Meet Dick Clough, who founded the Green Ribbon Coalition to create more access to Lake Erie and connect lakefront parks with trails to the east, west and south.

“I’ve lived here all my life. I always thought we could do better,” said Clough, 70, of Lakewood. “If we’re ever to see our community thrive, I think we really need to embrace Lake Erie.”

A graduate of Ohio University, Clough served in the Vietnam War and came home to Berea, where he was elected Berea City Council president, the youngest elected public official in Ohio at the time. He published Fairways Magazine for the Northern Ohio Golf Association and worked on some of the region’s largest festivals.

In his latest role, he spent a year studying successful coastal communities before coming up with the idea of the Green Ribbon. The group merged three existing nonprofits — the Cleveland Waterfront Coalition, Cleveland Lakefront Development Corp. and Cleveland Lakefront Parks Conservancy – to work together.

They’ve pitched two grandiose ideas, each of which could cost $100 million.

  1. A land bridge from the downtown mall to North Coast Harbor.This is instead of the pedestrian bridge originally proposed, since that kind of iconic span is meant to highlight a river, rather than hide the train tracks and Shoreway.
  2. An expanded Gordon Park. This would require moving the Shoreway south, toward the bluffs, to create a continuous 160-acre lakefront park that links the Lakefront Nature Preserve with East 55th Street Marina.

Here’s Clough’s take on Cleveland’s lakefront, its past and future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the Green Ribbon Coalition, and what is its goal?

The Green Ribbon Coalition is an advocacy organization. We’re advocating on behalf of the lakefront in Cleveland and across Lake Erie’s shore. Or mission is to create more public parks, more green areas, more trails. We’ve had a tendency for years to use the lake as an industrial waterway. While there’s still some industrial uses, we think there should be greater balance between commercial development and green infrastructure.

By the very nature of the word coalition, we’re looking to create partnerships with other organizations in the Cleveland area and elsewhere.

Do you think the West Side of Cleveland has more lake access than the East?

Take Edgewater. Edgewater has a lot of access to the lake. It has a beach and a bluff. When you get over to the East Side, you basically have some boat ramps. You do have some green areas, but not a beach. There is the nature preserve, but that’s somewhat of a limited access facility.

At the turn of the century there were two big lakefront parks: Edgewater on the West Side, Gordon Park on the East. In those days, Gordon Park rivaled Edgewater.  In the ‘60s when they built the Shoreway, they basically cut that off.

We’d like to fix that by creating an Edgewater east at Gordon Park.

You’d also like to build a land bridge to connect the downtown Mall to the lake. What are the chances that’ll come to fruition?

It is a lot of money, and there will be a lot of conversation about it. I think the city, the political and business community, non-profit community, have seen that’s important. Creating a real green connection between downtown and the lakefront is really a big deal.

Our goal was to put the big idea out there and really get people talking about it, get people stimulated.

We need to bring the same sense of urgency we brought to the Q renovation to green investment.

Take the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which winds through downtown Indianapolis and spurred billions of dollars in private investment.

We need to finish this trail system, finish those projects, not a couple miles here and couple miles there. Let’s find a way to get those projects done in two or three years, so we can really benefit and catch up with Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Detroit. All these communities face the same issues. The communities that embrace green infrastructure are the ones that are going to be more competitive in the future.

We are going to be pushing really hard to get people to join our coalition. The more people we have that identify themselves with the coalition and our mission really will have an impact in pushing the city fathers to pay attention to this issue.

You also have smaller plans, such as planting pocket gardens along the Shoreway.

I think that section of the Shoreway between East 9th Street and Bratenahl is pretty drab. We think that adding plant life and flowers and maybe some additional trees would certainly beautify that area and make it look more inviting.

I actually found a park next to Cleveland Public Power when I was cycling. I said, ‘I’ll be damned, there’s a park here.’ The grass hadn’t been cut, park benches were rusting. We could actually make that a little oasis on North Marginal Road. That would be our first pocket garden.

It just takes money, and maintenance. It takes putting a strategy together.

Do you think we’re experiencing a Lake Erie renaissance?

In Cleveland we’re beginning to recognize the importance of public access to the lake. There are cities that are way ahead of us: Chicago, Milwaukee, Toronto. Over time we could catch up.

But I think a case in point would be when the Cleveland Metroparks finished the new beach pavilion at Edgewater Park. They announced it was open, and for the first two weekends it was so busy you couldn’t get in.

If you create the right facilities on the lake, people will certainly embrace them.

I think this tremendous influx of younger folks, young professionals and others living downtown, really do appreciate the lakefront more than other suburbanites who live farther out. I think there’s greater appreciation. Whether we’d call it a renaissance yet, I think you’re building on support.