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What's next? The walkway over Horseshoe Lake is crumbling and closed to public

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Posted at 6:43 AM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-03 15:30:45-04

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — According to officials, the dams at both Horseshoe and Lower Lake are failing and to speak to their point, the walkway over Horseshoe Dam is breaking down. Shaker Heights’ city officials have closed it off to public access.

Horseshoe Lake Park has been a place of peace for residents of both Shaker and Cleveland Heights, that border the lake.

“It’s green and luscious and beautiful,” said Lilly Dotta, a resident of Shaker Heights.

Horseshoe Lake sits right across from the Shaker Historical Society. Brianna Treleven is the executive director of the society, she said since the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District proposed changes to Horseshoe and Lower Lake, there’s a renewed interest in the history of the dams.

“We’ve been getting a lot more questions lately,” she said.

The history of the dam is colorful.

“It was formed in 1852, when the North Union Shakers, who occupied this area of Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights dammed Doan Brook. Doan Brook has been around for around 15,000 years,” said Treleven.

But the present reality of Horseshoe is black and white.

“Horseshoe Lake is a man-made lake. The dam itself is an earthen dam with a stone spillway. It is 169 years old and, at this point, it is failing and there is really no chance to save it,” she said.

Shaker Heights councilman Earl Williams said the latest example of the failing infrastructure is the sinking walkway on top of it.

“When it fails the entire bridge area will collapse into the Doan Brook and that could cause a loss of life and, particularly, serious injury,” said Williams.

He is urging people to not go through the cones, tape, and signs onto the walkway.

Williams said the problems with the Horseshoe Lake Dam and Lower Lake Dam have gotten worse over the last couple of years.

“Each brings with it, not only, the rain coming from the sky, but the runoff from the upper communities that come into the areas,” he said. “The water would actually go back west until it got to the lower levels to the city of Cleveland Heights, which is University Circle, that area would be hit with a cascade of water.”

The possibility of a failing dam during a large rain event forced the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to drain Horseshoe Lake, altogether in 2019.

“We all expected them to fix the dams and refill it, but now it’s completely empty,” said Dotta. “Most people would prefer to have it, but I think there’s a lot of other issues that affect it.”

NEORSD previously proposed to leave Horseshoe Lake empty and restore it back to its original brook. The organization suggested keeping Lower Lake a lake, and repairing its dam.

But Williams said what is now under discussion is who will foot the $30 million dollar bill for the renovation.

“How do you make sure that the citizens can afford to keep it by not unduly taxing them?” he asked. “Are they going to be paid by the individual taxpayers? By the cities of Cleveland, Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights or are they going be paid for by a tax that is actually levied by the NEORSD for the treatment of the wastewater?”

The future of the area may not be set in stone, but the people News 5 spoke to said the need for change is.

“It is not natural, it is entirely man-made, and is really not meant to last forever,” said Treleven. “ I also think there’s a lot of opportunity to make history with public input.”

The NEORSD’s next public meeting to discuss the future of Shaker Lakes is Aug. 9.

Shaker Historical Society has an exhibit on the history of Shaker Lakes through Sept. 5.

RELATED: Sewer district plans to get rid of failing Horseshoe Lake dam due to potential for disaster