Wildlife has found new homes during Hinckley Lake dam rehabilitation

by Chris Studor

Where has all the wildlife gone?

This was one of several questions posed to representatives of the Cleveland Metroparks Oct. 18 as they addressed concerns regarding wildlife in conjunction with the $10-million dam rehabilitation project at Hinckley Lake.

Park representatives, including Sean McDermott, project engineer and chief planning and design officer; Erik Shaffer, natural resources area manager; Foster Brown, naturalist; and Seth Keller, project manager, were in attendance.

As for the fate of the lake fish, Brown explained that as the lake was drained into the East Branch of the Rocky River, the fish followed the river flow. As for the beavers, they have relocated to the West Drive area of the lake. Additionally, freshwater mussels have been relocated.

Other animals have relocated themselves, Shaffer said.

Brown presented a brief history of the lake and park, explaining that  the Cleveland Metroparks is the oldest park district in Ohio – 106 years – and the second largest.

Construction of the dam, the earthen rise at the north end of the lake, and the spillway, the concrete part, began in the fall of 1925 and was finished in 1927. It sits at 900 feet long and 200 feet high above the water. The original cost was $100,000.

The boat house was constructed in 1947 with educational courses and outdoor events soon following.

McDermott said that over the next several years, the rehabilitation project will improve the recreational opportunities around Hinckley Lake. It will also raise the height of the existing earthen dam embankment that stretches across the northern portion of the lake and rehabilitate the 150-foot-wide concrete spillway to meet modern standards and provide improved protection in the event of severe flooding.

“The silt deposited by the Rocky River over the last century varies in depth from 2-16 feet,” said McDermott. “Concurrently, with the dam rehabilitation, Cleveland Metroparks will remove excess silt deposits in specific areas of the lake to allow for proper depths for recreation. The lake project began in late September with the temporary draining of Hinckley Lake. Most of the dredging will take place on the south side of the lake.  The project will require that the lake remain drained and the mud/soil dry out to accompany the weight of construction vehicles.

Completion of the dam project is expected by summer of 2026 based on current schedules and funding. “

The project team includes Cleveland Metroparks, Great Lakes Construction, Michael Baker International, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Project staging will occur at several locations throughout the park, including Buzzard Roost, where ground clay will be removed to be used in the rehabilitation process. The clay will be replaced with soil dredged from the lake.

The hole from which the clay will be removed at Buzzard’s Roost will not be large enough to hold all the soil removed from the lake and, thus, Metroparks will do some additional landscaping in the park to use that soil. There will be several large construction vehicles used and park officials said a construction company will survey conditions before hauling on township roads with permits issued.

While the Hinckley Reservation will remain open throughout the project, access to Hinckley Lake is  now prohibited. Both park officials and officials from the Hinckley Fire Department have issued repeated warnings to visitors not to walk into the muddy lake.

Hinckley Fire Chief Jestin Grossenbaugh is continuing to work with the Cleveland Metropoarks, as well as fire departments from neighboring communities, on a mud rescue plan.

Grossenbaugh said mud rescue is very difficult and the Medina County All-Hazards team has acquired equipment that could aid in rescues, including an air cannon, hose and compressor, wooden boards, trailers and flotation devices. Grossenbaugh said the Metroparks have put more signage around the area reminding people not to go out onto the lake and closed-off areas, warning that township ordinances allow for ticketing of violators plus possible charges for recovery costs for manpower and vehicles in case of an accident.

While the concrete/asphalt upper lake trail will remain open, parts of the earthen trail around the lake will be closed.

Residents also wanted to know what was found at the bottom of the lake once it was drained.

“Actually nothing exciting was found,” said McDermott, although Brown added that he would “like workers to keep an eye out for a pair of his glasses he recently lost to the lake.”

Hinckley Lake is so much a part of the lives of so many people over the last century, serving as a no-cost place to swim, fish, picnic and hike. It will take patience to wait for the completion, but the rehabilitation “will provide a place for people to enjoy safely for the next 100 years,” said McDermott.

Hinckley resident Heather Liccardi, a member of the Rocky River Watershed Council, which regularly tests water quality of the Rocky River in Hinckley, assisted with research for this article. ∞

Photo: A couple looks over the signage at Hinckley Lake explain the rehabilitation of the lake and dam now underway and expected to be completed in two years. Photo by Chris Studor