CEDAR RAPIDS — As the winter cold broke for one of the first times of the year last weekend, droves flocked to the recreation trail around Cedar Lake — finding that several familiar old trees had been cut down.
“It’s part of the landscape of the lake,” said Steve Sovern, of Cedar Rapids, who was on a bike ride there last weekend. “It is shocking when you first go down there.”
He estimated two dozen mature pines had been cut along the west banks of the lake, which is one of the city’s most popular recreation destinations. City Council member Dale Todd said he encountered a similar sentiment when he visited there last weekend.
“Every other person” was asking “where did the trees go?” he said.
Sovern and Todd, who’ve been two of the driving forces behind ConnectCR, a $20 million community-inspired effort to revitalize Cedar Lake and build a pedestrian bridge over the Cedar River, said they learned the tree work is a precursor to construction of a levee designed to protect 90-some factories, businesses and homes north of downtown from flooding of the nearby Cedar River.
The levee also would protect upgrades for the lake, such as fishing piers, shoreline protection and restoration, kayak and canoe launches and floating islands.
“To be honest, people are going to see things for the next few years down there,” Todd said. “It’s going to be a construction zone.”
ITC Midwest officials said the tree work was done at the end of February at the request of and in cooperation with the city to make way for the flood control system.
The trees needed to be removed so the utility company’s electricity transmission line along the west side of Cedar Lake could be relocated slightly with plans to install new, taller poles to provide the necessary clearance above the new levee, according to ITC.
Construction on the transmission line relocation has begun and portions of the trail are closed. The trail will be closed in the area where work is being done throughout the project, which is expected to be completed by mid-May.
“Our plan is to open the trail on weekends and/or for special events at the direction of the city,” said Rod Pritchard, an ITC spokesman who noted the company has pledged $400,000 to the ConnectCR project.
More than half of ConnectCR’s funding is coming from private sources like ITC. The city of Cedar Rapids has promised $5 million over five years, taken ownership of the lake and is managing construction of the ConnectCR project.
Work on the levee could begin within the next two years, said Rob Davis, Cedar Rapids flood control manager.
The tree work and transmission relocation would have had to occur at some point because it is in the footprint of the levee, and the trail eventually will be closed for an extended period of time, he said. The levee is designed to wrap around the lake.
The goal is to keep the trail open as long as possible before levee construction, and the good news is when the levee is complete the trail will be much better than it is now, he said.
It will run along the top of the levee offering a more scenic view. An underpass at a rebuilt Shaver Road Bridge will create a more enjoyable experience for trail users who won’t have to cross traffic, he said.
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Sovern and Todd said while they understand that they will feel some short-term pain at the lake for long-term benefits, they are hopeful of more notice and coordination with the ConnectCR team as work occurs.
Davis noted the footprint of the levee has been shared and is publicly available, but agreed there is need to step up future notices.
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