The October installment of the series, Natural Cleveland, returns to the Flats where naturalist and illustrator Jill Collins spent some time observing the land and water for signs of seasonal change.
Our city’s waterways are different now than they once were. Ponds are formed in the fragmented areas of parking lots. The natural creeks that ran through the eastern and western Cleveland neighborhoods are underground, but during storms, water floods the sides of the streets creating artificial creeks.
These artificial waterways create habitat for plants and wildlife. At the base of Willey Avenue and along the train tracks there is a semi-permanent, though unnatural wetland, complete with snapping turtles, muck, phragmites (Phragmites australis), and algae.
A number of other species thrive here. House sparrows are always found perched on the phragmites. A peregrine falcon watches for prey from the heights of the telephone wires. Migratory birds rest above the wet habitat on their way south. Wildlife and waterways facilitate the spread seeds, including the invasive Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). The pretty, white flowers are done now, but the small, red fruits remain on the leafless stems throughout winter. They remind me of Christmas decorations.
The Cuyahoga River’s natural banks have been completely rebuilt by humans to serve as a shipping channel. It is hard to imagine the river 200 years ago when there were plentiful fish, mussels, and beaver dams. The river is changing again, more recently, and for the better. Several organizations are trying to restore habitat for the small fry (juvenile fish). If you sit along the river, you will see occasional fish movement. I think that the fish I have seen often are common carp, an invasive.
A Cleveland.com article from 2015 suggests that native fish are beginning to return to the river, and that water quality has improved enough to sustain some pollution intolerant species. It is unclear whether the improvement is shared by the portion of the river closest to downtown and whether the walleye fry mentioned in the article could be seen there. From the Ezra Pound memorial park, you can see a native mallow bush (Malva sp.), just one single plant in bloom across the river. The flowers will be done now, but check out the brilliant pink next August. With the Metroparks’ restoration of the river, hopefully more and more native species will appear in the coming years.