116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When Friends of Cedar Lake sat down with our editorial board in March 2014, it was easy to share the group’s excitement for making an impaired lake in the midst of an industrial area into a recreation destination.
But the barriers seemed large.
“There's no reason Cedar Lake couldn't be a destination place. This shouldn't be a project that we have to fight to make happen.”
At that time, Alliant Energy owned the lake. Company executives said the lake’s future was not “a top-tier priority.” The city also was wary of jumping in to assist the project. It was uncertain whether flood protection would be extended far enough north to shield the lake from flooding, complicating the effort to get state lake restoration dollars and other funding.
Bottom line, Cedar Lake seemed like a long shot.
“There's no reason Cedar Lake couldn't be a destination place,” Dale Todd, who spearheaded the effort and had been advocating for restoring the lake for years, told the editorial board. “This shouldn't be a project that we have to fight to make happen.”
It turns out Cedar Lake is now poised to become that destination, linked to a planned pedestrian/bicycle bridge from New Bo to the Czech Village under the umbrella of plan known as ConnectCR.
This month, ConnectCR announced that it has raised the $20 million needed for the projects. Money has come from a variety of sources, including local government, the state and private donations. Lake improvements, including dredging, a boardwalk and accessible piers, and the bridge are scheduled to be completed.
It didn’t take a fight. But it did take the work of tenacious volunteers and government partners who put all the pieces together.
The city did decide to extend flood protection to keep the lake from flooding. It acquired the lake from Alliant Energy for $1. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources removed the lake from its impaired waters list, permitting expanded recreation. The Linn County Conservation Board is funding water quality improvement measures.
A 2016 feasibility study showed the two ConnectCR projects could create a “signature destination,” spinning off revenues and jobs.
The efforts to make these projects a reality have been a model of patience and perseverance. Convincing skeptics of the projects’ potential, building community support and securing funding set an example for future community dreamers.
The big winners will be local residents who will gain a new place to bike, walk, run and gather. The lake’s location just north of downtown adjacent to I-380 will provide an enticing gateway to the city.
The barriers were daunting. It took years to make it happen. But the destination is in sight.
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