SHEFFIELD LAKE — Can greater pedestrian and cyclist connectivity between the lakefront communities of Avon Lake, Sheffield Lake, Lorain and Vermilion bring more people and revenue to those cities?
City and county officials think it’s a possibility, and they are continuing to study what such connectivity might look like and entail. An $84,000 grant through the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency was awarded in January to start the planning process, Lorain County Commissioner Matt Lundy said, and the county and Lorain County Metro Parks also chipped in $1,000 each toward getting a plan in place.
That money was used to hire consulting firm Environmental Design Group which is gathering input and developing a connectivity plan. Once those plans are in place, an implementation grant will be sought through NOACA.
Lundy said Lake Erie is a great resource and more needs to be done to draw people to its shores.
“Feedback is critical,” Lundy told those present. “We’re looking for your vision for the lakefront.”
At a Thursday meeting at the Sheffield Lake Community Center, 4575 Lake Road, residents and various city and county officials gathered to brainstorm and provide feedback to Environmental Design Group Director Michelle Johnson.
“We have not started designing yet,” Johnson said. “We’ve looked at existing conditions and started analysis, but what we’re here to understand is what you want and to get your opinion.”
Johnson said Environmental Design Group is a player in projects like the Cleveland Lakefront Greenway and Downtown Connector Study, the Lakewood Park solstice steps and the Geauga Lake Redevelopment Plan.
Johnson said serious cyclists plan their routes through areas with established bike path systems and there are groups of people who plan long-distance trips through such places.
The average person spends about $13.54 cents every time they take a day trip through a trail system, Johnson said. Overnight cyclists, who tent to be well-educated men between the ages of 50 and 64 will spend about $25 to $75 a day, she said.
But the goal is to create a system everyone can use, Johnson said, from the serious overnight cyclist, to those who cycle to work and those who just want to take their children for a hike or ride along the lake. The thought is that more use will bring more revenue, and interest from outsiders, to the county.
“We want to capture those dollars,” Johnson said. “Let’s get that $13.54 per trip.”
Those present at the meeting said each city has something to offer. Some said more signage is needed to let people know how attractions like the Lorain Lighthouse or Black River Landing can be accessed.
Others said the beaches that exist are nice, but the number of beaches and places to access the water is lacking. One man said he’d like to see more opportunities for pedestrians and cyclists, but the area should also provide more opportunities for boaters to stop.
The idea is to connect various parks, public land and attractions through multi-use trails, bike paths and lake access points. It’s a concept to promote health, officials said, but if done right it also can draw cyclists, boaters and visitors to the cities along the lake.
Sheffield Lake Councilwoman Rosa Gee said if this idea is to be taken seriously, more restrooms and stopping points are needed along the lake. Sheffield Lake already has one bike repair and air stop, but it is the only one for miles around.
“We need bike stations throughout the whole path, and we need all the communities to come together as a whole to help accomplish this,” she said.
In many ways the lakeshore cities are trying to get back to their roots.
At one time, when the Lakeshore Electric Railway was in its heyday in the early 20th century, people could travel from Cleveland to Lorain faster than they can now. At that time cities like Avon Lake and Sheffield Lake were tourist communities and cottages, dance halls and small amusement parks sprang up along the railway.
The advent of more cars saw the decline of the railway, and with it the connectivity and foot traffic that once existed along the lake. Construction of Interstate 90 was the final nail in the coffin as many commuters opted to travel via the interstate versus Lake and Detroit Roads.
Some of those present at Thursday’s meeting said public transportation also should be a focus when it comes to a lakefront connectivity plan. Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka said public transportation is sorely needed and he hopes one day voters support it.
Zilka said a major manufacturer was considering a move to Avon Lake at one point, but ultimately decided against it when the company learned the county essentially has zero public transportation.
“A lack of public transportation is a serious hindrance to economic development in this county,” Zilka said.
Two more public brainstorming sessions are tentatively scheduled for the fall in Avon Lake and Vermilion. Locations and dates have not yet been finalized.
Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.