It’s easy to see why Rocky River, with its assortment of exquisite shops, dining and recreational opportunities, attracts visitors from Northeast Ohio and beyond. But the city isn’t resting on its laurels. Instead, civic and community leaders are looking beyond the horizon, embracing a commitment to environmental stewardship that’s sure to be appreciated by generations to come.
“When I deliver the annual State of the City address, I talk about a variety of investments, including those involving the building department and commercial and residential projects,” says mayor Pamela Bobst, who’s beginning her 17th year at the helm. “But environmental stewardship is also a topic I highlight, because it’s incredibly important. Rocky River is located on the shores of Lake Erie, a beautiful lake that’s our greatest natural asset. We’re dedicated to taking care of it and the environment that surrounds it.”
For more than three decades, the Arbor Day Foundation has awarded the city a Tree City USA designation for its commitment to maintaining a tree board or department, instituting a community tree ordinance, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and celebrating Arbor Day. Additionally, the foundation presented Rocky River with a Growth Award for the city’s fastidious attention to tree care administered by four arborists on staff and hosting community engagement events throughout the year.
The mayor points with pride to the infrastructure investments the city has made in a walkability program that keeps sidewalks in tip-top shape for walking and biking; revitalizing Bradstreet’s Landing, including refurbishing 300 feet of the pier overlooking Lake Erie to ensure it meets ADA standards, and restoring Spencer Creek to maintain its natural habitat; and installing permeable pavement and vaults that draw stormwater to nearby trees, thus keeping it out of the sewer system. Additionally, grant money has been allocated for traffic signalization and air-quality control along heavily traveled Center Ridge Road.
“And when it comes to recycling, we have a variety of different options for our residents,” Bobst says. “They can drop off clothing, sheets and towels in bins at the service department or donate items to Habitat for Humanity, which offers a pickup service several times a year. Those efforts create awareness that our trash can be someone else’s treasure.”
The Chamber Steps Up
Angela Barth, executive director of the 430-member Rocky River Chamber of Commerce, appreciates the ingenuity her city has demonstrated in protecting and preserving our environment. In 2018, the Chamber added to that resourcefulness by orchestrating Planting Day, an annual event where members of the organization’s Public Service Committee voluntarily adopt one of the parks for a year. They do general cleanup in city parks, such as Rocky River Park or Elmwood Park, before spreading mulch and creating new landscaping.
“Chamber members are proud of all we’ve done in Rocky River over the years and wanted to add a community service component,” Barth says.
The Public Service Committee maintains the space throughout the summer, picking up litter and making sure the plants they’ve added are thriving.
“People are surprised to see us out there getting our hands dirty,” she says. “But we want to be active and give back to our community. We are proud to be hands-on volunteering and being physically present.”
Let’s face it: Many of us don’t give a second thought to the dirty water we drain from our sinks and tubs — much less what we flush down our toilets. But Nick Barille does. As superintendent of the Rocky River Wastewater Treatment Plant, he oversees wastewater treatment for the communities of Rocky River, Westlake, Bay Village and Fairview Park — which amounts to a staggering 15 million gallons of water each day. Over the course of a year that adds up to more than 5 billion gallons of wastewater — nearly enough to fill 8,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools (and that’s not counting the water the plant recycles from overflowing storm sewers during periods of heavy rain and melting snow).
Water is treated in small parameters at the plant and, when ready for reuse, discharged into Lake Erie. After that, it’s pulled from the lake by the Cleveland Water Department and made potable for use throughout Northeast Ohio.
“The EPA’s Clean Water Act of 1972 established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges in the waters of the United States,” Barille says. “Currently, we use sodium hypochlorite for disinfection and odor control, sodium bisulfite for chlorine removal and ferric chloride for phosphorous removal. We continue to monitor our treatment plan to reduce the amount of nutrients that find their way into Lake Erie and cause algal blooms.”
Barille invites residents interested in water purification to tour the plant.
“It’s important to continue to raise public awareness about the ways they can make a positive environmental impact,” he says.
Investing in the Environment
When it comes to maintaining environmental stewardship, safety and security are also critical components of the equation. From ensuring sidewalks and crosswalks are easy to navigate to planting trees in public and private spaces to reduce energy costs and installing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, Rich Snyder, Rocky River’s director of public safety service, takes it all in stride.
“As a community, we take pride in being proactive,” he says. “We’re always taking steps to promote initiatives that we can do as a city and as an administration to guide some of the stewardship we see nationally and bring it down to the local level.”
Planting trees is not simply an aesthetic move, he explains. They provide carbon sequestration that slows down global climate change. The shade they provide also reduces utility costs. Last year, the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission awarded the city a Healthy Urban Tree Canopy Grant for tree planting and maintenance. Rocky River also received an Urban Canopy Restoration Grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
“We leveraged the two grants to improve tree canopies in areas where they were lacking and worked with residents to identify the right trees for the right spots,” Snyder says. “Trees were planted on residential properties, and the city is maintaining them until December 2023 before turning them over to the homeowners to maintain. Funds were also available to plant trees on public property. You can feel the difference they make on hot summer days.”
Additionally, the city has received funding from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, NOPEC and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to install EV charging stations at Memorial Hall and City Hall.
“Having these charging stations in Rocky River is very important because of the city’s close proximity to I-90,” Snyder says. “Residents and visitors will be able to use the stations for a nominal fee that will only be used to cover the cost of the electricity.”
Snyder hasn’t forgotten those who love to walk. He’s working with property owners on a five-year comprehensive plan that includes repairing broken sidewalks and ensuring crossings are ADA compliant.
The Green Team
Zealous composters and gardeners, Andrea Mediate’s parents instilled in their daughter the importance of recycling and tending the land. So when the COVID lockdown kept her housebound, the Rocky River resident reflected on ways she could further the cause of preserving our planet. One of her initial steps: Offering to serve as president of the Rocky River Green Team. The volunteer organization comprises 195 members ranging in age from 14 to 80 who are devoted to making the city a more sustainable place to live.
“Rocky River takes on a lot of responsibility in just completing day-to-day functions, including garbage collecting,” Mediate says. “We view ourselves as the connecting link between the administration and residents when it comes to sharing information about the most sustainable practices we can all engage in — and encouraging the city to launch more sustainable practices whenever possible.”
With assistance from Rocky River City Council members, the Green Team updated the spectrum of backyard composting to include kitchen scraps within prescribed guidelines. Additionally, through a partnership with Rust Belt Riders, residents can now compost meat, bread and dairy products. Rust Belt Riders is an affordable composting service that offers curbside pickup.
Residents are invited to attend Green Team meetings at the Rocky River Public Library, where guest speakers discuss topics ranging from renewable energy and transportation to water and beach cleanliness.
Mediate is gratified by recent statistics released by the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District indicating that 32% of waste collected in Rocky River is being recycled.
“That’s pretty good,” she says. “But there’s always room for improvement.”
Residents interested in learning more can find the Rocky River Green Team on Facebook or visit rockyrivergreenteam.org.
A Garden for Everyone
Dave Gilronan finds serenity in gardening. His backyard is a bucolic hideaway filled with flowers and vegetables. When the Rocky River resident retired in 2014 from his job as systems administrator of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, he opted to kick his interest in horticulture up a notch.
Gilronan enrolled in classes at The Ohio State University Cooperative Extension Service, became a mentor to local community garden organizations and made presentations throughout northeast Ohio, including at Cleveland’s Great Big Home + Garden Show.
Closer to home, he decided to devote more time to the garden that’s become a gathering place in the city he loves — the Rocky River Community Garden.
Created in 2010 and located north of the Rocky River Senior Center on Wagar Road, the Community Garden comprises 74 plots filled with annual fruits, vegetables and flowers planted and tended to by 84 residents. Plots are available in three sizes, with prices ranging from $30 to $60, along with a limited number of raised planter boxes.
Current Community Garden President Sharlene Marty says the garden is open to all Rocky River residents, but there is a yearly wait list for plots. Participants are required to give at least four service hours each year to the garden, helping in areas such as composting and maintenance.
Gilronan, who previously served as president, says he enjoys sharing tips with participants and nurturing friendships among members he hopes will be long-lasting.
“There’s truly a sense of community here,” he says. “Produce from the store is fine. But there’s nothing like growing your own — it just tastes better.”
Little Things Mean a Lot
- “Never flush pills and other pharmaceuticals down the toilet,” says Nick Barille, superintendent of the Rocky River Wastewater Treatment Plant. “The chemicals in them can end up in our drinking water because they’re hard to treat.”
- “Instead of using paper plates and plastic cutlery, choose dinnerware that can be reused,” says Beach Cliff Garden Club president Michelle Cox. “We purchased a set of china and silverware that we use for our lunch meetings. When we adjourn, members take turns volunteering to take the plates, cutlery and tablecloths home to wash.”
- “Before COVID, stores were encouraging shoppers to bring their own bags rather than getting new ones at the checkout counter,” says Andrea Mediate, president of the Rocky River Green Team. “It’s time to initiate that practice again.”