America's Smallest National Park
It won’t surprise you to know that America’s largest national park is in Alaska. Covering 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is larger than Switzerland.
At the other extreme, America’s smallest national park takes up only a few square yards in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. The David Berger National Memorial consists of a sculpture on the grounds of the Mandel Jewish Community Center. That’s it.
The sculpture, by David E. Davis, is known as the Berger National Memorial. It remembers David Berger, a weightlifter with dual US-Israel citizenship, who was one of the 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Eight Cleveland families, all friends of Berger’s parents, commissioned and paid for the sculpture. It rests on a base of 11 segments representing the athletes who died, one of which is slightly different than the other ten. Resting on the base are five Olympic Rings broken in half. The rings are bent to varying degrees, and the central rings reach for the sky in hope for the future.
Berger’s parents, Dr. Benjamin and Dorothy Berger, were long-time friends of Howard Metzenbaum, who represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate from 1976 to 1995. That fact probably explains how the David Berger Memorial joined the National Park System in March 1980, as part of a larger bill establishing Channel Islands National Park and providing for various small national park items. The establishment legislation for DBNM reads,
“The Secretary of the Interior shall designate the David Berger Memorial located at the Jewish Community Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, as a national memorial. The significance of the memorial in preserving the memory of the eleven Israeli athletes who were assassinated at the Olympic games in Munich, Germany, in 1972 is, by this designation, recognized by the Congress.”
That’s the entire legislative intent.
Some will object that DBNM isn’t really part a national park unit. It’s true that the definition of “national park unit” leaves room for interpretation. Depending on how you count, the total number of sites ranges from about 331 to at least 401. That number leaves out a lot of sites and double counts others, so the definition of “national park unit” is subject to some disagreement.
In its defense, DBNM has an NPS-branded website that looks like every other national park unit website. If you go to the list of national parks in Ohio, it’s listed right between Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, both of which are bona fide national park units.
An NPS flyer at other sites, “National Park Service Areas in Ohio,” lists the David Berger Monument. The site lies under the authority of the superintendent of nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park, though the Mandel Jewish Community Center pays for all upkeep and maintenance. You can even get a National Park Service Passport Cancellation Stamp at the reception desk of the community center.
So, if you can get an NPS stamp there, it has an NPS website, it’s on the list of Ohio national parks on the Internet and in a brochure, and it reports to a national park superintendent . . . . well, it’s a national park unit.
With the Hamilton Grange National Memorial, the David Berger National Memorial is unusual among national park units in having been moved. When the Jewish Community Center in Cleveland Heights closed in 2005, the sculpture spent some time at the McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Laboratory, where it received some restoration work, welding reinforcement, and a fresh coat of corrosion inhibitor. It moved to the Mandel Jewish Community Center in the fall of 2006.
It might move you, too. If your travels take you to Cleveland, the David Berger National Memorial is easily found a few minutes off Interstate 271.
Robert Pahre is Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois, where he teaches and writes about the national parks.