Want to revisit the good old days of Cleveland Municipal Stadium? Get out your scuba gear. Because the rubble of the ballpark is now three artificial reefs, home to thousands of fish in Lake Erie.
The concrete, brick and rock from the onetime home of the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns is piled in three spots between Edgewater Beach and Bratenahl. The middle section even has one row of seats, said Geoffrey Reutter, former director of Ohio Sea Grant, which helped make the reefs a reality.
Ten reefs were sunk between 1984 and 2000, between Lorain and Euclid, Reutter said. Research shows that the reefs attract 12 to 66 times as many fish as the surrounding area, which means more anglers come to the area, spending money at surrounding businesses.
The reefs also stimulate fish production, though they aren’t large enough to have a significant impact on populations.
“We thought these should be good for perch and walleye,” Reutter said. “But they’re best for small mouth bass. They pay for themselves economically 2.75 times each year.”
The Municipal Stadium reefs were the last ones to go in, when the city tore down the structure to make way for a new Browns stadium.
The original was approved by Cleveland voters in 1928, with a $2.5 million bond. It was completed in 1931 and fit more than 78,000 people.
In 1948 and 1954 the stadium hosted the World Series. In 1946 the Browns began playing there.
In 1995, Browns owner Art Modell decided to leave town, and in 1996, the stadium’s walls came down. They were dumped into Lake Erie about three years later.
The reefs are helpful in the central basin of the lake, north of Cleveland, because the lake bottom is so flat.
Adding mounds of rubble creates shadows and a place for fish to hide.
But Sea Grant had to be careful of where to locate them. Scientists made sure the piles were outside of shipping lanes and sailboat race courses.
Sportsmen’s groups, including the Polish Fishermen’s Club in Lorain County, donated money for the reefs, which less than $200,000 total. The material and storage were free; the Ohio Department of Natural Resources merely paid to dump the material, using donations. Sea Grant and the city of Cleveland got permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA and more.
“People had lots of ideas, to use old tires, sink old boats,” Reutter said. “Our plan was to use material that if it eroded at all, would simply add to the habitat, not pollute it.”
Now, anglers and divers can find the reefs using GPS.
“Scuba divers love it because they love seeing the fish. The reefs are literally covered with fish.”