Proposal Calls For Removing Horseshoe Lake And Dam In Shaker Heights

A sign reading "Doan Brook: Ours to Protect"
Horseshoe Lake and the nearby dams are part of the Doan Brook watershed. [Annie Wu / ideastream]

Local officials are recommending the removal of a dam at Horseshoe Lake in Shaker Heights to protect and preserve the area as part of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s (NEORSD) stormwater management program.

The dam, built in 1852, is currently in a “failure mode,” said NEORSD Director of Watershed Programs Frank Greenland said. A full failure of the Class 1 dam would result in probable loss of life and significant property damage, he said.

“Our job would be to take it out of that and remove that risk for the community,” Greenland said. “Our study determined the flood-control benefits of Horseshoe Lake and its dam are insignificant. They didn’t add to the benefit profile.”

A second dam off Lower Lake also is in need of repair and no longer complies with state safety standards, he said. But the proposal calls for repairing that dam, he said, rather than removing it.

“For Lower Lake, we modify and upgrade that dam to meet Ohio Department of Natural Resources dam safety requirements,” Greenland said. “That dam and lake serves an essential function in terms of minimizing downstream flooding and near flooding.”

A sign reading "Dam assessment in progress" beside the drained Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake sits on the border between Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights. A trail circles the lake. [Annie Wu / ideastream]

Officials have already drained Horseshoe Lake for safety, Greenland said. Removing the dam and returning the area to flowing streams and native plant life would be beneficial for the area, he said.

“We’re not leaving the current condition behind,” Greenland said. “We will be working with the communities and stakeholders to develop a really sound plan for restoration of that stream so we leave a really nice community amenity behind.”

NEORSD is still early in the design process for how to improve the situation, Greenland said, and will collect resident input in the next stages. Construction likely wouldn’t start until 2023, he said, after the design process has finished.

The proposal is causing controversy among residents in Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, which both border the lakes.

Horseshoe Lake is an important amenity and landmark for the neighborhoods, said Shaker Heights resident Chad Anderson, and he’d rather see an effort to repair and restore the dam.

“It seems like it’s a very engineering-focused solution, strictly focused on wastewater, and not enough consideration for what I think is a really unique amenity here in the Heights, and has been for 100 years,” Anderson said.

Anderson spent plenty of time at the lake while raising his kids, he said, and wants to see more opportunities for water recreation like canoeing. The current proposal focuses too much on the engineering aspect, he said.

But Cleveland Heights resident Mary Kelsey sees the proposed changes as a welcome addition to the neighborhood. The lake wasn’t open for swimming, she said, and the marshland that was created when it was drained is a good demonstration of what it could look like instead.

“I just think it would be great to return it to its natural habitat, which would be stronger and definitely more sustainable than keeping this lake,” Kelsey said.

Some residents argue the neighborhoods bordering the lakes don’t have direct access to other parks and public outdoor spaces, and the lake is one thing they’d like to keep. But for Kelsey, the idea of redirecting the water and creating streams and a walkable space still meets that need for easily accessible parkland nearby.

“We don’t have a lot of that around here. We have very little,” Kelsey said. “We have parks, but most of them are kind of manicured.”

The sewer district estimates the cost of its proposal at more than $28 million. Some residents have started a petition against the proposal, arguing the lake is an important landmark and gathering place.

NEORSD will hold a public meeting to discuss the proposal at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on Zoom.

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