Rockefeller and his industrial baron pals built refineries and mills all along the banks of the Cuyahoga River and routed trains along Lake Erie.
Now, following the same waterways, an interconnected series of greenways and trails — for recreation, not ore and oil — is drawing tantalizingly close to completion.
It is, to say the least, a historic change.
“We’re recovering from those decisions made, from a human access standpoint, going back to the late 19th century,” says Sean McDermott, chief planning and design officer for the Cleveland Metroparks. “We’ve been identifying for decades that we need to reclaim the lakefront.”
Last October, the Cleveland Metroparks announced that construction would soon begin on the Wendy Park bridge, an aesthetically modest but functionally vital pedestrian span across the railroad tracks on Whiskey Island that parallel the Lake Erie shoreline.
In addition to the in-planning Irishtown Bend project, the bridge represents the final steps linking the Towpath Trail to Lake Erie.
When the $6 million bridge is completed in 2021, with Irishtown Bend park coming shortly thereafter, it will realize a dream that has eluded Clevelanders for decades: riding your bike on an uninterrupted trail from Wendy Park to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The bridge is also arriving at a moment when new attention is being paid to the lakefront. Last October, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish announced plans to study a network of trails and bike lanes that would stretch along the Lake Erie shore from Bay Village to Euclid.
The vision is to transform the lakefront from a collection of private yacht clubs and industrial sites into a place where everyone can bike, run and enjoy the water.
With the Wendy Park bridge, the Metroparks is presenting a peek into that exciting future. The bridge will link up with the Whiskey Island connector, a trail between Edgewater Park and Wendy Park, and the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail along the river.
“[The bridge] is the literal key,” says McDermott. “The ability to have this bridge unlocks the lakefront. It is the key, the critical link to get people to the lake.”