Nature returns to an urban creek

in Cleveland

Urban development in Cleveland left Big Creek, a tributary of the Cuyahoga River, a polluted mess that was prone to flooding. An ambitious restoration project returned the creek to a more natural state. The project reduced polluted runoff and created wetlands and other habitat that benefited fish, wildlife and people who live near the creek.


A group of government agencies and private engineering firms developed a plan to restore nearly one mile of Big Creek, which was disfigured by decades of urban development. Intense development increased the volume of polluted stormwater that flowed into the creek, the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie. Human activities also straightened the creek, separated it from natural floodplains and destroyed wetlands. The restoration work removed large debris from the creek, stabilized eroding stream banks, replaced defective culverts, created wetlands, reconnected the creek to the floodplain and restored its natural meander. Crews also planted native vegetation along the restored stream banks.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Soil erosion
  • Non-point and point source pollution
  • Excessive stormwater runoff
  • Loss of wetlands
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat


Close up of milkweed flowers

Milkweed, the native plant pictured here, is one of many native plants returning to the edge of Cleveland’s Big Creek. Credit: Courtney Celley U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Results and Accomplishments

The restoration work created wetlands and other habitat for fish and wildlife and restored a more natural flow in the creek. The work also curtailed flooding and reduced the volume of sediment and other pollutants that wash into the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie following rain showers or periods of snow melt.