The Crooked River burns no more!

by | May 3, 2017 | Public Spaces, Parks & Recreation

EDITED June 11, 2019: It’s the 50th anniversary of that fateful day when the seeming inconceivable (how is a body of on fire?) happened in CLE and it took more than a generation for us to clean up the river and be proud of the might Cuyahoga River again. This story in the New York Times sums up the long journey and how Clevelanders are celebrating their river again. Seeing this billboard in downtown CLE this morning just made my day:

Originally published May 2017: The Cuyahoga River whimsically winds through 100 miles of Northeast Ohio.  It was formed about 11,000 years ago when massive sheets of ice retreated during the most recent ice age. The river flows for about 100 miles through Northeast Ohio before it feeds into Lake Erie. Today, the river is picturesque, peaceful – and enjoyed by all of our region’s residents.

But for many people, the river is still the symbol of our nation’s lack of environmental protection for our natural resources in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Historically, nearly every single river passing through a major US city was subjected to unregulated waste dumping and industrial pollution. The Cuyahoga River infamously caught fire on June 22, 1969 when a spark from a passing train ignited an ooze of industrial pollution and then ignited an environmental awakening across the US.

Time Magazine made this event front page news for our nation. This wasn’t the first time that a US water source had caught fire due to heavy pollution, but it would be the last. The burning river was the major catalyst for the ever-important Clean Water Act and other environmental laws.

In the mid-80’s, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency would routinely count the fish found in the middle to lower section of the river; and, on some days, would encounter fewer than 10 fish! Boy, have things changed! As of 2009, 40 species of fish thrive in the river. The fish move to where the clean water is.

Today, the river has been designated as an American Heritage River. The river is culturally, environmentally, and economically relevant to our region. Several entities are dedicated to protecting the Cuyahoga River, including: Cuyahoga River Restoration, NOACA, NEFCO, Ohio & Erie Canalway, and Upper Cuyahoga River Task Force.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Payravi.

The region is committed to ensuring that the river remains healthy for Northeast Ohio’s beautiful ecosystem and the pleasure of its residents. There is lots to do on and along this river. Certain parts are designated for swimming, fishing, paddling, canoeing, kayaking, rowing, biking, hiking, wildlife watching, etc.

Interested in learning more about this stunning natural resource? Check out River Day on May 20th! River Day gives people a chance to learn more about the Cuyahoga River, participate in festivities, clear trash, plant native species, and, of course, enjoy all of the traditional water activities, like paddling and canoeing. Exploring the Cuyahoga is a great way to take advantage of the natural beauty and fun that Northeast Ohio has to offer!

A few things to do along the river…

Burning River Adventures: Kayak rentals and tours, featuring an upcoming Mother’s Day Kayak & Breakfast!

Photo courtesy of J. Hersch.

Camp Hi: Offers river trips along the Upper Cuyahoga, pavilions for picnicking, and a spot to swim or fish.

Crooked River Adventures: Great paddle board, kayak, tube/float, and bike rental options through Kent State. Both self-guided and guided options are available. The stretch of the river toured is great for beginners and families with kids.

River Cruiser Kayaking: Self-guided and guided kayaking tours on three separate runs of the Cuyahoga River.

And, if you are into rowing…

Cleveland Rowing Foundation: A nonprofit that promotes and shares the athletic, health, educational, and social benefits of rowing with Northeast Ohio and partners to enhance the recreational quality of the Cuyahoga.

Western Reserve Rowing Association: A rowing association for adults that offers a unique Learn to Row Program.

For those who have rowed along the Cuyahoga River, you know that rowing provides a one-of-a-kind view of Cleveland. For those of you who haven’t, here are a few articles that might inspire you to pick up a new Northeast Ohio hobby.

Some helpful links:

How the Cuyahoga River Fire Saved the World

A previous blog entry about the cleanliness of Lake Erie…Is it safe to swim in Lake Erie?

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