from a great height, the Cleveland Lakefront State Park areas are a string of pearls, each
unique and precious, adding luster to the graceful neckline of Lake Eries deep blue
waters. The six pearls shine along a 14-mile strand from Edgewater Park, west of downtown
Cleveland, to Wildwood Park outside the city of Euclid. The stories of these parks trace
the stories of one of our nations great cities, rolling on the waves of prosperity
and hard times, trends of growth and decline, and changing preferences in outdoor
recreation and leisure pursuits.
The vision of lakefront recreation areas dates back to
1865. William Gordon, a wealthy Cleveland philanthropist, began purchasing lakefront
property in the 1860s to be used for recreation. Upon his death in 1893, Mr. Gordons
119-acre estate was bequeathed to the City of Cleveland. Following a fire in 1927 which
burned the parks dance hall, the original Gordon Park fell into disrepair and
neglect. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) acquired the property in 1977,
established the Cleveland Lakefront State Park office at this location in 1978, and
transformed Gordon Park into a modern haven for anglers, boaters and picnickers. The
parks fishing platforms and piers are adjacent to the Cleveland Illuminating
Companys warm water discharge, which improves winter catches of steelhead and
salmon. Gordon Park also offers six boat launch ramps.
In its heyday at the turn of the century, Euclid Beach was a premier amusement
park. Local entrepreneurs acquired 75 acres of wooded parkland and sand beach to create a
special place for wholesome family entertainment. The lakefront park, which opened in
1895, was convenient to the city and served by the trolley lines. For generations of
Ohioans, a trip to Euclid Beach was the highlight of the summer. As the trolley lines gave
way to automobile traffic, however, patrons drove on to other recreational opportunities
and business at Euclid Beach slowed to a trickle. By the summer of 1970, the park was
closed for good and the grand old facilities began to crumble. In 1985, ODNR created
Euclid Beach State Park on the easternmost 16 acres of the old amusement park. Old
lampposts, park benches and the grand entrance gate are vestiges of the old Euclid Beach
amusement park preserved alongside modern park facilities. Todays Euclid Beach
offers a 650-foot sand swimming beach and shaded picnic areas along with a playground and
scenic observation pier.
In 1894, the City of Cleveland embarked on its own efforts to provide public
recreation areas on Lake Erie with the purchase of 117 lakefront acres.. Two parks,
Perkins Beach and Edgewater Park, were created. Edgewater became the focus of activities
with the addition of a public bathhouse, pavilion and bandshell. Todays Edgewater
Park consists of 131 acres divided into "upper" and "lower" sections
connected by a paved fitness path. The antique pavilion was renovated in 1982 and may be
reserved by park guests for outdoor gatherings. Upper Edgewater also offers a playground
area. The view of the city skyline and Lake Erie from Upper Edgewaters scenic bluff
is said to be the best in all of Cleveland. Lower Edgewater features ten very popular boat
launch ramps, fishing platforms and a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier. Anglers may
catch perch, panfish, white bass, rock bass and sheephead here. Lower Edgewater also
offers a large swimming beach with two picnic shelters and a concession stand.
The Wildwood Park area had been a farm far from metropolitan Cleveland in the 1800s. In
the 1920s, the area served as a popular resort offering private getaways in rustic cabins,
as well as vibrant night life at the dance hall. Today, the park offers expanded
recreational facilities including a six-ramp boat launch, picnic shelter and playground.
Rock breakwalls give anglers access to Lake Eries summer walleye fishery. Another
water resource at Wildwood is Euclid Creek, which is popular with canoeists as well as
anglers, who may catch coho salmon in the spring.
|Creation of the East 55th Street Marina reflects modern concerns with dwindling land
resources and reclamation for public purposes of heavily disturbed land. The marina was
constructed on a landfill area in 1969 through a cooperative effort between ODNR and the
City of Cleveland. The major attractions at this park area are the 335 boat docks for
seasonal rental and the 1,200-foot fishing platform. The views of Lake Erie and of the
boat traffic to and from the city are outstanding.
The Villa Angela park area has most
recently been developed for public recreation. From 1878 to 1990, the area served as the
campus of the Villa Angela Academy, originally a young womens boarding school and
later a high school administered by the Ursuline Nuns of Cleveland. Villa Angela satisfies
contemporary desires for natural areas along with facilities to promote fitness and nature
appreciation. The area boasts a diversity of trees as well as coastal plant species, and
scenic overlooks offering breathtaking views. A seasonal naturalist is on duty during the
summer months to lead recreational activities and educational programs. The boardwalk
trail, bathhouse and fishing pier framing the 1,000-foot swimming beach are wheelchair
accessible. For bicyclists, walkers, runners and in-line skaters, a one-mile paved fitness
path winds its way through the park, connecting Villa Angela with Euclid Beach on the west
and with Wildwood on the east.
The Cleveland Lakefront State Park areas build community and improve the quality of
life. They are a place for young people accustomed to the urban environment to discover
the wonders of the natural world. They provide free access to the lake while preserving
the natural character of the lakeshore. Today we enjoy the legacy of an earlier
generations wisdom in setting aside natural areas and placing them in the public
trust. We continue the legacy as we build even better parks for the future.
Brooke Fischbach, secretary at Cleveland Lakefront State Park, knows the park from all
angles. After all, it used to be her beat. Brooke was hired as a park ranger at Cleveland
Lakefront in September 1979 and completed the ODNR Division of Park and Recreations
9th Ranger Academy that December. As a park ranger, Brooke used her sociology background,
diplomatic and communications skills as well as her law enforcement training. She
patrolled the park, offered assistance and information to visitors, represented the park
at career days and travel shows, and visited classrooms. Brooke enjoyed seven years as a
ranger, keeping the peace and promoting the park as the Edgewater, Euclid Beach, Wildwood
and Villa Angela areas blossomed.
Since the birth of her first child, Brooke has served as the park secretary. Today, she
assists the park management staff with budgets, reports, paperwork and computer issues.
With the parks steadily growing attendance, which topped 13 million last year,
Brooke continues to face exciting challenges both on the front lines and behind the
scenes. In their free time, Brooke and her family like to watch the boat traffic at
Wildwood and Villa Angelaareas that were barely developed 18 years ago. Through her
career, Brooke has welcomed change; and change is the one aspect of Cleveland Lakefront
that has remained the same.