Beginning at the eastern edge of Zone Recreation Center and threading through Ohio City before connecting to the Centennial Lake Link Trail, the $6 million Red line Greenway connects the near west side to downtown Cleveland while offering views of industry, nature and the city along the way. After more than a decade of planning and construction, fences were removed Monday, and Cleveland Metroparks is planning a press conference and ribbon cutting event on Wednesday, May 12th at 11 am and the trailhead near Abbey and Columbus Roads in Ohio City.
Sean McDermott, chief planning and design officer for the Metroparks, said the trail provides transportation and recreation options while helping to connect urban neighborhoods. “We’re threading the needle,” he said. “It’s not only a unique experience to be next to a rail line, but also knowing that we’ve got six connection points into the neighborhoods and the ability to further those connections in the future. That’s a very important aspect of the trail. We’re not just setting it and forgetting it. We’re planning to build on it in the future.”
Right now, the trail connections are located at West 53rd, West 44th, West 41st, Abbey and Columbus, West 25th Street, and Franklin Boulevard. McDermott said future trail connections are being considered at Urban Community School, St. Ignatius, and Fulton Road. More than 50,000 people live in communities located directly along the trail, he said.
“The percentage of car ownership in these neighborhoods is relatively low,” he said. “This provides a safe, enjoyable mode of transportation.”
The idea behind the trail was birthed in the 1970s, when volunteers with a group called Rapid Recovery began cleaning up the areas along the RTA rapid transit tracks, which were frequent targets of dumping. That effort eventually grew when the Rotary Club, helmed by volunteer Lennie Stover, began helping to maintain the area along the future trail.
That dream came one step closer to reality when Metroparks snagged a $7.95 million federal TIGER grant in 2016 for its Reconnecting CLE: Pathways to Opportunity trail building program. Ultimately, McDermott said, the Red Line Greenway was funded by $2.7 million from the Reconnecting CLE program, $680,000 from the Trust for Public Land, $2,080,772 from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency’s (NOACA) Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program, and $500,00 from the Clean Ohio Trail Fund of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), along with additional funding from Cleveland Metroparks.
Traveling from Zone Recreation Center, the Red Line Greenway runs along I-90 and North Marginal in Detroit Shoreway and Ohio City before dipping down and running alongside the RTA tracks and finally sloping down Columbus Hill to Irishtown Bend and the Centennial Trail, giving bikers, hikers and walkers a unique chance to experience an urban trail along an active commuter rail line. The project also preserves features of the rail line, including old infrastructure such as bridges, graffiti and murals.
McDermott praised the Rotary Club of Cleveland, which developed the vision behind the project and convinced the Metroparks and RTA to sign on. “Without the Rotary Club of Cleveland and Rapid Recovery Cleveland and their literally decades of work, there’s no way we’d be sitting here talking about this today,” he said.
“The people most responsible for the RLG are the volunteers that did all the hard work,” commented Lennie Stover in an email. “Once the idea of converting the site to a greenway was born in 2009 we began getting more local neighborhood volunteers. In 2013, a wonderful article by Steven Litt in The Plain Dealer put the project on the map challenging us to be Cleveland’s High Line, the world’s premier elevated greenway. During this time we hosted larger and larger volunteer events with Cleveland Leadership Center bringing 150 college interns as part of their summer intern program. We had to round up 25 ‘Volunteer Coordinators’ to oversee the numerous projects we undertook that day. We once built a ‘Park-in-a-day’ across the street from Hoopples.”
Stover said the idea behind the project was formed in 1977 when a man named Duane Sauls “flew to Cleveland and took a train downtown for a job interview. He saw an embarrassing mess along the trackside. People were using the train tracks as a dump. He vowed if he got the job he would do something about it. Luckily, he got the job and in 1977 he and RTA launched ‘Rapid Recovery’(RR). The purpose of RR was simple — clean up the tracks from the airport to downtown by enlisting organizations of any kind to adopt 200 feet of trackside and clean it up. This effort was very successful and the tracks were cleaned up in two years.”
Early on in the project, Metroparks faced heavy criticism for cutting down healthy trees for the project, but McDermott said culling these mature trees was necessary in order to comply with multiple industry standards for trail building. He also stated that the Metroparks preserved 43 trees by working around them. The agency has planted a number of trees to replace them, which will take time to mature.
In the end, he said, Metroparks was very pleased with the outcome of the project. “We came in on time, we came in on budget, and we have a high-quality project,” he said. “What more could you ask for?”
Lee Chilcote is a freelance writer and editor of The Land.