Where there was once toxic soil, today wildflowers grow! Mountains of ground up asphalt have been transformed into park lands. Weeds have been pulled from cracked sidewalks, and a bike path is put to good use on a daily basis. The Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie see improved health, thanks to a natural storm water treatment system that removes harmful pollutants.
Two feet of clean soil were brought to the area of Clark’s Field, to provide a barrier between the toxic soil beneath and the visiting public. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s far less expensive (and thus more easily funded) than removing all of the toxins, which ran 20 feet deep.
“The resulting man-made meadowland and wetland areas control the quantity and velocity of storm water before it reaches the river below. The soil and plant life filter storm water as it runs through the site, removing harmful pollutants.” (Clark Field Wetlands: Protecting Cleveland’s Waterways)
So, why was there so much asphalt? Why was the area ever in disrepair? Clark Field, in the Tremont area of Cleveland, was a thriving park with a baseball field, which drew families to the area, and a venue to host community events. When it was discovered that the soil was contaminated, permits were no longer issued for such events, the park closed, and the area just stopped being used.
“For decades, Clark Field helped to separate Tremont’s residential area from the smoke-filled industrial valley. The park featured playgrounds, a football field, baseball diamonds, tennis courts and a dog park. However, once Tremont lost population the park became a breeding ground for unsavory characters, drug use and illegal dumping.” (News5Cleveland.com)
Through neighborhood efforts, and the intervention of the EPA, plans for a restoration began in 2016, but did not begin until 2019 due to issues with funding. Today you’ll find manmade meadowland and wetland areas.
The area has been planted with prairie grasses, shrubs, and trees that offer splashes of every shade of green — Jade, Moss, Pine, and Emerald mix with Kelly Green, Olive, Mint, and Laurel. These natural colors represent calmness, balance, growth, and vitality. The fertile environment evokes harmony and adaptability. (To be fair, don’t forget that green can also signal greed and envy, but that’s not what’s brought to mind on a stroll through the tall grasses, lush with wildflowers.)
It’s an overcast day, with rain on and off. This means the colors of the landscape are saturated, with raindrops running down long stems and dripping from tips of vibrant petals. These same colors are also soft around the edges, being struck by cloud-filtered light. It’s a photographer’s dream, until the rain picks up; it’s challenging to juggle an umbrella, and a morning cup of coffee, while framing the ideal shot.
A bright yellow patch of Orange Coneflowers might catch your eye. If you slow your pace, and start taking a closer look at this meadow on a rainy day in July, the vibrant palette of flowers seems endless. Standing quietly for a moment, looking into the grasses along your path, you’ll be struck by the diversity of color you’ll see. Plants abound, and are joined by insects, including pollinating bees and butterflies.
In the distance you do see industry in action. The steel mills are expansive, rusty, and full of history — they are massive, dominating the urban landscape. The mill is actually what brought me to the area, after reading a book (Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit by Eliese Colette Goldbach) for my non-fiction book club; the beautiful prairie was a complete surprise, and a treat.
Can industry and a beautiful natural landscapes coexist? I think Clark Field is evidence that they can! The multi-use towpath brings cyclists through the area, whether they are local residents enjoying a short ride or out-of-town visitors passing through. Educational displays along the path share the history of the mill. They showcase the final product of the dangerous work being done on the other side of the safety fence, a barrier that keeps curious visitors at a distance from the working mill.
The mill represents a world I knew nothing about, until I read this piece of non-fiction. The power of memoir is that it pulls readers into another world – it’s a real world, and might even be in your own backyard, but it’s completely foreign because it’s jus not your own lived experience. We all have so much to learn from one another, and memoir opens a window into someone else’s life, allowing us to do so.
Rust was a story of an unlikely young woman’s experience working at the steel mill, with little to no prior understanding of what that would entail, including the real, physical danger of that environment. . . . the intense heat, the dangerous heights and unfamiliar equipment, the swing shifts and resulting sleep deprivation. It’s also a story of what makes Cleveland the resilient city it is, a story of political strife among family members, and a story of mental illness and the impact it has on relationships.
The titles recommended by the numerous members of my non-fiction book club often peak my interest in a subject I previously knew little about. Reading Rust, I was able to go along for the ride, across a massive industrial complex. Goldbach shows readers the importance of the color of a hardhat (alerting everyone in the vicinity of a worker’s status as a novice or a tenured steel worker). She sheds light on mental illness and the fact that not everyone has access to the important mental healthcare they need. The political climate of the time (pre-Trump, but not by much) courses through the book.
And I thought I was reading a book about steel – it’s so much more!
After learning about the steel mill, with the help of the outdoor display, my friends and I walked along the Towpath Trail. “Let’s walk a bit along the trail, to see if I can get a shot of the mill from a different angle,” I said. That’s when the lushness of the area, in contrast to the industrial presence of the mill, demanded my attention. With a camera in hand my pace was slowed to a crawl. There was so much to see, there in a patch of wildflowers!
My next industrial stop (blog post coming soon) will be Pittsburgh, PA, known as “Steel City!”
Join me on my next adventure,
After years of delays, environmental cleanup begins at Clark Field in Tremont: https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/local-news/cleveland-metro/after-years-of-delays-environmental-cleanup-begins-at-clark-field-in-tremont
Towpath Trail Stage 3: https://canalwaypartners.com/towpath-trail/stage-3/
Clark Field: https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/771
Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit by Eliese Colette Goldbach: https://www.npr.org/2020/03/03/811504581/the-steel-mill-becomes-a-family-author-of-rust-memoir-reveals