One man’s trash is another man’s trail
by Megann Rosecrans
Plain Press, June 2021 The Ohio & Erie Towpath and the trails that link to it are already impacting neighborhoods on the near west side, from Tremont and Ohio City to Detroit-Shoreway and the lakeside, attracting walkers, runners, and bikers, but also sites for potential development. Now Old Brooklyn is joining in, with a formal opening this June.
The location of the path is in Brighton Park, which is named after the original name of Old Brooklyn, Brighton Village. The 26-acre park will run from Pearl Avenue, across the street from the Metroparks Zoo, to connecting towpaths that stretch for 110 miles.
The path is located on a site that a number of enterprises once called home. A site that was for a time used for disposal.
In the 1960s, this area was utilized as a disposal site during the construction of Interstate I-71. It also served as a dumping ground for foundry sand from the Ford Motor Foundry. Even pieces of the beloved Municipal Stadium ended up at this landfill.
Residents may also remember this location as home to Cuffari’s Go Kart track throughout the 1980s and 1990s before closing shop. Cuffari’s was located on the western half of the property, with massive gorilla signs greeting visitors as they entered- a nod to their neighbors, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
After the go-cart track closed in the early 2000s, with no immediate use and a lot of potential, the land was a hot topic of discussion between the City of Cleveland and other community partners regarding the area’s next chapter.
The Old Brooklyn Development Corp., Western Reserve Land Conservancy, and Cleveland Metroparks worked diligently together to create a green space for the Old Brooklyn community to enjoy for years to come.
This did come with a few challenges, says Jeff Verespej, Old Brooklyn Development Corp. executive director.
“The owner of the land lived on the beach in California, so it wasn’t like we could call them up easily and talk about disposing of their land.”
That was when the Western Reserve Land Conservancy got involved in purchasing the land so that the ownership was local, and repurposing of the green space could begin.
According to the Western Reserve Land Conservancy website, the conservancy received a Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant to obtain the “former Henninger Landfill and adjacent properties along Big Creek” in 2015.
“The project accelerated greatly once Western Reserve Land Conservancy was able to get the land under contract,” Verespej credits.
With their help, the remediation process was able to commence, and work was completed by 2017. Funding for the trail was collected over the following couple of years and by August last year, construction was underway.
Now, with the official countdown ticking until the ribbon cutting of this renovated land, the major interest is in encouraging Old Brooklyn natives and lovers of nature to consider visiting the historical walk.
Asked who he felt would enjoy this trail the most, Verespej laughed.
“I think empty nester couples are going to love it. I think families out on a bike ride will love it. But I really think that someone who is coming to explore.”
Verespej also emphasized that the park was designed for ages 2 to 92, so it is easily accommodating to anyone interested in paying a visit, and the beauty of the land can be appreciated by all.
The area has been transformed from a place of neglect to a natural hotspot you’ll never want to leave.
With the cooperation of the Old Brooklyn Development Corp., Western Reserve Land Conservancy, and Cleveland Metroparks, the Brighton Park trail is set to officially open this June.
Verespej said that the Old Brooklyn neighborhood is home to so many great experiences, that people should consider not only visiting the zoo but making it a day trip.
“You can get a cup of coffee and a bagel from COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE and go on a mile hike through the nature preserve all in the same visit.
Or you can go on a hike and then go get something from Irie Jamaican or El Rinconcito afterwards for lunch. You get nature and the city at the same time.”
And there’s also a vineyard in the neighborhood, Old Brooklyn Winery, at 4103 Memphis Ave.
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