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Summertime in the city and by the lake: one in the same in the 216

Edgewater Park Beach

Rowers on the Cuyahoga

Standup paddleboarding at Edgewater

Monarchs at Whiskey Island

Edgewater Park

Edgewater Live!

Edgewater Live!

Edgewater Live!

Edgewater Live!

Edgewater Live!

New pedestrian bridge at Euclid Beach Park

Euclid Beach Park

Euclid Beach Park

Euclid Beach Park

Euclid Beach Live!

Euclid Beach Live!

Euclid Beach Park

Whiskey Island Marina

Merwin's Wharf at Rivergate

Jet skis on Lake Erie

Crooked River Skate Park

Hang gliding at Edgewater Park

Edgewater Park

Early morning at Edgewater Park

Since June 2013, when control of Cleveland's 455 acres of lakefront green spaces (Edgewater Park, East 55th Street Marina, Gordon Park, Euclid Beach Park, Villa Angela Park and Wildwood Park) formally transferred from the state of Ohio to the Cleveland Metroparks, patrons have seen a number of changes -- from a ranger presence at all of the venues to the addition of Scranton Flats and the growing Lake Link Trail.
 
Now with the summer of 2015 in full swing (and despite some rough waters at Euclid), recreation options abound from Edgewater Beach to Wildwood Marina. Here are some of the highlights.
 
Getting with the Program
 
Along with the park rangers came a slew of programs. They include eclectic options such as a Log Cabin Make & Take at the Lorenzo Carter Cabin on Riverbed Road and a Wednesday Dusk Walk at Edgewater. But the summer stars are clearly the watersports, specifically kayaking and standup paddleboarding.

Both programs are available at Wendy Park, which is shielded behind the break wall where the water laps a bit gentler than at other area lakefront beaches. Urbanites can also launch into a kayak tour from Rivergate Park. Both venues are wildly popular.
 
"People want more than we can provide," says Wendy Weirich, Metropark's director of outdoor experiences. "They cannot get enough of kayaking and standup paddleboard programs. They are very hot activities right now on our lakefronts."
 
When classes fill up, action-seekers can put their name on a waiting list. "If we can accommodate it, we'll create a new class," says Weirich.

Weirich urges kayakers launching from Rivergate to do so with care. After all, the meandering Cuyahoga is an active shipping channel. "Those freighters — you don't want to be close to them if you don't know what you're doing,” Weirich says. “That's an experience that's scary." Course instructors, however, closely monitor freighter activity with radios to communicate with ship captains and on-water monitoring.
 
Out of the water and away from those freighters, fun and funky freestyle activities include volleyball at Wendy Park, courts -- available on a first-come, first-served basis, but also can be reserved. Leagues, however, take over the courts Monday through Thursday after 5 p.m.

For the skaters among us, the Crooked River Skate Park at Rivergate is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
 
Birds, Boats and Bass
 
Clevelanders know that you don't have to dive into the water to enjoy it, but what might surprise even the most seasoned local is the variety of visitors that drop into town.
 
"The monarch migration is extraordinary," says Weirich.

Monarch at Whiskey IslandThe gentle gold and black insects rest up in just about any wooded area adjacent to the lake before heading to Mexico. "They are dripping off the trees," Weirich says of the show that plays out on clear sunny days in the second half of September through the first week of October. "It's a sight to see," she adds, tagging Wendy and Gordon parks.
 
To be sure, the very idea of a tiny butterfly traveling from Canada to Mexico and then back again in the spring would garner the respect of the saltiest Clevelander.
 
The monarchs are not alone. From herons and wading birds at Euclid Beach to rare gulls and ducks at Gordon Park, winged denizens of the waterfront include permanent residents and those taking a breather after they've flown southbound over the lake, or as they get ready to head northbound. Case in point: As many as 200 species of birds can be found on a scant eight-acre woodlot that abuts the volleyball area at Wendy Park.
 
"We have seen as many bird species at that woodlot as they've seen at Cape May in New Jersey, which is a major birding destination," says Weirich, adding that Lake Erie is becoming such an attraction in its own right. "People are traveling to our lakefront to see birds and coming from some distance."
 
For the boating and fishing set, marinas and piers can be found at East 55thEdgewater Park, and Wildwood, although fisherpersons have also been known to wet a line along the Gordon Park, Villa Angela and Whiskey Island piers. All of the marinas have dock space for transient vessels and host other amenities such as snack bars, bait shops and fueling options. Click the "Marinas" tab for more information.
 
Small Bridges, Big Connections 
 
A thin thread of caution tape deems the two new pedestrian bridges still officially closed on the newest portion of the Lake Link Trail, which was formally renamed the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Trail in honor of that organization's $5 million grant supporting the first phase of the project. Caution tape notwithstanding, the span is all but complete.
 
"With our centennial grants we hope to move some projects along that were long standing plans but hard to get moved to completion," says Bob Eckardt, executive vice president of the Cleveland Foundation. Formally categorized as an environmental grant within the Cleveland Foundation, the organization certainly views the $5 million in support as such — and much more.
 
"We see it as a health grant," says Eckardt. "We see it as being a neighborhood revitalization grant. We see it as a grant that has so many different impacts. I think the concept of connecting the river and lake has an exciting potential for this community."
Putting in the Scranton Road Bridge for Lake Link Trail last April
 
The new bridges span Scranton Road and an abandoned railway near the southern terminus of the Scranton Flats Trail, where the two trails connect. The new trail continues on to the intersection of Columbus Road and Franklin Boulevard.
 
"It's a unique opportunity to embrace the heritage of our industrial core," says Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman, "and provide a new recreational connection not only at the Cuyahoga River, but on the lakefront as well."
 
Eckardt adds, "Once we get over that final hurdle and get the bridge built over the railroad tracks and finally get to the lake, it will be one of these things that everyone will wonder why it took us so long to get it done."
 
While mum on details, Eckardt says he believes that the project will be fully realized. "I'm pretty confident that we'll get that money raised," he says of funding for the trail's future phases.
 
And when it is, "It will connect the Towpath—100 miles worth of trail—to Wendy Park," adds Zimmerman.
 
The Euclid Beach area is also home to a new pedestrian bridge that spans the Euclid Creek, thereby connecting Wildwood Marina with the Villa Angela and Euclid Beaches.
New pedestrian bridge at Euclid Beach Park
 
"As you walk across the bridge, there is a breathtaking view of downtown," says Zimmerman. "It's a chance to reconnect with the waterfront."
 
And while the Euclid Beach water is closed for swimming, park officials announced last week that wading is permitted, as is kayak, standup paddleboard and canoe launching at the Wildwood boat ramp. Nonetheless, park patrons lament the swimming ban.
 
"I hope they get the beach together for the residents," says Linda Lewis, who's been fishing in the area for more than 30 years. "It's a nice park. It should have everything that it says it has."
 
"I feel like they should take the proper steps to do what needs to be done and fix the issue," adds Cleveland resident Raheem Heard, noting that it's frustrating to have an amenity taken away. "I'm upset about it."
 
Park officials announced in a release last Friday that, "We have applied to the Army Corps of Engineers for the necessary permits to proceed with planning." A timeline, however, has not yet been finalized. 
 
"Waters can be challenging," says Zimmerman, noting rubble in the water at Euclid Beach and "nuances of the break water" there. He is also aware of park patrons' concerns. "We've got some residents a little bit unhappy with the fact that we're keeping people out of the water until we can get it safe for them."
 
Until then Zimmerman encourages area swimmers to take advantage of the Collinwood Recreation Center and the city's free learn to swim program. "Learning how to swim is one of the most important life skills that you can ever have," says Zimmerman.

Going Softly into that Good Night
 
Prohibitions in the park aren't limited to swimming. They extend to potent potables at most Metroparks locations, but the lakefront venues are full up with exceptions starting with Edgewater LIVE. The popular event features beer, food trucks, standup paddleboarding (provided by a third party unlike the park sponsored programs), a host of activities and live music on Thursday evenings through August 13.
 
Edgewater Live!
On Fridays, the action is at Euclid Beach LIVE, which also features food trucks, music and adult beverages through August 21 save for a dark night August 7. For more kid-friendly evenings, on July 12 and August 9, enjoy a fun movie, food trucks, cornhole and other activities beneath the stars at Citizens Bank Cinema at Sunset at Edgewater.
 
And for those who just want to settle in at a table, leave the cooking to the professionals and enjoy an icy beer while taking in the view, there's Merwin's Wharf at Rivergate (provided you can get in -- The place is often packed to the rafters), e55th on the Lake and the Whiskey Island Still and Eatery.
 
"Downtown Cleveland is right there," says bar manager Michael Scolaro from the casual outdoor bar and patio area at the Whiskey Island Still. "But you don't feel like you're downtown when you're sitting here, not at all," he says, adding that the hustle and bustle feels miles away even though it's really just a stone's throw. "You don't feel like you’re involved in that. It's like you're on vacation."
 
Scolaro touts the establishment's frequent bar specials, live music and one more thing that's quiet, free and utterly spectacular.
 
"You can't beat the sunset."

This story was made possible through a partnership with the Cleveland Metroparks.

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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