Cedar Lake Trail

History

The Cedar Lake Plan was completed in 1980. The trail stretches 1.6 miles along the lake with paved sidewalks, sharing one leg with the Cedar River Trail. Another leg is on a dead-end road with little to no street traffic. In 1994, a committee of the city’s Community Development Program decided to put priority on the Cedar Lake Trail for future improvements. The trail is surveyed annually for necessary changes. In 2012, a new plan was proposed to update the downtown area, including the lake. After the higher priority projects were finished, the lake renewal was brought to the forefront.

The big initiative to renew the lake area was started in 2013 by a group named Friends of Cedar Lake. They have been working with community members and local businesses to gain support of the project. For the past few years, Alliant Energy has had ownership of the lake, but they are now willing to transfer ownership back to the city. Friends of Cedar Lake is also working with the Iowa DNR to apply for the Lake Restoration Program. This would provide a majority of the funds for water quality testing and other improvements.

Observations

The Cedar Lake Trail is currently often used and well-populated. Going there on a sunny spring day, you’ll see many bicyclists, joggers, fishers, and families walking their dogs. Benches are placed at random intervals along the trail for people to rest and enjoy the scenery. Many different species of waterfowl float along the water and rest along the edges of the lake. The Friends of Cedar Lake Facebook page shows that there are regular events hosted there that are open to the public.

It’s not perfect, though. It’s a great resource for Coe College students, as it’s just right across the street and under the overpass, but in order to access it legally (not going through private property), it’s almost a mile and a half walk/drive from Coe. Once at the eastern entrance (the one closest to Coe), there is very little indication that this is a free-access walking trail; just two small parking lots, a restroom, and a picnic shelter.

Walking along the trail, the paint has faded on parts of the sidewalk. There are no trail maps to figure out where the branch-off paths of the trail lead to. When trail users were asked if they had any issues or problems with the trail, several responded that the noise from nearby Interstate-380 was distracting and annoying. At many parts of the trail, looking across the lake there is nothing appealing to see, just storage yards and unkept buildings, and when you’re on the same side as those things, they are right on the other side of a simple chain-link fence. It’s a very useful, well-used path, but there are several simple things that could be done for substantial improvement.

Cedar Rapids visitor center abandoned
Train is very close by; safety hazard
Ugly Power Line Posts
And ugly Power lines buzzing overhead
Benches
Broken signs
Shelters with a few picnic tables
Few Bike Racks for the amount of people biking.
Informational Signs are few and far between

Interviews

This is an interview with Jack, a man I found fishing on the Cedar Lake.

Q. How often do you come out here?

Oh, probably like once a week during the summer. I like to come out to fish, but sometimes I come with my wife and we bring our kids to either fish or walk along the trail.

Q. What are some criticisms you have of the space?

My biggest complaint is having the interstate right next to us like that. It’s so loud, and with the pollution from the interstate and the factory and the railroad, even though you’re out in nature it doesn’t feel like it, the air still feels thick and it’s pretty loud.

Q. Do you have any proposed solutions to these problems?

I don’t know, I guess more trees would help. Maybe cover up some ugly stuff on the other side of the trail with some trees. I guess that could help with pollution and stuff too.

This is an interview with Nora, a woman getting ready for a jog around the lake.

Q. How often do you come here?

I’ve actually only been here a couple times. This is like maybe my third or fourth time here.

Q. What are some criticisms that you have of the space?

I don’t have many, really! I really like this trail. The only thing I can think of is like general upkeep of the area. Like keep the trail painted and keep the area clean.

Q. Do you have any proposed solutions to these problems?

Like I said, keep the trail painted, maybe add a couple more garbages so people are more likely to throw away their trash instead of just littering. Oh! Also I’d really like a map of this trail, I’ve seen several little billboard posts where I think there used to be a trail map but there’s not anymore? Or just a pocket-sized one would also work.

The Future of Cedar Lake

Looking forward to Cedar Lake’s future, we propose several changes to the Cedar Lake Trail to make it a place the Cedar Rapids community can claim as a unique, pleasant destination for biking, walking, and general recreation, connected both to downtown and the Cedar River Trail.

Firstly, research into the condition of Cedar Lake’s sediment should continue to ensure the lake is safe for recreation. If this research builds on the recent removal of Cedar Lake from the impaired waters list, it will help massively in transforming the lake’s reputation; if it proves there are some issues, work can be done to definitively fix those issues. A change in ownership of the lake from Alliant Energy to the City of Cedar Rapids would benefit this effort; public ownership of the lake would qualify it for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Lake Restoration Program. In addition, adding provisions for the lake to the Army Corps of Engineers’ flooding prevention plan would protect the progress being made at Cedar Lake from being washed away. If possible, expanding the trail to loop the entire lake would be ideal for ease of access. These administrative actions would set a strong groundwork for improvements on the trail.

General trail upkeep is another must for Cedar Lake and its trails. The lake’s reputation for being dangerous and dirt is in no way helped by the trash piled up against its shore, the broken and outdated signage along the trail, and the poor condition of its greenery. We recommend more regular park upkeep services, whether through community volunteering or paid positions -- memorial stones would be wiped clean, grass re-planted, trail maps kept readily available, the lake clearer than it’s ever been. To keep trash from finding its way back to the lake and the trail, more trash cans (ideally designed to look visually appealing) are needed. For safety, accessibility, and ease of use, railroad warning signs and trail information signs -- including a large map of the trail area and facilities, average grade of the trail, and inspirational quotes (for style) -- should be put up around the lake. These informational signs would also be ideal places to give information on local wildlife, events, and area history. (Currently there is an empty placard on the part of the trail close to the Quaker Oats factory that is a perfect opportunity to tell the story of Cedar Rapids’ most iconic landmark.)

Beautification of the trail through planting efforts and public art would breathe a lot more color into Cedar Lake! The lake’s current, somewhat bland, industrial feel would be improved by pops of color. Local flowers and indigenous plants, planted around the park, would enliven its grasses; a variety of plants, perhaps some resistant to the cold or year-round, would help with the post-winter deadness of the trail. Newly planted trees would provide a buffer between the noisy highway and a pleasant walking space, as well as provide needed shade. Art painted on the thick, rusted pillars of the electricity lines would transform them from hulking industrial giants’ feet to monuments of creativity. All parties willing, something similar to Black Earth Gallery’s “Art in Motion” exhibit -- a display of graffiti art done on trains -- could ideally be arranged. Trains are visible from all parts of the lake; utilizing some of the area’s industrial present by using this prominent aspect of the lake’s current setting would set it apart as a unique experience. These small details would make the lake a nicer place to exist in. An added playground on the lot near Sag Wagon would also make the trail more family-friendly for the children of the community.

All in all, we believe that Cedar Lake can become a colorful center for community events and recreation with the proper care and creativity.

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