Turning Whiskey Island into Cleveland’s Front Yard

Cleveland planners are hoping to turn a chunk of land on a historically industrial piece of lakefront into a thriving city gathering place. A $5 million trails grant will help link the city to the park. 

Whiskey Island, actually a peninsula on the shores of Lake Erie, has been home to a distillery, manufacturing plants, a hospital to treat cholera, a Depression-era shantytown, a salt mine, and a Coast Guard station, just to name a few of its gritty incarnations. But in the past 10 years or so, the city and public land activists have been working to turn a piece of the peninsula, which sits where the Cuyahoga River meets the lake, into a core public space along the lines of Grant Park in Chicago. 

But in order to nurture this eagerness to develop a corridor of public space along Lake Erie, planners need to make it easy for Greater Cleveland to get there. The Cleveland Foundation recently granted $5 million to the Trust for Public Land toward the development of the Lake Link Trail, a 1.3 mile path along an abandoned railroad right-of-way that will connect the riverfront and another popular path to the lakefront.  

Related: Cleveland Foundation: Grants for Parks & Gardens

“Lake Erie is our region’s most prized natural asset, yet too many residents have never been to the shores of the largest freshwater system on Earth,” said Ronn Richard, Cleveland Foundation president and CEO in a statement announcing the grant. The Cleveland Foundation has given several million in grants toward public spaces in the city, including $8 million recently to revamp the city’s Public Square. 

The latest grant is for what's called Lake Link Trail, a $15 million project that has been in discussion for many years, and will be a partnership including the city, the county, architects, the Trust for Public Land and other foundations. The Gund Foundation in November gave $2 million to the project. And the trail is part of the Trust for Public Land’s Parks for People initiative which, in Cleveland, aims to connect the city’s neighborhoods to Wendy Park on Whiskey Island. 

Related: How Tri-C JazzFest Became a "Destination Event" (With Help from the Cleveland Foundation) 

It's worth noting that the impetus for the whole project actually owes a great deal to late Cleveland activist Ed Hauser, who spent about 10 years fighting to save the open land from being swallowed up by Port Authority expansion, earning him the nickname “the Mayor of Whiskey Island.” The park opened in 2005, and the Lake Link Trail is shooting for 2017.