Volunteers organize to care for Cedar Lee mini park
Over the years, the pedestrian space between the parking area behind the Cedar Lee Theatre and Lee Road has at times felt like a gracious park, and at others like little more than an alley through which one can take a shortcut because there happens to be a gap between the buildings. Businesses at this end of Lee Road estimate that every year well over 200,000 people come to see a movie, visit the gallery, enjoy a meal, or have a drink in a bar, and many of those people walk through the Cedar Lee mini park—without necessarily even knowing it’s a park.
Landscape designer Ann Cicarella is not the first activist to want to do more with the park, but she has some new ideas and specific expertise that could help sustain long-term improvements. “I am just one person in a long line of people who have tried for many years to improve the site,” Cicarella said.
The city of Cleveland Heights has not had consistent funding to maintain the park, and the Cedar Lee Special Improvement District (SID) focuses on other priorities, so it has often fallen to informal arrangements among private citizens or individual businesses to look after the space.
For some years, for example, local Heights residents Gary and Julie Lustic spent countless volunteer hours maintaining the plantings, with some help from Heights Arts. Scout troops arranged clean-up days, and the city provided truckloads of free mulch. But the lack of clarity about who “owns” the responsibility has sometimes led to unfortunate circumstances, such as the time a city crew came by and pulled out plantings—that, unbeknownst to them had recently been put in by volunteers—and re-mulched the beds.
The recent Lee Road streetscaping project—overseen by yet another authority—discouraged any further work on the mini park until such time as it seemed a safe bet that the efforts would not be undone.
In the interest of coordinating efforts and ensuring that all the entities involved in the Cedar Lee district have a shared understanding of the park’s use and maintenance, Cicarella is establishing a more formal approach. “I am trying to develop a constituency to gain more traction,” she explained. “Micah Kirman, Sruti Basu and Roger Bliss are part of the core group, and they are from FutureHeights. Chris Hanson and Todd Rogers are involved, from Growing Heights. Three other people, Jaclyn Mace, Katie Leavy and Rebecca Norton, have joined the official group.” Cicarella is a board member of Heights Arts, and that organization, whose gallery is immediately adjacent to the park, is eager to collaborate on programming for the space.
“Our short-term goal is to improve the aesthetics of the park, since so many people move through it,” Cicarella said. “Our secondary mission is to educate park visitors and passersby using native plants to create habitat and forage for pollinators. The mini park can serve as a guide for changing our stewardship of our green spaces, including our own backyards. We can provide an intimate connection to the beauty and wonder of pollinators by establishing flower-rich foraging patches and nesting sites. The use of native plants also effectively contributes to stormwater management.”
Cicarella created a new Facebook group, Friends of the Cedar Lee Mini-Park, which anyone interested in the park is invited to join. A first planting date of July 23 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) will be followed by other dates to be announced. Friends are welcome to come and go for any length of time. The hope is that an independent entity organized around the mission of supporting the park could thrive independent of fluctuations in city finances or priorities of the SID, perhaps attracting a modest amount of funding dedicated specifically to sustaining the Cedar Lee mini park.
“Key to the success of this initiative,” Cicarella said, “will be establishing a maintenance schedule and volunteer commitment to see that effort through. Anyone who would like to help can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Facebook account.”
Greg Donley is a former president of Heights Arts, a founding member of FutureHeights, and a member of the Heights Observer editorial board.