County plan for Whiskey Island

Submitted by Charles Frost on Mon, 08/27/2007 - 21:38.

Summer 2007—The Cuyahoga County Planning Commission quietly launched a new section on its web site for Whiskey Island, signaling its readiness to move forward with plans to enhance the existing natural areas at the 23-acre eastern end known as Wendy Park. Connections from the city would also be improved with a proposed bike path along the road from
Edgewater Park, and—further in the future—one over the
River for the Towpath Trail.


In addition to the existing sand volleyball courts and natural shoreline, the county’s plan includes some cool ideas like planting a native prairie to attract butterflies and birds, a green-built guard house, and restoring the
Lake Erie marsh. All told, they’re on track to make
Whiskey Island (and Dike 14) a crown jewel of urban green space for Clevelanders and a great many migrating birds and butterflies.


First up is a two-and-a-half acre prairie along the river’s edge of Wendy Park. The grassy hill overlooking the mouth of the
Cuyahoga River will be replanted with wildflowers and native grasses to attract a growing Monarch butterfly population.


“Before the winter we’re going to plant native Ohio wildflowers, like Milkweed and Aster, to attract the Monarchs, and native grasses which don’t get too tall, like Little Bluestem,” said County Planning’s Jennifer Karaffa, standing on the site of the prairie in the picture above.


Shipping giant Cargill, which leases land on the Port-controlled western end of
Whiskey Island, granted $7,500 to Wendy Park Foundation to pay for the prairie.


Since the county took ownership of Whiskey Island in 2004, it has laid new gravel roads, cleared tons of debris washed up on the shore, turned a scrubby area with dumped debris into a viewing area behind the sand volleyball courts, added a path through the woods, and put a new layer of soil and grass on the hilly area of Wendy Park (which is the burial site of the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium)—spending $362,000 in the process. The county has $100,000 budgeted for capital improvements in 2007.


Just as important as the money is a steady hand at the helm. The county is working to sew up relationships with the city, the Port and others to make its first and only public park a gem along the lakefront. Some tensions still need to be navigated, including a proposal to relocate the Port’s operations on or just off shore from Whiskey Island, but when the county commissioners assured Whiskey Island activist Ed Hauser earlier this year that they’re going to keep the eastern half natural, it signaled a new era in the island (which is actually a peninsula)’s storied past.


Talk to Sunset Grille owner Tim Poole about the stories of yore, and he’ll laugh about
Whiskey Island being “haunted”.


“We had a Haunted Cleveland tour here the other day,” says
Poole as he treads the  rough-hewn plank floors past the ship hull bar of his establishment. “Supposedly the old Irish shanty town that was here has something to do with it.”


Poole’s too busy hosting weddings, Cleveland Plays volleyball leagues, boaters from the marina hanging out at the picnic tables, 5,500 revelers at the annual summer environmental fete Burning River Fest and keeping an eye on his pooch Chase (who chases geese away from customers) to much notice.


The sleeping giant may have finally awoken


Heading west on the Shoreway the first sign of change is right there in green and white—the highway exit sign now reads Edgewater Park and—right below in ODOT reflective letters—“Whiskey Island.” The signs continue as we wind our way down the road past the sewage treatment plant. “Right there,”
County Planning’s Carol Thaler says pointing at two
Stonehenge sized blocks, “is where the new Whiskey Island/Wendy Park sign will go.”


New, yes, but fabricated from a sheet of nicely distressed, rusty steel and stainless letters by Wendy Moore’s sister. The sign will point the way down the narrow, two-lane asphalt road lined with a vine-covered fence to the park. Someday this, the only road in, will have a bike path paved the entire length, replacing the fence on the northern side, Thaler promises. It might take a few years, but the wheels are already in motion.


Earlier in the year, Cleveland councilman
Matt Zone called to tell Thaler that the nearby Garrett-Morgan water treatment plant had tons of excavated dirt from a construction project, and did she want it to build out the bike trail? Well, the ship sailed on the dirt before the approvals came in, but it did start a conversation. The Port, which owns the land north of the road, gave the nod to remove the fence for the bike path. It even helped convince its tenant, shipping operation Oglebay-Norton, which has an easement on the property. The final piece is approval from Norfolk-Southern, which also has an easement, for the rail line. Thaler is preparing to hire a surveying crew to figure out the county’s and everyone else’s easements and get the final go-ahead from the rail company to start designing the bike path. In the meantime, the county approved a $2 million bridge project where the road goes over the rail line to begin this winter.


When asked about speculation over the long-range plan to have the Cleveland MetroParks own
Whiskey Island, Thaler says, “Our commissioners have signaled an interest in talking to the MetroParks (who) would like the Towpath Trail to connect first.” Whiskey Island advocates, of which there are more than a few, are starting to discuss ways to build the Towpath from Whiskey Island to the proposed Canal Basin Park in the Flats—preferring to act sooner than the decade or more it will take the Towpath extension to reach them.


All the attention and investment in Wendy Park has raised the hopes of saving the U.S. Coast Guard Station, which is attached to
Whiskey Island, before it collapses into the sea. The modernist station—designed by J. Milton Dyer, the architect of
Cleveland City Hall – was built in 1940 and was used by the U.S. Coast Guard until 1976. It’s a short walk down a long pier connected to Wendy Park. This year, The Wendy Park Foundation and Stonebridge developer Bob Corna paid for repaving, a new fence and insurance on the public boardwalk. Corna will pay for a temporary roof cover before the winter,
Poole says.


Burning River Festival organizers gave the proceeds of the 2006 event that was held in Wendy Park to the Wendy Park Foundation.  The funds are earmarked for Coast Guard Station safety and cosmetic improvements that that you see today, says foundation head Christine Bucknell. These improvements now provide public access to the site during the park operation hours of sunrise to sunset.


Corna and Great Lakes Brewing co-owner, Pat Conway, and former
Whiskey Island owner, Dan Moore, are some of the station’s biggest cheerleaders. The city, which owns the station, presented three redevelopment scheme’s estimated at $5, 6, or 9 million; so with all of the attention and reinvestment at Whiskey Island, it’s possible the city will have a preservation effort worthy of the National Register station.


“We want to make the station a safe place,” says Thaler. “This is our only park. We’re trying to support the county’s sustainability initiative on the ground.”




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I posted my cheers for Ed at GCBL

Check it out and raise a glass to Ed!

Hey, Ed, is there a court case pending on the Huletts?