Birds are migrating north. And hundreds of them will soon stop at the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve, 88 acres of dredged soil from the bottom of the Cuyahoga River.

In the spring and fall, the brightly colored warblers, vireos, thrushes and flycatchers stop to refuel, eating and resting before they fly 60 miles across lake at night, said Wendy Weirich, director of outdoor experiences for the Cleveland Metroparks, which offers some programming on the site.

For the most part, though, the land owned by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority is meant for passive recreation.

“It’s an amazing opportunity with so much hardscape to have such an amazing piece of landscape right in an urban area,” said Linda Sternheimer, the port’s director of urban planning and engagement. “I think when you hike back there, you’ll see when the trees leaf out more, the noise you hear from the shoreway disappears looking out at the lake. It’s a really unique place in Cleveland.”

Early May through mid-June and September-October are prime times to watch for birds resting during migration. Late summer is best for butterflies, Sternheimer said.

Here’s what you can find at the preserve:

  • 280 species of birds
  • 42 species of butterflies, including monarchs, red admirals, black swallowtails
  • 16 species of mammals
  • 2 species of reptiles
  • 26 Ohio plant species (including wildflowers & grasses)
  • 9 species of trees and shrubs

The result, Weirich said, “to take this trash, this waste product, and make it a place of wonder.”

Here’s what you need to know about the park.

What do I need to know about visiting?

The park is open every day, 6 a.m.-11 p.m. Admission is free. No dogs are allowed. The park is next to the Cleveland Metroparks’ Gordon Park, with the address of 701 Lakeshore Boulevard. There are 2.5 miles of trails and benches, but there are no picnic tables and there is no lake access.

When did the park open?

February 2012, 13 years after the last dredged sludge was dumped there by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

How was the park created?

In 1962, two old freighters were sunk offshore to create a breakwall to protect Gordon Park’s beach. Solid waste was regularly dumped along the lakeshore and eventually formed an approximately 10-acre area between the sunken freighters and the shoreline, according to the port. In 1979, the Army Corps began disposing of sediment there, in a walled-off area that juts out from the Lake Erie shoreline, called Dike 14.  The sediment included layers of sand, soil and clay, and with very little human intervention, the peninsula came to life.

“This is land that was never here before,” Weirich said. Seeds were either already in the soil, blown onto the land by the wine, pooped out by birds and other animals.

“It’s interesting because it all just happened. It’s a funny experiment,” she said.

Who visits?

Students, bird watchers, commuters looking for a break on their way home. Every year, attendance has increased, Sternheimer said.

“It is really interesting to visit in all four seasons because it looks so different,” she said.


What’s happening now?

Organizations are working to weed out nonnative species, like Phragmites grass, poison hemlock and mugwort. About 700 trees have been planted, to help shade out invasive plants.