Four years after the Western Reserve Land Conservancy (WRLC) acquired the former Henninger Landfill on Pearl Road in Old Brooklyn, plans are moving ahead to convert the land into a 25-acre connector park that will link to Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and Brookside Reservation.
Construction on the Lower Creek Big Connector Trail, as it's currently dubbed, is scheduled to begin this fall with completion in spring 2020. It's been a long road to get there, but project officials say it will be worth the wait.
WRLC bought the land in 2015 with a $561,000 Clean Ohio Conservation Fund Grant to clean up the property and create usable greenspace and trails that will link to the surrounding parks and trails. Even before WRLC acquired the land, in 2014 they secured a $15,000 Healing Our Waters grant to draft a stream restoration plan.
In the past four years WRLC, with support from The Cleveland Foundation and the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, have remediated the landfill, surveyed the land, and hosted visioning sessions to create a plan for the Lower Big Creek Connector.
“Obviously, we knew it had to go through environmental remediation,” explains WRLC’s manager of urban projects Isaac Robb. “[The landfill] was mostly highway construction materials and debris from old Municipal Stadium buried there. There were no chemicals.”
Now plans are moving forward to create a large public green space in Old Brooklyn with public access for hiking, biking, walking, birding, and other outdoor recreation activities. Additionally, approximately one mile of new trails will support the regional trail network.
Robb says this project has been a no-brainer to take on. “This was on a lot of people’s radar,” he says. “Some projects are easier than others. Converting an old landfill should be easy to get behind. Hopefully it will be pretty dynamic in what people will use it for.”
While some of the trails will connect through to the other area parks and trails, while there will also be a closed loop trail on the grounds for visitors looking for a place for a more straightforward hike or bike path.
The entire $1.3 million project was funded through grants, including $41,500 in Cuyahoga County Brownfield Funds for environmental assessments. Additional environmental due diligence was necessary and paid for through a $80,000 technical assistance grant from the EPA.
The project qualified for up to $200,000 in grant funding for environmental remediation and expenses associated with completing the Ohio EPA’s Voluntary Action Program (VAP) and in 2018 the project received a $50,000 supplemental grant from Cuyahoga County's casino revenue as well as philanthropic funding.
Additionally, the project was awarded $385,000 for site improvements in early 2019 through the Clean Ohio Conservation.
Now that the site is ready for development, Robb says the views are amazing. “The landscape varies so greatly,” he says. “In winter you can see into the industrial valley, but right now you can’t see anything. It has the ability to feel really wild, but it also feels really familiar. Everyone is surprised at how large it is, but it’s also very secluded.”
On Sunday, June 30 WRLC hosted a hike of the Big Creek Connector as part of its Vibrant Places series in connection with the Cleveland Foundation’s annual city-wide Common Ground conversations.
"We were so excited to share this future public park with community members and build excitement about its restoration venture,” says Amy Ricciardi, WRLC manager of community outreach. “We also sought feedback from participants on their memories of the site and their hopes for its future, in line with this year's Common Ground theme: ‘My environment was...My environment is... My environment will be....’”
Ricciardi says the feedback on the plans was overwhelmingly positive. “People genuinely appreciate the importance of this public, urban greenspace and the benefits it will provide to the community,” she says.