First Look: Lake Link Trail in Flats opens Friday, has impressive views
CLEVELAND, Ohio - The newest section of the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail on the West Bank of the Flats is a small part of a much bigger trail network emerging in Cleveland. But it easily qualifies as one of the most impressive half-miles in the city.
Scheduled for completion by Friday, the trail cuts through an evolving part of the Cuyahoga riverfront where trucks hauling gravel and salt rumble past condominiums, public housing and 19th century lofts sprinkled with tech startups and cafes.
The trail follows a long disused 19th-century rail spur set below street level that extends from Detroit Avenue to River Road, running mid-block between Center Street and Mulberry Avenue.
Draining a real swamp
Prior to its reclamation by Cleveland Metroparks, which will own and operate the $2.5 million trail, the spur was a deep linear dump that partially resembled a swamp.
“People had dumped trash in it, and there were areas under the [Main Avenue] bridge where water had accumulated,” said Richard Kerber, the former Metroparks planning and design chief who now works part time as a project manager for the parks agency. Now the right-of-way invites you to plunge through a landscape rich with industrial history and future potential.
At Detroit Avenue, the trail edges past a parking lot between the Stonebridge Towers condominiums and the Stonebridge Waterfront apartment building, and cuts underneath a massive arch of the 1878 Superior Viaduct.
The view underneath the arch, which will be lighted at night, offers close-ups of heavy stone blocks stained by water and algae. The pathway then runs north, squeezing between massive concrete and stone retaining walls supporting streets that cross a dozen feet over the V-shaped railroad cut.
The trail also frames vistas of the Detroit-Superior Bridge, Superior Viaduct and the Main Avenue Bridge, which trace rhyming arcs high overhead. A half-mile northwest of Detroit Avenue, the trail meets River Road at Mulberry Avenue, which touches a corner of the Depression-era Lakeview Estates, occupied by hundreds of low-income residents.
The proximity of the trail to one of the oldest federally funded public housing complexes in the city underscores that it’s doing much more than serving budding businesses and well-to-do newcomers.
Another piece of the network
From a regional perspective, the new Lake Link segment is the newest piece of a network emerging around the 101-mile Towpath Trail, which traces the route of the 1832 Ohio and Erie Canal south to New Philadelphia in Tuscarawas County.
Metroparks is collaborating with the city, Cuyahoga County and the nonprofit Canalway Partners to finish the northernmost 5 miles of Towpath in Cleveland by 2020. Last year, it also won $8 million to knit the Towpath together with other lakefront-area trails under the federal TIGER grant program, short for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.
The Lake Link trail, essentially a West Side spur off the Towpath, is led by the nonprofit LAND Studio, which managed the recent renovation of Public Square. Supporters include the Trust for Public Land, the Gund Foundation, and the Cleveland Foundation, which donated $5 million to the project in 2014 and for which the Lake Link is named. When finished, the 1.3-mile trail will extend from Scranton Road on the south end to the Willow Avenue Bridge over the old river channel of the Cuyahoga.
Metroparks is working with the city to add a new walk-and-bike path across the Willow Avenue Bridge, which carries trucks from the Cargill salt mine under Lake Erie and from the Ontario Stone dock on the south side of Whiskey Island.
Kerber also said that Metroparks plans to go to bid late this year on a $6 million bridge designed by Boston architect Miguel Rosales that will carry users from the south side of Whiskey Island across the lakefront CSX rail line to Wendy Park on the lakefront.
South of Detroit Avenue, the Lake Link will eventually connect to Scranton Road by traversing Irishtown Bend, the hillside that has threatened to slide into the Cuyahoga River.
The Port of Cleveland is working on plans to stabilize the slope, and the nonprofit Ohio City Inc. is working with the Port, the city and LAND Studio to plan a 17-acre park there.
Eventually, the Lake Link Trail will connect to branch trails including the proposed Red Line Greenway; a section of the Cleveland Lakefront Bikeway that parallels the reconstructed West Shoreway; and a connector from Whiskey Island to Edgewater Park along Ed Hauser Way.
In the meantime, the new half-mile section of the Lake Link offers numerous satisfactions. And it could hasten further investment.
West Bank developer Rafid Fadul said the new Lake Link segment is an amenity and a recruiting tool for tenants at his Tenk West Bank building at 2111 Center St., which houses a woodworking shop, a coffee roaster, a fitness studio, a co-working space, a photo and video studio and growing tech firms.
“It’s a strong selling point for people who bike to work every day and don’t want to own a car,” he said. The trail is also hastening Fadul’s effort to replace a parking lot behind the Tenk building with a 45,000-square-foot, eco-friendly plaza that will serve as a public gathering spot.
Amenity for Lakeview residents
North of Fadul’s property, the trail edges past Mulberry’s, the sports bar at Main Avenue, where the blue painted girders of the Main Avenue Bridge tower above a pair of sand volleyball courts.
It was there that Roderic Benson, a 30-year-old laborer on a break from demolishing abandoned houses, walked the trail Tuesday in quiet amazement. For Benson, who lives in the Lakeview Estates apartments, the trail is a safe place to walk without confronting trucks roaring off the Willow Avenue Bridge.
“It’s easier to take your kids and dogs out here and you don’t have to deal with traffic,’’ he said. “I look at it as a safer way.’’
Benson was glad to hear that the Lake Link trail would eventually connect him and other Lakeview residents to Lake Erie on Whiskey Island, plus the Towpath and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park south of Cleveland.
“That’s awesome, that’s awesome,” he said. “I think that’s a beautiful thing, who ever came up with that, I’m very thankful that they came up with it. It’s awesome.”