The Heights need Horseshoe

Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights are poised to lose Horseshoe Lake, a precious and beloved historical, natural and recreational landmark.

In the late 1960s, citizens protested and rallied to save the Shaker Lakes from freeway construction. Some 2,000 Heights residents crowded into a public meeting at Byron Junior High on a cold January day in 1970 to demand a stop to Albert Porter’s freeway plans. Gov. Rhodes saw the writing on the wall and scrapped the project.

Today, however, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) and “environmentalists” have found just the right triggers to inspire citizens to go along with destroying the lake and “remeandering” the stream: It’ll be“natural, the way it was thousands of years ago;” saving Horseshoe will cost more than Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights can possibly afford; “rich folks” who live there will be the ones who benefit.

We should be skeptical.

Achieving some pre-settlement state for Doan Brook is a romantic notion that can’t be achieved in the modern world. Published ecological research shows that “restored” urban streams do not approach the quality of woodland streams and are often no better than their degraded, unrestored stream counterparts. Is that worth an enormous, costly effort to plant native vegetation and remove non-native species every year?

The lakes provide habitat that supports and increases species diversity, especially the approximately 25 species of waterbirds and osprey and eagles that prefer lakes over streams on their way to nesting or wintering grounds through this designated Audubon Important Bird Area.

If plans for concessions, boating and more at Lower Lake are implemented, these birds will need Horseshoe Lake to avoid the disturbance.

Will it really take $28 million from Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights to save this gem? In the first public meeting on Zoom, attended by a tiny portion of the “public,” NEORSD presented four options, with the one saving Horseshoe costing $6 million more—not high for public works and potentially achievable with grants.

But now, NEORSD says, because Horseshoe has no value for flood control, the cities would be liable for all Horseshoe-related costs. That's a strong-arm tactic, as are NEORSD’s cries about immediate danger. We need to know if NEORSD would have a legal obligation for that fourth option, and what the costs might be, based on independent engineering and environmental evaluation.

Restoring the dam and saving Horseshoe Lake will not only preserve wildlife habitat and a lake environment that so many people love, but also Shaker history, which our and future generations should learn from.

Not just “rich folks” want this lake. Harry Volk, publisher and editor of the Sun Press at the time of the freeway fight, was no friend to the elite, but he kept up the fight for the lakes—and for racial integration—throughout the 1960s. We must also preserve the history of the local Shakers, who were staunch abolitionists, had Black members, thwarted bounty hunters, and sent slaves on their way to freedom. Black lives mattered to them.

If we lose this natural gem, its historical lessons, and its beauty, somewhere Albert Porter will be laughing.

Penny Allen

A retired scientific and medical editor and writer, Cleveland Heights resident Penny Allen is a longtime Shaker Lakes birder. As a teenager, she participated in the freeway fight to save Shaker Lakes and in the Doan Brook Project, a study of pollution in the lakes and brook. 

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Volume 14, Issue 9, Posted 10:02 AM, 09.02.2021