option to buy the property, but declined, said Pamela Barnes, community engagement supervisor with the park.

The easement, she said, serves to preserve and protect the land – which is the park’s goal. She noted that there are numerous private property owners across the park’s 33,000 acres.

“There are various ways that parks can preserve land,” she said, including easements and leasing agreements. “We didn’t need to purchase it to protect it.

The property is located at 4451 Akron Peninsula Road, just north of Bolanz Road, a half-mile from the Ohio and Erie Towpath Trail, a short walk to the Cuyahoga River and a mile from Blossom Music Center. “You can hear the music on our property at night,” Terry Schoen said.

The land features nine buildings, including a large brick dining hall, circa 1938, with kitchen, showers and bathrooms; along with numerous cabins that are being gutted and renovated and readied for the summer season. There’s also a building called the Boathouse that features two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a loft sleeping area. (“I don’t know why it was called the boathouse,” said Schoen. “It’s not near the water.”)

When the rehab work is complete this summer, Valley Overlook should feature five or six four-season cabins, all with bathrooms and kitchens; up to eight sites where you can pitch your own tent; and as many as 16 fully furnished platform tents, also known as canvas cabins.

The company is expecting to launch online reservations as soon as this week for overnights starting in mid-May. However, the facility may have limited offerings to start, as it awaits required permits from the state of Ohio.

Janet Schoen said the family plans to gather feedback from early guests and expand offerings based on demand. It’s possible the campground could add RV sites sometime in the future, she said.

“We would eventually like to offer a little of everything,” said Andrew Schoen, who is helping his parents develop the campground.

A handful of units were available last year on a trial basis. Prices for this year have not yet been announced.

Barnes, with the park service, said park visitors have been asking for years for camping inside the park. “A private entity can fulfill that need very, very well,” she said. “We’re thrilled that they’re doing this.”

The national park has offered camping before, but it was very limited and without access to running water or restrooms.

The Conservancy for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park operated five primitive campsites a short walk from the historic Stanford House, a rental home within the park. The campsites were closed in 2019, however.

The establishment of Camp Mueller, meanwhile, predates the national park by decades.

The camp was created in 1938 by Jane Edna Hunter, a social activist in Cleveland who founded the Phillis Wheatley Association, which was initially focused on assisting young Black women.

For decades, the camp served as a rural retreat for Black children, primarily from Cleveland. In recent years, the camp became more of a day-use facility. Many of the buildings were in disrepair.

Richard King, executive director of the Phillis Wheatley Association, declined to comment for this story but said he would be available to talk about the sale at a later date.

The camp in 1974 was incorporated into the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, which became Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 2000.

Janet Schoen said when she walked the property for the first time, she was reminded of the times her family camped when her kids were younger.

“It’s going to be so nice to see people on the property again,” she said.

Valley Overlook, by the way, refers to a hilltop overlook on the property, offering terrific sunset views.

Terry Schoen said the campground’s purpose is to enhance the national park – not compete with it. Campers should not expect swimming pools, game rooms or shuffleboard courts on the property.

“This isn’t that,” he said. “We want the park to be the main activity. We want people to exhaust themselves hiking and biking and canoeing in the park. If they have too much energy at night, they didn’t do it right.”