SHAKER HEIGHTS, OH — Brandt Butze gathered with friends and family at Horseshoe Lake in Shaker Heights last weekend for the dedication of a bench in his son’s honor. Twenty year old Jacob Butze died last December after a battle with cancer and the family saw the lake as the perfect spot to remember him.
“My son ran here as a child, he ran at Shaker Middle School before going to St. Ed’s in high school,” his father recalled. "He loved running here, he loved the trees, he loved the nature, he liked seeing other runners here. It’s a very peaceful place for our friends and our family to sit.”
The view offered is serene but is no longer of the lake itself, drained in 2019 as the condition of the dam erected 170 years ago began to worsen. Since then, the lakebed has begun the process of returning to it’s natural state and that’s a process the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District would like to advance as part of a $28.3 million project to remove the dam altogether and create meandering creeks through the property.
"That flooding in this location is a threat to public safety,” said Frank Greenland, director of Watershed Programs for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.
It's Greenland's job to present to the public, and to a joint meeting of Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights city councils on Monday, the district’s recommendation and the reasons behind them.
While Horseshoe Lake is a local landmark, Greenland said at a June public meeting that replacing the dam would provide little benefit to preventing future floods, which is the major criteria for funding.
"The district cannot fund the Horseshoe Lake portion of this. That's a significant cost it's $20-21 million,” Greenland said. “That's not something the district can support with district dollars."
Their plans call for, in part, what is already happening as the lakebed has returned to its original state with streams running through. Reconfigured as they've done in other areas like a spot along Doan Brook near the Art Museum.
Out at Horseshoe Lake, a sign alerts those interested in attending the Monday meeting. It hangs right near the Butzes' new bench. Brandt Butze recalled the joy the lake brought him as a kid.
“I grew up at Horseshoe Lake, I grew up coming to Horseshoe Lake, I remember the regattas in the lake, this city was kind of founded on all of these cool lakes that are here,” he said.
But after seeing the district’s initial presentation he’s a realist.
“Really this is the only option that we have, to turn this into a green space. With the infrastructure the way it was built however many years ago it's just not feasible to have what we had."