Rarely in Cedar Rapids has a single dollar been better spent.
That’s how much the city of Cedar Rapids is paying to acquire the lion’s share of Cedar Lake’s 120 acres north of downtown from Alliant Energy. More than a merely symbolic gesture, the City Council’s vote to hand over a greenback opens the door to robust lake revitalization efforts.
It’s been roughly six years since local dreamers came to this editorial board touting a vision of Cedar Lake as a recreation destination for hiking, biking, kayaking and fishing. At that time, barriers to that dream looked considerable. Deep skepticism was the initial reaction to the notion of tackling the lake’s environmental issues, caused mainly by an array of contaminants carried in by stormwater over decades.
But, slowly, the vision has come into focus. Wariness on the part of Alliant and city leaders gave way to cooperation and support. Environmental concerns remain, but have proved to be less daunting than once thought. This week’s dollar purchase is a vote of confidence on the part of the city that affordable steps can be taken to improve the lake’s water quality by addressing stormwater runoff.
And the vision has broadened into ConnectCR, which couples the Cedar Lake project with the Smokestack pedestrian bridge planned for the Cedar River south of downtown. The $20 million overall project creates a recreational corridor through the heart of Cedar Rapids, linking the lake to New Bohemia and the Czech Village.
So far, $14 million has been raised from private and public sources, including a five-year, $5 million commitment from the city. The city’s purchase of the lake opens the door to potential state lake restoration grants and other funding sources. City ownership also clears a path toward flood protection for the lake and surrounding area.
The city and region now have an opportunity to create a signature recreational amenity for residents and visitors. Many dollars will be needed to complete the vision, but none will be more important than the one spent this week.
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