In Cleveland, Ohio, a local Rotary Club is demonstrating once again the remarkable creative and physical energy of America's volunteers working to improve their local surroundings.
In 1977, the Rotary Club of Cleveland began a project to improve a 200-foot section of overgrown and neglected land beside the city's red line train tracks. Three decades later, Rotary's involvement in the project has grown, and thanks to their efforts local residents and visitors to Cleveland now enjoy a two-mile length of improved greenspace along the busy transit line stretching from the Cuyahoga River to Fulton Road.
But when, a few years ago, Rotary volunteers unearthed and recycled thousands of feet of unused rail tracks alongside the active metro line, a grand idea was born. A rail-trail. Connecting five disparate neighborhoods and thousands of Clevelanders. The airport to downtown. A transportation corridor. A place for recreation. A vital corridor of vibrant greenspace cut through a dense American city.
"This could be really incredible," says Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Eric Oberg, who toured the site with the Rotarians. "The corridor itself is amazing, crossing the bridge over the Cuyahoga River and looking straight into the city. And the fact that it's so urban, that it connects so many people and places, and combines with an active rail line... rail-with-trail projects are super-exciting because they make such good use of land, combining many modes of travel in the one corridor."
But, says Oberg--who is manager of trail development in RTC's Midwest Regional Office--one of the particularly interesting things about Rotary's rail-trail vision is the Rotarians themselves.
"This isn't a trail group, it's not a city transportation initiative--it's a civic group just taking the reins and following an idea they know would be great for their city," he says. "If this idea catches on, there are thousands of Rotary groups, Kiwanis groups, other civic groups across the county. It could do awesome things for how we develop new trail systems and greenways.
As Rotary's Lennie Stover acknowledges, the precedent they are setting in Cleveland represents "a whole new way of developing public greenspace." That's because the work already completed by the Rotary Club volunteers has substantially kick-started the completion of a connected public trail, reducing its estimated cost by $800,000, and the time to build by more than a year. Stover wonderfully describes the corridor as the city's "hidden treasure, waiting to be discovered and opened by its people."
The Rotary Club is in the process of gathering public support for the project, so share this story where you can. And if you live in Cleveland, get in touch and see how you can help. Good things await.