Rocks & Waters events travel back to a prehistoric Cleveland Heights

Imagine a time when Lake Erie’s tributaries—Doan Brook, Dugway Brook, and Nine Mile Creek—flowed in the open air, winding paths through what are today Cleveland's east side Heights suburbs, down Cedar Hill and Fairhill, cutting through sandstone and shale to create habitats for animals and carve out magnificent sites.

This Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 5 and 6, the Doan Brook Watershed Partnership will present Cleveland Heights Rocks & Waters. Roy Larick, a geologist, archeologist, and founder of Bluestone Heights, and several other eco-minded organizations will lead hikes, lectures, and discussions on what Cleveland Heights’ waterways once looked like, the hidden treasures that are still accessible, and the future of these (mostly) hidden waterways.

Larick describes the Heights waterways as sandwiched between the hard sandstone and the softer shale, creating waterfalls and deep gorges in their paths as they make their way to Lake Erie.

Nine Mile Creek sandstone gulch, Denison Park.“The waterfall locales have bedrock microenvironments which shelter certain animals and plants,” he says. “For example, small rodents find home in the rock cliffs. Larger mammals, such as deer and elk, used to shelter in the deep gullies. In the old days, rattlesnakes preyed on the rodents; panthers laid in wait for the larger prey. Chestnut oaks and several ferns also liked the bare rock.”

But as people settled in the Heights, and industry and development buried much of the streams under infrastructure, many of the habitats disappeared. “Some of the rodents still exist, as do the plants, but only owls and hawks survive as predators,” Larick says. “As such, the microenvironments have lost some of their natural biodiversity.”

Yet some of the wonders created by these waterways are still habitats today and accessible to humans. Larick cites the Nine Mile Creek escarpment ravine, which runs north of Princeton Road in South Euclid onto Euclid Avenue. “Most east siders know this area as the forested stretch of Belvoir Boulevard, from Princeton north to Euclid Avenue,” he says. “The cities of South Euclid and Cleveland Heights own substantial property here—about 30 acres.” Nela Park also owns several acres of this ravine, Larick says.

Larick likens the Nine Mile ravine to that of the creek within the Cleveland Metroparks Euclid Creek Reservation, but without a road and picnic areas. “This ravine is primed for ecological and hydrological conservation and enhancement,” he says of the Nine Mile ravine.

On Saturday, Oct. 5, Larick will lead a bus/walking tour called “Heights nature with two centuries of human impact” to explore the geology, history and ecology of Doan and Dugway brooks and Nine Mile Creek. “The Saturday bus trip will visit sandstone gulches on the three streams,” he says. “We will try to understand the old days and the human history of the waterways.”

Then on Sunday, Oct. 6, six local agencies will hold a series of pop-up demonstrations on naturalizing the Heights during “Rebalance the human-nature equation toward nature’s benefit.” A question-and-answer session will follow the presentations.

The Doan Brook Watershed Partnership will present “Understanding the new Heights polluted runoff control plan;” NEORSD will provide “Highlights of the District’s Heights Stormwater Management Plan;” Bluestone Heights will review plans for “Rejuvenating nature in Cleveland Heights ravines;” Friends of Lower Lake will discuss the “Lower Lake habitat restoration project;” Noble Neighbors will present its “Insect Sanctuary in the Quilliams Creek ravine;” and the Cleveland Heights Historical Society will review “the nature of Cleveland Heights historic houses.”

“Heights residents are beginning to understand the uniqueness of the local environment,” says Larick. “Many have ideas of how ecological diversity has been lost and how that degrades our quality of life, [and] some groups are actively trying to enhance local habitats in hope of attracting more nature.”

After the pop-up demonstrations, Larick will facilitate a discussion on the future of Heights waterways. “It is always surprising to learn how local residents love these streams,” he says. “Many people have questions [and answers] on how to live better with these local natural assets. Sunday's facilitated discussion will encourage individuals and groups to voice concerns about the degradation of local streams as well as ideas for improving the landscape and ways we view the waterways and related environments.”

Saturday's bus tour departs from the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus, 2843 Washington Blvd., at 10 a.m. and returns at 1 p.m. There is a $10 fee for this tour, and registration is required. Sunday’s “Rebalance the human-nature equation toward nature’s benefit” presentations at the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus take place from noon to 2 p.m. with refreshments, followed by Larick’s “Wither Heights Waterways?” discussion from 2 to 4 p.m. and a light dinner. Separate registration is required.

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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