DIKE 14 PUBLIC NATURAL AREA MASTER PLAN FINAL REPORT
Where previously there was only water, there is now a curiously raised parcel of land, over twenty feet above Lake Erie, roughly square with a pointed “beak” at its northwest corner.
Given Dike 14’s origins as a dredge material disposal site, who would have thought that in such a short period of time since disposal operations ceased in 1999 that this barren and nutrient-poor piece of land would become a verdant and thriving collection of vegetation communities? Who would have thought that this 88 acre parcel of steel walled and riprap reinforced “made land” jutting awkwardly into Lake Erie would become an important—and critical— “landing and refueling station” for thousands of migratory birds?
Dike 14’s eighty-eight acres began its own self-regeneration and has been evolving with little human intervention. In fact, because of concerns about what contaminants might have been introduced to the site through the dredge spoils deposition, the site is currently closed. Current efforts to make it a publicly accessible site present an unsurpassed opportunity to foster public education and continued leaning on how we, as citizens, can better co-exist with nature and even help regenerate natural habitats and their attendant ecological processes.
Neither a conventional public park, nature preserve, or wildlife sanctuary, the Dike 14 Public Natural Area Master Plan was borne from the creative imagination of adjacent neighborhoods, nonprofit groups, numerous governmental agencies, nature education advocates, and local naturalists who have worked for decades to develop a Master Plan and gain public access to this great asset. The Master Plan represents a six-month effort in which all of these stakeholders, called the Public Advisory Group, were invited to participate in three major work sessions with the City of Cleveland and a multidisciplinary design team. The products of these efforts are a comprehensive Master Plan, cost estimate, and action plan. Construction of the Master Plan can begin after a site risk assessment has been conducted to ensure that there are no risks to human health. If any risks are found, these risks will be addressed through remedial engineering or through a revision of the Master Plan.
The Master Plan both protects the most critical natural areas of the site and leverages their opportunities into a public landscape that offers many types of experience with nature within urbanized Cleveland. Above all the Master Plan has been developed to be inclusive of all citizens and stakeholder interests and represents the accommodation and compromise of stakeholders’ interests when they were not coincident or in conflict. The Master Plan accommodates as many of the public’s desired uses and appropriately scales them so that they do not damage the site’s most valuable collection of habitats. It has been developed with a focus on balancing various values: ecological systems, user needs, costs, safety, and maintenance capabilities.
The Master Plan treats habitat preservation and enhancement as its primary effort and enjoyment of those habitats as the site’s primary use. It identifies and protects a “suite” of adjacent habitat types that are important to birds as well as small mammals, insects, and reptiles. These habitats include wildflower meadows, lowland woodlands, upland woodlands, a group of conifer trees, and a wetland. These habitats form the core ecological structure for all elements of the Master Plan. The Master Plan calls for the removal of selected, aggressive invasive plants that threaten valued habitats, as well as their continued management in the future. It also identifies areas of new plantings that support animals’ life cycle needs and enhance plant species diversity, among them a conifer woodland, shrub habitats, and meadow expansions. Finally, the Master Plan includes two habitat restorations. A “woodland to shore” restoration reestablishes critical water access for animals, and the restoration and expansion of an existing wetland provides expanded habitat opportunities for migratory birds and other animals.
The Master Plan promotes an adaptive management strategy to support the site’s habitats. Rather than treating habitat enhancements as a one-time effort, the Master Plan supports a strategy that periodically assesses the performance of enhancement efforts, using accumulated knowledge to improve site management and adjusting management techniques as necessary. This approach better copes with the inherent changes of ecological systems and facilitates a more fluid interaction among stakeholders.
Using the ecological infrastructure as a foundation, the Master Plan includes a range of constructed elements. A new vehicular drop off offers easy access to school groups and others for which walking long distances is taxing. A seven minute walk into the site brings visitors to the central gathering area which is equipped with sitting stones and a native-grasses lawn. The area is designed to accommodate a range of nature-associated activities. This gathering area is enclosed by a universally accessible 20-foot high raptor viewing ramp connected to a 30-foot high raptor tower. This unique structure allows views across fields and wetlands and into the canopies. The underside of the ramp also acts as a gallery for both interpretive materials and the public’s creative expressions of the site’s offerings. Tucked beneath the raptor ramp and tower are composting toilets that underscore the site’s ecological message.
At “The Beak,” located in the northwest corner of the site, the Master Plan calls for a grove that offers wind and sun-protection for casual family and social group outings. The grove is encircled with an earthen observation mound that makes even more dramatic the existing views of downtown Cleveland, the beautiful expanse of Lake Erie, and the migratory shore and land birds that depend on the site. The cluster of activities at the Beak is completed by an adaptively reused steel structure left from the site’s dredging history. This structure’s refurbishment as a pier allows human access and affords visitors the ability to learn about the site’s history while standing suspended above Lake Erie.
The Master Plan also includes a series of trails. A hard surface, permeable paving walk allows pedestrians and non-motorized visitors a smooth surface pathway to “The Beak.” Crushed gravel and mulch paths lead pedestrians through wildflower meadows, a variety of woodlands, and unique features such as a vernal pool, and a sumac tunnel--each area with different characteristics and experiences. Boardwalks take pedestrians over restored wetlands and up into the canopy of a woodland.
By carefully weaving approximately two and a half miles of trails and appropriately-scaled public activities into a suite of restored, enhanced, and ecologically managed ecosystems, the Master Plan offers the citizenry of Cleveland and its visitors a unique nature experience and environmental learning opportunity within a vital and vibrant urban setting.
This Master Plan and Report was prepared by Biohabitats, Inc. under award NA04NOS4190052 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Office of Coastal Management. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, or the Office of Coastal Management.
Biohabitats and its design team partners wish to thank the City of Cleveland for its continued efforts in this important project, particularly the co-directors of this project, Carrie Hansen, Manager of Research and Planning for the City of Cleveland Department of Parks, Recreation, & Properties, and Debbie Berry, Director, Cleveland Lakefront Plan.
We extend our most ardent appreciation to the numerous stakeholder groups and individuals who were integrally involved in developing this Master Plan, many of whom have spent years bringing this project to fruition. Their long-term knowledge, passion, and critique were vital and invaluable. Neighborhood groups, nonprofit groups, governmental representatives, education groups, environmental groups all offered suggestions and requirements without which the project would not be as inclusive and would not have resulted in a project that is a genuine product of the citizens of Cleveland.