Cities are healthier as a whole when nature is invited in. So we are not just protecting parklands and high-quality natural areas. We are rebuilding cities in Northeast Ohio by reweaving nature into the urban landscape—restoring nature’s capacity to provide beauty, cooling, water retention and filtration, quiet, air purification and many other ecological functions.
From the creation of the Cleveland Metroparks to smaller wonders, Northeast Ohio has some shining examples of restoring natural function to the land. Ecological restoration is the practice of renewing and restoring degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems and habitats in the environment by active human intervention and action.
Below are examples of projects that have a goal of reviving native habitat and ecological functioning.
1. Nature Center at Shaker Lakes
Fifty years ago, American cities were in a fit of highway building. Cleveland and two of its suburbs—Shaker and Cleveland Heights —turned back one that would have cut through acres of trees and filled in a big part of Doan Brook. Instead, a greenway dotted with lakes, brooks and forests was preserved. The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes was built to educate future generations on how to live in balance with nature. It has led to important restoration work to eradicate invasive species and reintroduce native plants. This year, the Shaker Lakes celebrated half a century with its “flyways not highways” campaign to mark its place as an Important Bird Area.
2. West Creek
West Creek was conceived when a small group of visionaries set out to purchase property in Parma with the idea of linking it up as a major network of recreational trails and green space. After years of making land deals, the West Creek Conservancy convinced the Cleveland Metroparks to take over management of 324 acres. Habitat restoration is underway, and a Watershed Stewardship Center was built to demonstrate green building, research and community action to protect urban watersheds.
When Acacia Country Club went on the auction block, they found a very special buyer who planned to remove the golf course and convert it into a nature preserve. The $14 million purchase by The Conservation Fund set the table for the Cleveland Metroparks to take it over. Like the former Orchard Hills golf club in Geauga County, Acacia is on a new course, balancing restoration with public access on 155 acres in Lyndhurst. “Daylighting” a branch of the Euclid Creek that runs through it, wildflower meadows, forests, wetlands, and trails are in the 40-year plan.
4. Beachwood city (RTA median) park
When Shaker Boulevard was conceived by the Van Sweringen brothers in the 1920s, it included a wide median for the Rapid. Train tracks were never extended east (as planned to Brainard Circle and on to Gates Mills Boulevard) but the median remained a natural area. RTA sold the land to Beachwood and the idea for a nature park was hatched in 2005. A small lake, meadows and recreation trails have been added to the 1.5 mile-long, popular park.
5. Dike 14
For decades, Dike 14 was where soil dredged from the Cuyahoga River was placed. Now, it is the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve. Volunteers and organizations like the Natural History Museum worked with The Port, the state and the city to see the potential realized at this 88-acre green space jutting into Lake Erie at the northern end of MLK Drive. Plans are underway to improve the woodlands and meadows for the many birds and butterflies that stop here on migration. Public access has been expanded to full time.
6. Morley Road Stream Restoration
When Lake County realized a dam and 75-year-old lake near Morley Road was failing, it was drained and a restoration plan was drawn up. Stream banks were stabilized with native shrub vegetation of dogwood, willow, buttonbush, sycamore and speckled alder. “The project was constructed this spring and is doing fine,” says Tom Denbow of Biohabitats, the firm that designed the ecological restoration. “Narrow-leaved cattail dominates the site now. But as trees begin to grow, we expect them to be shaded out as the site transforms from a pond mud flat to a wooded riparian area.”
7. Mentor Marsh
“You can’t mow it, drowned it, or burn it,” David Kriska, Biodiversity Coordinator at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, says about phragmites, an invasive species, and the monumental effort to eradicate it from 500 acres of emergent marsh near Mentor Headlands State Park and beach. Actually, twelve times the tall, oily swamp grass has caught fire, costing the city of Mentor $1.58 million to contain. But, a phoenix started to rise after one, particularly memorable blaze in 2003. The fire—and capping off a salt dump site—cleared the way for an ecological restoration effort that continues to this day. “Yes, we’re using herbicide (at a low 2% dilution rate), but nature’s coming back. We’ll go from a mono culture of a million (phragmite) stems per acre to 90 new species.” From swamp milkweed to leopard frogs, great egrets and osprey nesting in trees, the marsh is slowly being transformed into a diverse ecosystem.
8. Scranton Flats
In one of the more ambitious restoration projects, a bend in the Cuyahoga River known as the Scranton Flats has seen a lot of action lately. Lake going tankers ply the waters south of the Flats entertainment district where a river bank is being returned to nature. Viewable from the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge’s north facing overlook, the site has a new segment of bike trail that will link it with the Towpath Trail. It late summer, it is blanketed in the vibrant yellow of blackeyed susans. An ingenious natural bulkhead of underwater plantings protects the crooked river from eroding and provides a safe haven for aquatic life.
9. Wildwood Park
Where the Euclid Creek meets Lake Erie, near E. 174th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard in Cleveland, volunteers with Friends of Euclid Creek are helping to promote an ecosystem revival. Bioswales and wetlands have been planted all along the creek bed in an effort to keep stormwater from doing damage and to create a more natural edge between manmade and natural areas in this city park.
10. Redline Greenway
Dubbed “Cleveland’s High Line,” a 3-mile corridor where the RTA RedLine runs between West 65th and the Flats (on an elevated track), is on the fast track for a restoration. The recipient of recent grants, The RLG is pretty wild, but still ripe for a conversion from invasives to natives and from train access only to a recreation corridor with a bike/jogging trail with a view.