Washed Up 

Is there any hope for Cleveland's deteriorating lakefront parks?

Page 3 of 3

Politically, Zimmerman sees potential support in polling done by the Metroparks that shows Cuyahoga County voters in favor of expanding into urban communities, including adding the lakefront parks. Yet a big levy might fail if it's seen as shifting the burden to local taxpayers, especially without a major investment by the state.

What could persuade the state to sink a lot of money into the parks and then turn over management to the Metroparks? Privately, city leaders speculate that the answer might lie in creating a political opportunity for Kasich.

The governor often says how much he likes Cleveland, and he has been spending more time in Northeast Ohio, most recently to announce a funding plan for the Innerbelt bridge. He also likes to say that he doesn't think about his political future, yet it's no secret that votes in Cuyahoga County are important to statewide office seekers. This leads some city officials to think that Kasich may want to curry favor here.

Turning over the parks to another manager would also save Ohio money in the long run, something that's consistent with the Kasich administration's fiscally conservative image.

"It makes economic sense when you consider what the state now has to pay annually," says Silliman. "We're hopeful that the state will consider making a capital contribution."

Polensek is slightly less politic on the subject. "I keep hearing John Kasich wants to do things smarter and more efficiently," he says. "Well — this is smarter and more efficient."

Even as the future of the lakefront state parks remains in limbo, groups of citizen activists have banded together to maintain the parks and fight for basic upkeep.

Stephen Love, a Cleveland Heights resident who first visited Euclid Beach a few years ago during a trip to his grandmother's house in North Collinwood, now organizes monthly beach cleanups as president of the Friends of Euclid Beach. He also helped organize this summer's Euclid Beach Blast festival.

Mandy Metcalf has organized an Urban Beach Ambassador program with the Friends of Euclid Beach and another local nonprofit organization called Drink Local Drink Tap. About a dozen volunteers have signed on to help do regular maintenance in the parks.

These advocates do not all agree that Metroparks control would solve the parks' problems. Metcalf, for one, fears the loss of state funding, and says that either agency could effectively manage the parks "with enough resources and local accountability."

Yet most agree that the parks could be much more. Metcalf envisions the lower pavilion at Edgewater as a signature gathering place for summer concerts. The Friends group raised money this year to hold a small concert series.

For now, she'd be happy if ODNR simply fixed the women's bathrooms, which have holes in the stall doors. "It's a little shocking to people who use them," she says.

As far as Euclid Beach goes, Northeast Shores Development Corporation is nearly done facilitating a master plan and wish list that will guide the future development of their parks. Elements include a new fishing pier, boardwalk, nature preserve, trail linkages, pedestrian bridge, picnic pavilions, concession stand, and possibly ball fields.

Future improvements to water quality at Euclid Beach will also help. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District is building a $200 million storage tank to reduce the number of combined sewer overflows (basically, raw sewage discharges into Lake Erie), many of which emanate from a large pipe near Euclid Beach, from 60 to 80 per year down to about four.

Lakefront park advocates are also banding together to help raise money for future improvement projects. The Lakefront Conservancy is a new nonprofit that aims to leverage public investment in the parks to raise private dollars for needed projects.

"We want to bring Cleveland's lakefront state parks up to signature status with other great parks that are all around the country," says Lynn Gearity of the Conservancy.

Yet their success will depend largely on who is managing the parks, and what they intend to do. It will be tough to raise money from foundations or individuals if there isn't a plan in place for drastic improvements.

If all that dreaming by the activists seems unrealistic, look no further than the newly opened Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve, an 88-acre park on the east side. The location, adjacent to Gordon Park, is a birders' paradise with downtown and lake views.

In 2010, the preserve was a stalled project that had been languishing for years. The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority owned a dredging disposal facility called Dike 14 on the site, which environmental tests had shown could be turned into a park. When Port CEO Will Friedman arrived in Cleveland via Indianapolis, he made creating the park a top priority.

In February of this year, the nature preserve opened to the public. The Port Authority collaborated with the Metroparks, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, environmentalists, the city, and other partners to clean up the site, fence it off, and create a 1.3-mile, unpaved loop trail.

Beyond that, not much was required. The Port spent $21,879 building a gate, fencing, and signage, and preparing logos and a survey. It has budgeted $57,000 in 2012 for maintaining, upgrading, and marketing the park. The Metroparks staff is helping with trail maintenance.

"This project should be inspirational for the community," says Friedman, noting that it's not unusual for ports in other cities to play a key role in maintaining waterfront parks.

Along the rest of the lakefront, the best hope for improvement probably lies with the Metroparks. With the right packaging, advocates are optimistic that the public might approve an expanded levy next year.

"I've always thought if you put a well thought-out green space proposal to voters, they'll buy it," says David Beach, director of the GreenCityBlueLake Institute at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. "Ideally, Cleveland's lakefront should be seen as a regional resource that benefits all of Northeast Ohio, and the entire region should support it."

Zimmerman is similarly upbeat about the Metroparks playing a role in ensuring higher-quality access to the lakefront in the future.

"Anytime you can connect land, water, and people together, it's an amazing thing," he says. "The lakefront is an amazing asset, and we feel there's an opportunity to preserve, enhance, and protect these natural resources for the future."

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