Euclid community project manager Allison Lukacsy-Love cleaning up the beach. (Allison Lukacsy-Love)

Meet Allison Lukacsy-Love: artist, community projects manager for the city of Euclid and member of Cleveland’s first Young Professionals Council of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Originally from New Jersey, Lukacsy-Love grew up wanting to live near the water. She moved to Cleveland in 2011 after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University to work for an architecture firm. She quickly became invested in the health of Lake Erie.

She spends her spare time cleaning up beaches and making public art from plastic cigar tips that wash up on shore. She’s also helping choose recipients for the first grants from the Cleveland’s Alliance for the Great Lakes Young Professionals Council, which formed last year. And in Euclid, she’s overseeing an innovative $12 million project to build a public bike path along private lakefront land.

The ¾-mile waterfront trail will link the beach at Sims to a second lakefront park, with pocket beaches in between. Eventually the city hopes to add a marina, boat launch and restaurant.

“How do we open up access to the lake? How do we make it more than just the property owners? These questions are pretty universal,” said Lukacsy-Love, 31, who lives in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood. “We’ve got a lot of the freshwater in the world. We need to be better stewards of this and appreciate what we’ve got.”

Hear Lukacsy-Love’s take on the health of Lake Erie and the way the Euclid lakefront is changing.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

So you’re from New Jersey. How’d you end up so invested in Lake Erie?

The Great Lakes to me had been this HOMES acronym that you had to learn in social studies. I didn’t have any connection to it. But very quickly I became aware of the problem, the first summer I was here, I tried to go to Edgewater and the Nowcast beach forecast said not to go swimming.

My husband is my biggest connection. He started the Euclid Beach clean-up when he was in college at Baldwin Wallace University. I got in with my perspective as artist, seeing the amazing amount of trash you’re pulling out of the lake. I started collected cigar tips in these buckets and making art. That became a bean bag. Then it became a chair, three times the size of a bean bag. I took it to all these community events and had all these conversations about sustainability through all these multiple outlets.

In 2015, with the Great Lakes Science Center, we made n 8-foot-long wooden armature of a fish. We stuffed it with trash that we had collected over the course of multiple beach clean ups. That elevated it. It was like OK, now I understand my role in creating all these things.  

The Alliance for the Great Lakes started its Cleveland Young Professionals Council in 2017. What is the group’s role?

Chicago was the first, Cleveland is the second. There are other offices in Buffalo, Detroit and Milwaukee that don’t have young professional groups. They’re looking to see what they can learn from us. It’s always great when Cleveland can be the teacher or the leader in something.

We are very fortunate to have two full time employees for the alliance here in Cleveland, with one person working on policy, another tasked with community engagement.

We were given $10,000 for start-up funding and are creating a mini grant application, from $500 to $5,000. It’s open for anyone doing something for water quality or education. It could be a teacher saying I want to bring this curriculum into a third grade classroom. The main priorities are access and equity, education, meaningful connection (com engagement) and healthy lakes.

(Find the application here.)

We’re kicking this off with a May 15 event at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium , which is donating space. It’s a totally free event. We’re trying to get people aware that this is an opportunity, if you’d like to participate in the alliance.

Allison Lukacsy-Love collaborated on an 8-foot perch stuffed with garbage for the Great Lakes Science Center in 2015. (Allison Lukacsy-Love)

Will the Alliance partner with other Great Lakes environmental groups?

Yes, a lot of this needs to be done in partnership with people who are out doing this work.

We need to boost our own reputation, figure out how can we help you with the work that you’re doing.

I participate in a beach clean up at Euclid Beach because that’s my home beach. One of the members of the Young Professional Council leads one in Sims Park in Euclid. There are other involved at Perkins, Edgewater. A lot of that is tying together what we’ve been doing.

This fall there might be another opportunity for people to join the council, though anybody can participate in any activity.

The Euclid project is getting a lot of attention. How could it change the health, and the shoreline, of the Great Lakes?

This summer we will break ground on this project, beginning in Sims Park.

We’ve seen an uptick in people moving to the area, already a slight increase in property values right around the area. Some people coming from other areas have seen what the benefit of a trail can be to owning a property. They’re the ones getting in now, going to have a huge potential. Others, whose property has been eroding for decades, are incredibly appreciative that this is going to be the fix for them that they could not do on their own.

It’s incredible to know that this momentum and excitement is not just coming from the city, the community and lakefront property owners truly are part of the process and the project and getting their buy-in has been a priority from the start. The positive response from the public and other agencies working in and around Lake Erie make Euclid’s work all the more impactful on a larger scale.