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OKI Wanna Know: More about the history of Eden Park's rules and regulations

eden park overlook view
Ilyce Meckler

With our feature OKI Wanna Know, we try to answer listener questions. Sometimes those questions lead to more questions. That's the case this week as we revisit a story about Eden Park. WVXU's Bill Rinehart has the rest of the story.

The OKI Wanna Know story from Sept. 29 had five questions that seemed simple enough. But former member of the Cincinnati Public Radio board of directors Tysonn Betts heard one and thought something was missing. The question was: Why can't you turn left coming out of Eden Park Overlook on Sundays from noon to 10 p.m.?

"If you were to go and ask members of the African American community or residents of Eden Park, you'd very quickly uncover that there has been, I think, a long-standing tension in what would be considered to be a cultural gathering of Black folks in Eden Park," he says.

Betts says some of those tensions may have died down with the traffic restrictions the city enacted.

The Overlook was popular with people young and not-so-young, according to Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Tyrone Yates. He was a city councilman in the '90s.

"At that time and in those years, it was really a popular fad to drive around the Eden Park circle, playing and showing off your car and your music," he says. "And the music happened to be loud."

Bill Rinehart
The park is busy on a Wednesday morning in November.

Yates says he can understand how the music and engine noise may have irritated some of the park's neighbors.

"They probably didn't appreciate the congestion either, but I think the major issue was the noise. I think that any citizen of any background of any race would have the same concerns in their neighborhood, no matter what the race."

Yates says in this case, the people complaining about the noise were probably not Black, while many of those in the park were. He says that's where the tensions arose.

"Those tensions aren't specific or new to Cincinnati. But the world is becoming, I think, more integrated. And as the world becomes more integrated and we move forward as a society I think we have every reason for continued hope."

Yates says he believes the traffic rules limiting cruising through the park, combined with noise ordinances, helped to defuse some of the tensions around the park. And they might have then, but two years ago, there was another effort to restrict access. One resident believes it was another attempt to keep Black people from socializing around the Twin Lakes.

History repeats itself?

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, local governments across the country closed parks and playgrounds to prevent people from gathering in large groups and potentially spreading the disease. The Eden Park Overlook was one of the local parks closed. A staff report recommending closing the park to vehicles also cited noise complaints from neighbors and park visitors.

eden park playground during covid
Ilyce Meckler
The playground at Eden Park is covered in police tape in April 2020 to help stop the spread of the then-novel coronavirus.

June Hill-Cable loves going to the overlook with her mother. "She can't walk well at all. I would drive up, pull up near the overview, allow her to look over the beautiful scenery, the river, and could not do it. It was shut down. There were gates there."

The Cincinnati Park Board voted in May 2020 to close the area to vehicle traffic.

While the park was open to pedestrians, Hill-Cable says that left out people with mobility issues, like her mother.

"This wasn't about my family, or my mother, or me personally," she says. "It was about an entire community that was being denied the right to have permanent access to a public park."

The closure also spotlighted what Hill-Cable points to as the bigger issue.

"In the African American community, we have felt that it has really been a definite racial issue of why they have been trying to close the park down. So, I feel that some of the residents of Eden Park used the pandemic as their way of now permanently keeping the park closed."

When Hill-Cable heard Cincinnati City Council was considering making the closure permanent, she started circulating a petition and building a coalition. The Parks Board reversed the policy and council dropped the plan to close the Overlook to traffic. It was reopened to vehicles in mid-June 2020.

"To close the park was just the wrong decision to make," she says. "And the Park Board, they realized that this was a detrimental decision to make to the community at-large. And that's my concern; not only are you disenfranchising the urban core, you're disenfranchising the entire community of Cincinnati and greater Northern Kentucky."

Hill-Cable says the issue of the park may be settled for now, but she's not done with activism. She's taking what she learned in her brief campaign, and teaching others how to petition government and build coalitions.

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Rinehart has been a radio reporter since 1994 with positions in markets like Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio; and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.