Cleveland’s beaches are clean, and everyone has noticed.

In 2013, the year the state handed Cleveland Metroparks control of the city’s lakefront parks, 702,000 people visited Edgewater Beach. The lakefront parks — Huntington, Edgewater, Whiskey Island, Wendy Park, Villa Angela, Wildwood and Euclid Beach — had more than 3.9 million visits in 2017.

Edgewater Live has grown to an average weekly attendance of 13,000 guests — up 2,000 from 2017, according to the Metroparks.

Edgewater is the busiest portion of Cleveland’s lakefront. And it’s the biggest priority, said Matt Krems, one of two park managers who oversees Edgewater, Whiskey Island, the old Coast Guard Station, East 55th Street Marina and Gordon Park.

The swim beach at Edgewater is groomed every day from early May through September, four days a week by the “Beach machine,” a John Deere tractor dragging a sand sifter. The dog beach at Edgwater and the Wendy Park beach on Whiskey Island are groomed at least once a week.

That’s 7 1/2 miles every morning, starting about 5 a.m. That’s back and forth 45 times at 2.3 miles an hour, about 563 miles over the season.

The Cleveland Metroparks use a John Deere tractor dragging a sand sifter across Edgewater Beach four days a week. (Cleveland Metroparks)

Krems’ section of park employs 12 maintenance workers full-time, year-round and 25 seasonal staff. They pick up trash, fix lights and roads, mow the lawn, plant trees and remove debris.

Crews remove about 500 pounds of debris from Edgewater alone each year, the majority of that in the spring. They clean up piles of logs that float out of the Cuyahoga and Rocky rivers and wash up on the beach.

“Spring and winter, if we get a decent break in the weather, we’ll pick away at that so we don’t have a giant pile of logs to overcome,” said Matt Krems, one of two park managers. “They’d let it pile up in the old days until June. It would take them a month. We’re going to consistently stay on top of so it doesn’t get away from us.”

Want to know how the Cleveland Metroparks keeps the beach so clean? Krems explains the work behind the beautiful view.

This article has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve got something called the Beach machine. Can you explain how that works?

It came through a partnership with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, and it’s been there since we took over the parks in 2013. It’s made by a company called Cherrington, and it’s mesh that can sift out anything, really. Sand goes through a screen, and anything the size of a small pebble and up will get picked up by machine: a bottle or can that we missed doing trash pickup, a stick, fine plastic debris, pebbles and rocks. Really, anything other than sand is what it’s designed to remove.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found?

It’s common, ordinary junk.

We did find a monster truck tire that washed up last week. It’s about 6 feet in diameter. We’ve found a few of them, and we were racking brains before we remembered that freeighters have them tied on sides as bumpers. Some of those must come off at times.

What about personal items? What happens to them?

Logs piled up at Wendy Park in March 2018. (Cleveland Metroparks)

Anything anybody brings to the beach, they leave at the beach, especially after Edgewater Live.  

Usually stuff is broken. People aren’t leaving good lawn chairs and good umbrellas. The clothing is beat up, and we end up tossing it.

Anything nice — wallets, sunglasses, keys, phones, etc. – are kept in the lost and found at the concession stand. Anything valuable gets turned over to ranger department at the end of the season.

How many trash cans does the park have?

We have 16 trash cans on the beach every day – eight trash and eight recycle. We add another 15 trash and 15 recycle on the beach for Edgewater Live. There’s probably another 15 on the plaza and beach house.

On busy day we’ll probably empty those two times a day.

What do you do for big events, like the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships?

We manage our normal operations and stay out in front of them and stay out of their way.

We make sure Edgewater looks as good as possible, with some extra time to give it some extra polish.

The Wendy Park beach always seems loaded with trash. Is it something with the currents?

We wonder the same thing. There’s got to be something with the way the causeway to the Coast Guard stations traps things. At times you can literally see a trail of logs flow right out of the river and right on to that beach. It’s the smallest beach but the most time intensive.

Do you think there’s been a lakefront renaissance in Cleveland?

Before the Metroparks took over, there was a stigma. There was an accessibility issue, of where to even get to the lake. I think the tide has turned. Paddleboarding has been a big help, kayaking, rowing.

Whether it’s generational or the population shift to downtown? People are embracing the waterfront.

What’s your favorite spot on the lakefront?

We say it’s a hidden secret, the Cleveland Nature Preserve. People don’t know it’s there. They don’t know what it is. I always start my day there. I pull in there, it’s peaceful. It’s a really natural spot.

280 bird species spotted at Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve