A Survey of Great Proportion

April 1, 2005
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A boundary survey along Lake Erie reveals history, beauty and an Ohio firm's appreciation for the city of Cleveland.

Decommissioned Coast Guard Station. Photograph courtesy of Munroe W. Copper IV.


Nearly 99 percent of the world's water supply is either frozen or saltwater. The five Great Lakes and their connecting channels form the largest fresh surface water system on Earth. One group served by the tremendous resource of Lake Erie, the smallest of the Great Lakes in volume, is Ohioans who enjoy more than 300 miles of the lake's 871 total miles of shoreline. A gem to Clevelanders in particular are nine park areas within the city of Cleveland, which have been leased to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) for a 50-year term. A requirement of the city's 1978 lease agreement for the parks calls for the city of Cleveland to monument and survey the property to determine its exact boundaries. For reasons unknown, a complete survey of the shoreline was not done in 1978 at the start of the lease. In April 2003, a survey crew from KS Associates of Elyria, Ohio, completed this boundary survey assignment while experiencing the beauty of Lake Erie and providing a valuable service to the city of Cleveland. It was a project that proved the value of surveyors and the advancement of technology, as well as the importance of extensive research and accurate boundary surveys.

Gordon Park, one of the park areas to be surveyed along the shoreline, in 1979. Photo was taken before the fill operation.

Researching and Accessing the Shoreline

As every surveyor knows, research is a core phase of any boundary project, and the Lake Erie job proved to be one of great insight to the water source's rich history. Trevor A. Bixler, PS, project surveyor for KS Associates, collected original deeds, lease agreements, tax maps, plats, previous surveys, railroad valuation maps and right of way plans dating back to the 1970s, 1960s and even as far back as the 1900s in some instances. Less than detailed to be sure, some of the original deeds vaguely described lease areas as "along the shore of Lake Erie." At one park location, a large dike was built from a nearby river and lake shipping channel dredgings, making it difficult to define the original "shore." Part of the description for the Lakeside Yacht Club read that it ran "along the inside line of the Kirtland Station Stone Bulkhead," and part of the description for the Forest City Yacht Club read that it ran "along the edge of the existing yacht basin jetty." While some research offers a plentiful foundation for in-depth surveying, many of the Lake Erie reports did not. However, with drive and determination, Bixler was able to retrieve aerial photography before and shortly after the fill to determine the shoreline at the time of the 1978 lease to compare current conditions. Hard-copy aerial photographs of Gordon Park taken in 1975 and 1979 by Aerocon Photogrammetric Services Inc. (Willoughby, Ohio) were scanned and converted into AutoCAD drawings, and used to establish the old shoreline; digital aerial photos taken in 2002 were retrieved from the Cuyahoga County Engineer's office and used as background on the working maps.

Once research sources were obtained, access to certain areas of the parks was a minor obstacle for Bixler. At the Gordon Park area, access to the dike area was restricted, but after a few phone calls, Bixler and his crew were able to get access to the area. "The area is heavily wooded, though, so it was difficult to run traverse through the area," Bixler explained. Bixler's drive didn't waver, however. "It's just part of the job," he commented in modest surveyor style.

Mark Yeager, PS, director of surveying services, also obtained permission from the City of Cleveland Department of Port Control, the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Norfolk Southern Railway Company to access property and rights of way adjoining the property boundaries. "For right of access, we were required to hire a flagger from Norfolk Southern for two days on the project," Yeager noted. The flagger accompanied the surveyors along the rail tracks and alerted them of oncoming trains via radio. Kimberly Repenning, a KS Associates survey technician and party chief for the Lake Erie project, reports that there were a couple of occasions when the surveyors had to stand a safe distance back from the tracks to allow a train to pass.

Gordon Park in 2003. This photo captures the shoreline at the time of the Cleveland Lakefront State Parks Boundary Survey and helped determine exact boundary points.

Interesting and Intriguing Aspects

Once research was completed and access to the areas approved, the crew began its surveying activities. Repenning, along with Survey Technician Daniel Jenkins and Survey Technician Dave White established State Plane Coordinates (NAD83, 1995) for the park areas by performing a GPS survey based on existing National Geodetic Survey (NGS) monuments. Survey control traverses were established and property corner markers located, as well as street center line and right of way markers, lake boundaries, apparent encroachments, fence lines and other property line evidence of the vast area. The project required nearly 940 hours of labor to survey more than 450 acres of land and 72,500 linear feet of boundary lines.

Repenning read the deeds to determine where the field crew should look to locate monuments and where to run traverse, and established what items needed to be located, such as the shoreline and railroad tracks. "Working along the shoreline of Lake Erie was a real treat for our crew, especially during the spring and summer months. The lakefront was wide open with pleasant breezes coming off the lake. And the view!" Repenning remembered, citing elements of the project that surveyors cherish. "We're just glad the project was wrapped up before the lake froze over!"

The shoreline project provided other elements of interest, according to Repenning. "One of the most interesting aspects of this project was finding the Harbor Line reference monuments that were set along the shoreline in 1939 as part of a U.S. Harbor Line survey performed by the United States War Department," Repenning said. "One of the monuments was located on the property of a decommissioned Coast Guard station not accessible by an automobile."

Some of the shoreline was rocky, making it difficult to traverse conventionally. The surveyors used the GPS units to perform real-time kinematic surveys of the shoreline, including those challenging rocky areas, to obtain elevations. A boat was needed to access the dredgelands that were inaccessible by foot. And on some days the water crashed along the shoreline, providing a wet work area for the crew. "We really didn't mind [getting wet] since this was during the warm summer months and we dried off quickly," Jenkins said. "If it had been early spring or late fall, the air and water temperatures would have been much colder. And, if it had been winter, winds from the frozen lake would have been punishingly brutal."

Repenning's crew also got a couple of special treats while working on the project. In July, a new exhibition called the "Tall Ships Challenge" held during the annual Huntington Cleveland Harborfest at the Port of Cleveland and Voinovich Park offered sail aways to the public on the Windy II, a 150' 6" topsail schooner. The KS Associates crew members were able to enjoy the sights of the many sails while completing the parks boundary survey.

Not only did the KS crew enjoy the sights on the water during the project, but overhead as well. "Every Labor Day, Cleveland hosts its annual air show at Burke Lakefront Airport, just a few miles from one of the park sites," Repenning noted. "We got to see the Blue Angels jet pilots practicing their maneuvers overhead a few days before the holiday while we were wrapping up the project."

The Cleveland Lakefront State Parks Boundary Survey project resulted in an accurate boundary and property survey that included not only raw data, but also easy-to-read aerial maps that created a visual representation of exact boundaries.

Taking Advantage of Today's Technology

KS Associates' crew members used popular technology of today, a marked difference from what was available in 1978. Today's instrumentation isn't as cumbersome and heavy as it was 20-plus years ago, and GPS receivers didn't even exist in 1978.

With a Trimble (Sunnyvale, Calif.) Geodimeter 610 robotic total station, a Trimble 5600 reflectorless robotic total station, a Sokkia (Olathe, Kan.) SET 500 total station, a Sokkia SET 1010 total station, and a Sokkia SDR 33 data collector, Jenkins and White set out to locate the boundaries of the Great Lake Erie. Repenning and Jenkins used Trimble 5700 and 5800 GPS receivers in their task to create the initial control network. The network allowed the crew to tie all the parks together on the same State Plane Coordinate System. The benefit of having all the parks on the same coordinate system was to utilize the aerial photography, matching it up perfectly with the drawing and being able to accurately identify site characteristics, such as the location of railroad tracks and buildings. That control was turned over to the subcontractors so all crews worked from the same system. The GPS units were also used for shoreline locations.

"In 1978, EDM and GPS technology was not as abundant as it is today," Repenning said. "This technology allowed us to complete the survey in a fraction of the time that it would have taken using transit and tape methods, which were common back then. In addition, we would not have been able to completely link all of the park sites together and provide the city of Cleveland with a visual representation of the [full] survey, as easily and as quickly, given the complexity of the project-especially the recovery or reconstruction of previously established monuments, record title lines and other physical evidence. Seeing the survey with the land features allowed us to better integrate the information available from multiple sources, including our research and survey work, to enable us to make good decisions on where the boundaries are."

Data from the project was processed in Trimble Geomatics Office software. Then, using Autodesk (San Rafael, Calif.) Land Desktop 3, Todd Jakubowski, CAD operator for KS Associates, created boundary survey maps for the area using the superimposed aerial photographs. The outcome was an accurate boundary and property survey that included not only raw data, but also easy-to-read aerial maps that created a visual representation of the exact boundaries. The maps are the final result of excellent record research, solid field measurements, professional observations and substantial data analysis.

KS Associates created boundary maps that identified property lines of adjacent property owners including Norfolk Southern Railway Company.

A Dual Commitment to Land

The complete survey has helped the city of Cleveland and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources assess the valuable land boundaries and potential encroachments onto the leased park areas. These lakefront parks offer scenic boardwalks, fitness trails, fishing piers and panoramic views of Great Lake Erie, and in fact, are enjoyed by the KS Associates surveyors themselves. Now, along with many Clevelanders and visitors alike, the KS surveying crew will know that their commitment to surveying parallels their commitment to Cleveland.

Sidebar: Subconsultant Acknowledgments

Nine park areas along the Lake Erie shoreline were included in the project: Edgewater Park, Forest City Yacht Club, Gordon Park, Lakeside Yacht Club, Euclid Beach, Villa Angela/Wildwood Parks, E. 55th Street Marina and E. 72nd Street Maintenance Area. DLZ Ohio Inc. (Columbus) and L.V. Surveying (Cleveland) served as subconsultants to KS Associates on the Lake Erie boundary survey. DLZ was responsible for surveying Villa Angela/Wildwood Parks, and L.V. Surveying was responsible for surveying E. 55th Street Marina and E. 72nd Street Maintenance Area. These firms were hired because of their excellent reputations for providing quality services and to fulfill the city of Cleveland's Equal Opportunity Employment (EOE) requirements for Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) and Female Business Enterprise (FBE), respectively. Adam D. Treat, PS, EIT, acted as project surveyor for DLZ, and Louise Veverka, PS, president of L.V. Surveying Inc. acted as project surveyor for her company. Treat and Veverka conducted their own site research and worked with control points provided by KS Associates, tying all of the parks together in the same coordinate system. L.V. Surveying won the 2004 NSPS Boundary Survey competition for one of the parks surveyed on this project.

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