Crown Point recreates outdoor spaces for inclusion, meditation

by Wendy Turrell

Crown Point Ecology Center is more than just a green space to grow produce. The 115-acre property, founded by the Dominican Sisters of Peace, includes recently restored gardens and trails, following its mission to connect with the natural world, be an example of sustainable agriculture and act as a refuge for the spirit.

Two unique gardens provide very different meditative experiences. In 1995, Sr. Marilyn Mihalic created the Meadow Labyrinth, which reproduces the inlaid design on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France. The garden is designed for walking meditation, and people start walking on an outside path, follow a spiral to the center, then retrace their steps to the outside while praying or quietly seeking tranquility.

The Medicine Wheel garden embodies Native American principles and was originally constructed in 2014 from the design of Sun Bear, an author of books on Native American Earth astrology. A central boulder represents a creator. Four large colored stones mark the cardinal directions where four paths begin. These represent the values of self, family, relationships and purpose. Smaller stones along the paths reflect various Native American concepts such as sacred family, totem animals and spirit pathways.

Crown Point Executive Director Kevin Gross said, “Over the past several years, with more infrequent usage due to the pandemic and other circumstances, the space became a bit overgrown and really needed some work to get it back to a space we could be proud of.”

The Labyrinth garden at Crown Point was modeled after a cathedral floor in France. Photos courtesy of Kevin Gross.

A core of dedicated volunteers and Crown Point staff reshaped the space in 2021, maintaining Sun Bear’s design concepts while simplifying maintenance and incorporating new elements to make the space relatable to all visitors. Native American perennial plants including “Mother Sage,” “Father Sage” and yarrow were planted along the paths, and benches were added for rest and contemplation.

The garden’s name was changed to the Meditation Garden to reflect its new inclusiveness. An informational sign will soon be installed to explain the meaning of the stones, plants and how to walk the paths according to the Medicine Wheel tradition.

“In 2022, we were thrilled and honored to host a Northern Cheyenne family to facilitate an entire week of summer camp for children here … and they helped us complete our meditation garden by smudging and blessing the space,” said Gross.

The custom of “smudging” incorporates burning incense-like herbs, and the Cheyenne used the Mother and Father Sage that was grown in Crown Point’s greenhouse. Gross said the Northern Cheyenne gave Crown Point the plants’ seeds, which is a rare gift and indicates a high level of trust from the Cheyenne.

“It was so amazing to hear the blessing and song in the Northern Cheyenne’s native language while we had members of the Jewish community, Catholic community and others present,” Gross said.

The Prairie Walk and the new Sister Pat’s Wildlife Orchard Walk begin at the edge of Crown Point’s prairie field. The trails offer an amble through a prairie pollinator habitat full of butterflies, moths, grasshoppers and wildflowers during the spring and summer months. Sister Pat’s Walk was planted in honor of Crown Point Ecology Founder, Sr. Patricia Sigler.

“Sister Pat loved all of Earth’s creatures and was a true conservationist, so this trail is the perfect tribute to honor her memory as it has so much biodiversity,” Gross said.

Gross is in his first year as executive director with Crown Point, having held several positions prior with the Conservancy for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. He said he is appreciative of the volunteers who help with the many Crown Point gardens, trails and projects. He singled out Verna Vander-Kooi, who has taken it upon herself to be the caretaker of the Labyrinth.

Gross also recognized volunteer Nancy Gardner, who is presenting a series of wellness workshops at Crown Point. She is owner of NG Energy, a licensed massage therapist, polarity therapy practitioner and certified instructor of Tai Chi, Kung Fu and Qigong, according to Crown Point’s website.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Nancy, who is one of the volunteers that has really helped us, first to construct the Medicine Wheel, and she also spearheaded the movement to rejuvenate the space last year,” Gross said.

Gardner’s wellness series is called “Rejuvenate Your Body. Refresh Your Mind.” The next class will take place on Sunday, April 16. More information about Gardner’s classes and all Crown Point Center events can be found at ∞

Featured Photo: The Meditation Garden at Crown Point Ecology Center embodies Native American principles with a central boulder representing a creator and four large colored stones as the cardinal directions, representing the values of self, family, relationships, and purpose.