For generations, Cedar Lake has been an important asset of the Cedar Rapids community, from fishing, to canoeing, birdwatching and walking the trail. “It gave easy access to a lot of families that couldn’t necessarily afford to travel. The lake was right there,” says Felicia Wyrick, a co-founder of Friends of Cedar Lake. “I used to work near the lake and walk around it over my lunch hour and I loved it. To be right downtown, but still in a natural environment was so
Friends of Cedar Lake was as a grassroots group that included a wide variety of people living in
the neighborhood and throughout the community that cared about its long term sustainability.
The members of this group were already on a mission to enhance the lake they loved, ensure
its quality and put some misperceptions aside.
Today, Cedar Lake is a healthy body of water that’s perfect for fishing, paddling and more. At
one time though, there were concerns, rumors and folklore surrounding its quality. Industries in the area were often blamed for pollutants, but most of the pollutants actually came from the
housing developments around the lake that were built in the 40s and 50s. Foundations were
often treated with chlordane to prevent termite infestations, and that toxic chemical would get
into the groundwater and leak into the lake.
As result, the IDNR recommended a restricted number of fish that could be consumed from
Cedar Lake. The lake was monitored for decades, until it was taken off of the endangered
waters list in 2015. The Friends of Cedar Lake wanted to ensure this messaging was accurately
portrayed in the community while also focusing on the long term health of the lake moving
forward. It was a massive undertaking. Wyrick remembers thinking, “Well if we’re going to clean up the lake, where do we start? Plus the Cedar Lake watershed is really huge.”
Storm water runoff was a primary concern with sediment entering the lake, filling it and
decreasing the depth. “It wasn’t healthy for the water quality or the long term health of the fish
living there. We needed to find a solution for that,” she says. The group looked to Easter Lake in Des Moines as an example of the city, county and DNR working together on a lake’s health,
runoff and watershed management. Friends of Cedar Lake knew they wouldn’t get the support
or funding needed if it didn’t have a sustainable, long-term benefit.
Flood protection was another important piece that the Friends of Cedar Lake focused on. They
were thinking of all of the business impacted by the 2008 flood and their crucial role in the
community. “It was a battle, but it kind of blows your mind when you think about how this natural disaster with unfathomable loss became such a catalyst to accelerate the growth and
investment in the heart of the community,” she says.
With a community already engaged in projects surrounding Cedar Lake, and another group
focused on building nearby bridge, ConnectCR was formed. It’s now recognized as the
largest private-public investment that our city has ever had. Wyrick says, “I’ve never seen the city embrace a grassroots effort like this one. It was really important to a lot of people.”