Solving the problem of lakefront access and erosion control; Euclid’s solution inspires progress along Lake Erie

Published: Jun. 12, 2023 at 4:22 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Lake Erie is one of the greatest natural resources in the world, but unlocking the lake’s potential, as well as making the shoreline accessible to everyone, has proven to be a significant problem in Northeast Ohio.

While Ohio has just over 300 miles of shoreline, only about 20% is publicly accessible, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources

There is not a simple solution, and certainly not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, but the Euclid community has at least cracked the code to the point where people have taken notice.

Could the public-private deal that turned a crumbling section of the city’s shoreline into a beautiful lakefront trail, while at the same time stopping significant erosion in its tracks, be worked out in other shoreline communities?

19 Solutions: How can we improve Lake Erie access? - Part 1

“It’s so exciting and it’s a true sense of pride for the community and it took us a lot to get here,” said Euclid Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer-Gail. “I think there’s a lot of people that thought we couldn’t do it and every time I come down here it’s just phenomenal.”

It was a labor of love, the mayor said, and it started with the renovation of the Joseph Farrell Fishing Pier, which juts into the lake at East 230th and Lakeshore Boulevard. Located at Sims Park, the sit now includes a waterfront trail that meanders for about a three-quarters of a mile east from the pier along the shoreline.

Getting that trail built took years and extended negotiations with over 100 lakefront stakeholders who held private access to the shoreline. But the ace in the hole that the city had was that the shoreline had started to significantly erode, and paying for erosion control was immensely expensive; for many of the lakefront stakeholders, repair costs were out of reach.

While the deal was complicated, in many respects it came down to a simple solution; the city would pay for erosion control, saving the crumbling cliffs, while lakefront land owners would give access to build the trail.

At the time of the negotiations, Joe Martin was the president of the Lake Edge Home Owners Association, which included about 25 homes. Martin was concerned that the property was in peril due to erosion; certainly it had taken a toll on the association’s access, as the concrete pad at the bottom of the cliff that members used for gatherings was crumbling.

“Like any other time you get a group together people have different opinions but we had many, many meetings and everybody was transparent including the city, the developer and the construction manager,” Martin said, “And that’s what really did it.”

Concern for privacy was the number one issue for the majority of stakeholders, and that privacy remains intact as public access to the trail is, for now, limited to Sims Park.

A third phase of the project is planned that will include a restaurant and a beach house that rents kayaks and paddleboards. The trail will also be connected to Lakeshore Boulevard to complete a three mile loop.

Lakefront access was a key component of this, but making sure high lake levels did not take out property was critical.

Christine McIntosh, Euclid’s Planning and Development Coordinator, said the erosion control measures have worked beyond expectations.

“As we walk through the trail look at the rock, look at the vegetation that’s growing, look at the sand accumulation, how the beaches are beaches again,” she said. “[Project developers] have stated it’s all working better than expected.”

Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne points to the Euclid project as a shining of example of what he hopes to see along the rest of the lakeshore.

“We need to start acting like the freshwater capital we are, the Great Lakes city that we are,” Ronayne said. “We’re a city where the river burned, and has now returned. Our best days are ahead.”

19 Solutions: How can we improve Lake Erie access? - Part 2

In March 2022, Cuyahoga County released a 102-page report that outlined plans to stabilize the eroding shoreline while expanding pubic access to Lake Erie.

According to SmithGroup, the planning firm commissioned to develop the report, nearly 80% of the county’s 32 miles of shoreline is privately owned and inaccessible to the public.

As far as Ronanye is concerned, the time for moving the plan forward is way overdue.

“We’ve talked for years about lakefront access but we haven’t acted on it, so what happened in Euclid was a game changer,” Ronayne said, “I am looking forward to working with our other shoreline communities on connections.”

No one said that opening up access to the lakefront was going to be easy but it has to happen for northeast Ohio to fully reach its potential, to use the asset we possess that draws the best and the brightest, and put an end to the population loss that in some respects has become a talent drain in Northeast Ohio.