Is it safe to swim in Lake Erie?

by | Jul 17, 2013 | Family Friendly Stuff, Public Spaces, Parks & Recreation

photo courtesy Keith Berr for

photo courtesy Keith Berr for

Let’s face it….everyone has heard the story of the Cuyahoga River burning (which was 1969 by the way, so chances are it happened before you were born!) We in Cleveland like to think of that incident as The Birth of the EPA because the publicity that the fire generated was the driving force behind the Clean Water Act of 1972 that forever changed how American’s protected public water sources.

In short, the water quality in our rivers and lakes are lightyears from where they were in the ’60.s and YES, people swim in Lake Erie all the time. In 2013 a wonderful thing happened that will continue to improve the beach and water quality: the Cleveland MetroParks, which manages 22,000 acres of green space that encircle Cleveland (AKA The Emerald Necklace), took over management of six lakefront parks that had been run by the State of Ohio and neglected for many years due severe budget cuts. See that story here. The most dramatic change has been at Edgewater Beach, just 5 minutes from downtown Cleveland which is now a gathering spot for every age group that wants to be close to the water.
Because Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, combined with Cleveland’s aging infrastructure (100 year old sewer pipes, slowly being replaced), often during heavy rain storms, sewage overflows into the lake.  We promise we don’t sugarcoat things….here is the recent story about our beaches that caused a bit of alarm and refocused energy to insure clean beaches for Clevelanders.
So whether you are lucky enough to have access to a boat and can jump into Lake Erie several miles off-shore, where no cleanliness issues exist, or you just want to check the water quality index before taking your kids to the closest beach Cuyahoga County beach for the day, don’t be afraid, many families use our beaches.
Our recommendations for nicest beaches with the most amenities (clean bathrooms, grills, shaded picnic areas, snack bars, ice cream shops, etc.) are Huntington Beach in Bay Village on the city’s westside, Edgewater Beach on the near west side and Mentor Headlands Beach in Mentor on the city’s far east side.
If you want to show your true grittiness, every January 1st, hundreds of crazies (many probably still going strong from New Year’s Eve festivities) jump into a nearly frozen Lake Erie during the annual Polar Bear Plunge.   Locals, bundled from head to toe in winter gear, assemble on the snowy sand at Huntington Beach in Bay Village and wait for the countdown to  12:00 Noon, at which point, they strip down to bathing suits (or a holiday themed costume) and when the air horn blows, they all run SCREAMING into the freezing water. We don’t grow sissies in Cleveland, the water temp is typically in the low 30’s and air temperature is usually below that! We challenge you to join in! PS it doesn’t count unless you go under. You are not an official Polar Bear if you just run out to your knees, we scoff at those people!

EA’s President, Margy Judd (far right) pre-plunge


Post plunge – and you have to go UNDER to make it count