Good lake, bad lake

We have two well-loved lakes in the Heights—Lower Lake and Upper Lake (Horseshoe Lake) of Doan Brook. They were created in the early 1800s as mill ponds for the Shaker Societies’ water-powered mills. By the early 1900s the land, renamed Shaker Heights Parkland, became the property of Cleveland, but only on the condition it be reserved and protected continuously for the public use. Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights embraced the land’s beauty and unique recreational value, and gained responsibility for it by lease agreement. Caretakers and visitors over time seemed to agree that the two lakes are the crowning glory of this parkland.

Fast forward to 2021. Horseshoe Lake has suddenly been taken from us, and we deserve to have it back. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) drained it quickly a few years ago, without warning, saying it was to fix the dam, and would be temporary. But the water is still missing. No provisions were made by the supposedly “ecologically concerned” sewer people to relocate or save the fish, frogs, turtles, birds, and other wildlife left stranded by the receeding water. Some flew or crawled away, but a large number suffered and died in the resultant mud flat.

NEORSD uses the Doan Brook watershed, with its Shaker lakes—along with a network of storm-sewer pipes along neighborhood streets—to collect rain and stormwater runoff from a portion of the Heights. It has a fiduciary responsibility to help pay for its upkeep. Citizens pay the NEORSD monthly fees to help maintain this and the larger regional system, so NEORSD has an obligation to return a portion of what we pay, to cover the cost of local needs.

Instead, NEORSD is turning a deaf ear. When the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources announced that both Shaker Lakes Class 1 dams needed repair, NEORSD took it upon itself to decide for everybody that Shaker Heights Parkland had no value other than as a sewer system. It said Horseshoe Lake had to go. It didn’t fit into NEORSD’s goals, and had no “commercial value.” Originally allocating $14.7 million, from our payments to the district, for Horseshoe Lake, NEOSRD changed its tune and announced it won’t pay a penny if the cities don’t forfeit their lake. Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights deserve and depend on this funding to maintain the lakes as promised.  

Lower Lake barely missed the chopping block itself, and only because NEORSD needs that lake for sewer purposes. NEORSD has convinced the Doan Brook groups (who should be protecting the parkland) that Lower Lake is GOOD, but Horseshoe Lake is BAD. But wait a minute, they are BOTH LAKES.

(Keep in mind this same sewer utility recently turned our Ambler Park downstream into a cement wasteland for sewer tunnels. In violation of the deeds, I might add.)

Horseshoe Lake, when properly maintained, has the same flood-control, water-filtering and nutrient-recycling benefits, and provides the same wildlife and migratory bird habitat, as Lower Lake. A man-made, human-landscaped, replacement stream is in no way better than our irreplaceable, historic lake. With miles and miles of our Eastside streams presently in dark, underground, lifeless, sewer tunnels (just waiting to be rehabilitated), why are so many eager to get their paws on Horseshoe Lake’s small, drained real estate, using the lie, “it’s ecologically better.”

The Doan Brook watershed is already over-developed (which is the real reason for flooding in University Circle). Horseshoe Lake’s demise will put that priceless park’s real estate in the path of future danger and development. We have fought so hard to protect that lake that was part of the Shakers’ consecrated holy land, always open and free for all to share.

Korbi Roberts

Korbi Roberts is a trustee of the Cleveland Heights Historical Society, and a Shaker Heights resident. This opinion is hers, not that of the historical society.

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Volume 14, Issue 10, Posted 10:44 AM, 09.14.2021