Cleveland is a former industrial powerhouse that has spent the past several decades trying to reinvent itself. Recently, parts of the somewhat-unkempt city have been transformed. This is most evident in the sparkling new downtown area, which sits on the shores of Lake Erie. Cleveland has fared better than its Rust Belt peers like Detroit and Buffalo. Still, the city’s population has declined by almost half over the past half-century.
Yes, Cleveland’s image has changed. This was the place where the notorious Cuyahoga River became so polluted that its surface caught on fire. The waterway and its tributaries have been cleaned up to an extent, though pollution remains a concern.
Cleveland’s public parks and the lakefront give the city a surprising amount of natural attractions, and it is easy for Cleveland-based travelers to explore the nearby rural parts of Ohio along the lakefront. Public art and gardens add to the green scene and give Cleveland an unexpected set of features that should earn it a spot on the map of environmentally minded tourists.
Cleveland’s Wyndham Hotel at Playhouse Square has made some impressively green steps over the past few years. A recent renovation has given the venue a boutique flair. As with other inns bearing the Wyndham name, luxury is turned up at the Playhouse Square location: There is everything from bellhops to complimentary high speed Internet. On the green side, the Wyndham boasts all the usual recycling and efficiency features. The hotel takes it a step further with its staff uniforms, which are sewn using polyester fabric made from recycled plastics.
For those heading outside of the city, the resort town of Sandusky (about an hour from Cleveland) is home to the Great Wolf Lodge, a large year-round water park and resort that is seeking to complete work to be certified by the Green Seal organization. The Sandusky location is one of a dozen Great Wolf Lodges in the country that are on the way to earning the stamp of eco-approval.
The Greenhouse Tavern is the greenest of Cleveland’s eateries. The building itself is built using a concrete mixture that includes glass from used wine and beer bottles. The furnishings are all manufactured from recycled materials, with tables made from antique wood floors and seating from refurbished church pews. In the kitchen, a majority of the ingredients are locally sourced from Cuyahoga Valley farmers.
Amp 150 is another reasonably priced restaurant that specializes in food from local sources. Surprisingly (for such a progressive place), this is a hotel restaurant -- it is located in the lobby of Cleveland’s Marriot Hotel.
Cleveland’s farmers markets run throughout the summer. They are good places to pick up locally grown produce. The iconic, historic West Side Market runs throughout the year and is a remnant of Cleveland’s past. Local small-scale vendors sell products in an old-world market atmosphere that is not often found in the U.S.
Cleveland’s Regional Transit Authority (RTA) runs a light rail line. Recent additions have made it possible to ride the train to all of central Cleveland’s tourist attractions and the lakefront. The RTA also has a fleet of clean diesel hybrid buses. Exploring further afield and visiting regional destinations requires a car, though driving can be tedious during the snowy winters.
Cleveland’s pro sports teams might be known for their hard luck. However, Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, boasts some of the most environmentally friendly features of any American ballpark. Its in-house monitors and scoreboard are powered by solar panels installed next to an upper deck concourse. Signs throughout the park use efficient LED lights and there is a massive recycling program. The in-park vendors use compostable food and beverage containers.
Cleveland’s Metroparks system is one of the more extensive for a midsized American city. There are 16 nature preserves within the metro area. These are much more than the usual assortment of city parks decorated with picnic tables and playgrounds. Metroparks has a staff of naturalists and runs educational programs and nature-related events throughout the year, especially during the summer.
Metroparks is also in charge of running the Cleveland Zoo. The zoo is involved in all the typical conservation efforts of organizations of its size. It also has a unique recycling program that it uses to raise funds for operation. This program ranges from collecting paper and cans to accepting cellphones, compostable materials and ink cartridges for recycling. The zoo also spearheads an annual effort to clean up the tributaries of the notoriously polluted Cuyahoga River that run into and near its property.
The State Parks System operates parks up and down the coast of Lake Erie. The Headlands State Park/Cleveland Lakefront State Park is the easiest to access for visitors to the city.
The Cleveland Botanical Garden is one of the most popular destinations for nature lovers and garden enthusiasts. The Eleanor Armstrong Smith Conservatory features plant life from Central America and gives the garden a feature that is accessible year round. The garden’s projects include Green Corps, an educational program that teaches young people how to create and maintain urban farms and gardens. Students from area schools are employed to work on their neighborhood farm and can produce food that is sold at the city’s markets.
Cleveland is, admittedly, not the first place most people think of when they are searching for a destination along the Great Lakes. But the city has, to a large extent, shed its polluted, Rust Belt image. One of the side effects of this rebranding has been a cleaner, greener, more accessible city.
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