In 1969, sparks from a passing train set fire to oil-soaked debris floating on the Cuyahoga River. Fifty years later, what is now referred to as the Burning River will receive designation from the state of Ohio as a water trail to encourage recreation, conservation, and tourism.
According to the National Water Trail System, water trails are recreational routes on waterways with a network of public access points supported by broad-based community partnerships. Water trails provide both conservation and recreational opportunities.
Many organizations and agencies involved with the river worked for eight years to achieve the official designation. The Cuyahoga will now be the 13th water trail in Ohio, along with the Great Miami, Olentangy, and Muskingum rivers.
As pictures of the river on fire spread, the outrage that followed led to wide-ranging reforms to America’s environmental protections, such as the Clean Water Act and the creation of federal and state agencies, like the EPA.
With the Cuyahoga River’s fish population largely restored and its uninterrupted stream is becoming a hub for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing, and has set the standard for its new livelihood, fifty years later.
Moneen McBride, co-founder of Burning River Adventures, said the company has already taken hundreds of people out on kayaks and canoes in 2019 alone–and says the number will top 1,000 by the time the season is over. The company launched with 10 kayaks and one canoe; now, they operate with 100 single kayaks, 12 double kayaks, and four canoes. McBride, who lives on the river’s banks in Cuyahoga Falls, is aware of the Cuyahoga’s beauty, and wanted to give others the same opportunity to experience it.
As the Cuyahoga River continues to set the new standard for how nature should be treated, its restoration wouldn’t have been possible without the work and dedication of hundreds of people and dozens of organizations that fought for its revival.
According to the Friends of the Crooked River website, in the last 20 years, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent by both private and government organizations cleaning up the Cuyahoga River. A permit from the Ohio EPA is now required to discharge anything into the river. Currently, there are 200 permit holders whose discharge is regulated by government standards.
The Cuyahoga River has come a long way since 1969 and the designation as a water trail is just one of the thousand steps forward it’s taken. The formal ceremony designating the Cuyahoga River Water Trail will take place at 10 a.m. on Friday, October 4th, at Water Work’s Park Peninsula Shelter in Cuyahoga Falls.
For more information on the Cuyahoga Water Trail, visit cuyahogariverwatertrail.org.