Forgotten former industrial site to become an urban nature preserve

Work will begin this September in Slavic Village to transform the former Worsted Mills site—once one of the country’s largest garment manufacturers—into the Morgana Bluff Nature Preserve Learning Center. The project will encompass four acres of abandoned industrial land adjacent to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland at 6114 Broadway Ave.

The preserve will offer hiking/biking trails and boardwalks, outdoor learning areas for groups and school classes, and spots for observation. Portions of the trails will be paved with asphalt to make entrances ADA accessible. The area will not only serve as an educational opportunity for Cleveland students and members of the Boys and Girls Clubs, but will be open to the public as well.

The nature preserve pulls together several goals into one effort, says Robert Koonce, Chief Development Officer for the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland. “We are converting vacant, underutilized land into a vibrant neighborhood asset that provides our children with access to nature and an incredible science learning tool while enhancing biodiversity and improving water quality,” he says.

The project—spearheaded by the Boys and Girls Clubs—is a joint effort involving eight local organizations that worked together for the past two-and-a-half years to make the Morgana Bluffs dream a reality. The approximately $540,000 in construction was funded by grants from NEORSD Green Infrastructure Grants Program, as well as the Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation Fund. A private donor helped fund the pre-planning feasibility study. “There’s been a lot of people involved in making this happen,” says Koonce.

The Morgana Run Trail runs adjacent to Morgana Bluff Nature Preserve, and the new trail system in the preserve will eventually connect to the Morgana Run Trail, says Koonce. “The trail itself was a conversion of an old rail line that ran through the neighborhood and it is only a spur, with a road connection to the Towpath Trail,” he explains. “The nature preserve itself will be the classroom and will be used as a nature center to explore the various habitats present on the site."

Site of the Morgana Bluff Nature Preserve Learning Center.

Four different habitats—deep water wetland, wet meadow, dry meadow, and upland woods—accommodate approximately 125 species of plants, trees, animals, and insects that inhabit the natural area in the heart of Cleveland’s urban core. Among them are Sycamore trees, beetles, five species of butterflies, fox squirrels, sharp-shinned hawk (a species of concern), and the Hawaiian beet webworm (the first instance of this species recorded in Cuyahoga County).

“It’s four acres of a unified campus of education and recreation,” says Koonce. “Because it was behind everything, it was hidden and never got any attention.”

According to Koonce, the Worsted Mills facility closed in the 1950s, and the Mills power plant was deconstructed slowly over time. “In 2011, Slavic Village Development coordinated a remediation of the site that included capping the soil, removing debris, and deconstructing the last remaining portion of the power plant,” he explains, adding that the Boys and Girls Clubs began looking at the site in 2016.

With its deep wetlands and the bluff’s 30-foot drop from street level, Koonce says the area is peaceful and an ideal area to study water quality. “A lot of the recreational activity is just [about] sitting and being quiet, because the lower level reduces most of the street noise,” he explains. “Anything taught or experienced in a nature center touching on the abundance and diversity of species will certainly be done. Also, since it is a stormwater best practice [area], we can explore the importance of managing water and keeping Lake Erie healthy.”

Koonce estimates as many as 125 students from institutions like nearby Mound School could be in the preserve on any given day, learning from what nature has to offer.

Once completed, Third Federal has provided a grant to defray the maintenance costs, but the Boys and Girls Club will be responsible for long-term maintenance. Ultimately, West Creek Conservancy will own the site and will contract with Boys and Girls Clubs for its care and upkeep.

AECOM is serving as both the landscape architect and general contractor on the project. Design construction drawings should be done by spring 2019, with the trails construction completed by October 2019.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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