Cuyahoga River, Ohio

Photo: Robert Vaughn

Photo: Robert Vaughn

Cuyahoga River, Ohio

Did you ever hear about the river that caught fire? That was the Cuyahoga. The waterway was so full of industrial waste that its surface burned no fewer than 13 times, including the devastating 1969 blaze that helped spark large-scale environmental policy initiatives. These days, it’s a great place for a paddle.

After a particularly bad flare-up in 1969, an article in Time magazine said the Cuyahoga “oozes rather than flows.” The attention helped spawn the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, and subsequent clean-up efforts have turned the river into a paddling hotspot rather than a literal one.

The Cuyahoga also is benefitting from dam deconstruction efforts, which are being undertaken to help it meet Ohio’s water quality standards for aquatic life and habitat. The Kent Dam was removed in 2004, the Monroe Falls dam in 2008, and just this December the feds approved the $1 million removal of two more low-head dams in Cuyahoga Falls, to take place this summer. In the next few years the Gorge and Brecksville dams will also be removed, restoring nearly 60 miles of the Cuyahoga as free-flowing.

Meandering 85 miles from Burton, Ohio to Lake Erie, the Cuyahoga boasts several popular paddling sections, including a 9-mile run from Russell Park to Camp Hi and a 10-mile stretch from Camp Hi to SR 303, and the 40-mile section from Tannery Park to Cleveland.

Local advocacy group Friends of the Crooked River, which is spearheading plans to create an official water trail from the river’s headwaters to Lake Erie, sponsors paddling trips on various river section all summer. This year’s theme? From Burning River to Earning River. –EB

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