The Cuyahoga River burned, but now people are jumping in

When the Cuyahoga River infamously burned 50 years ago, recreation was not even a thought. The stench and unpleasant scenery were uninviting, quite opposite of the river seen today. Now, the river sets a different scene — some even say it’s sparking with excitement. Moneen McBride, co-founder of Burning River Adventures, says the past couple of years have been non-stop recreation.


Photo courtesy: Burning River Adventures LLC

“We’ve been in business for five seasons now. Our first season, we started on the weekends, and you’d see a handful of people here or there on the river, outside of coming for rentals. Now, five years later, you see hundreds of people with their own kayaks, and we have thousands of people that are coming throughout the season to do rentals or go kayaking and canoeing on the river with us,” McBride said.

To accentuate a river that becomes more prosperous each year, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) designated the Cuyahoga River as the state’s 13th official water trail with 24 access points, signage, maps, and educational materials in October 2019. A water trail is a stretch of lake or river that has been identified as a recreational resource with maps and signs showing official access points, amenities and safety information. The goal is to promote public use of waterways, support tourism and encourage conservation. The designation was eight years in the making, which came with a $20,000 grant from ODNR. 

Watch the designation:

Moneen credits the success and transformation of the river to the people who have worked vigorously to restore it.


“I think it’s headed in a direction of more people being stewards of the river, getting out on the river. So, the more people that are out and about on the river, the more people want to take care of it. Stewardship and recreation go hand-in-hand because the people that are out there enjoying the river want to keep it nice, they don’t want it to go backward to where it was. We will continue to see more and more people out in kayaks, in canoes, stand-up paddleboards,” she said. 

Photo courtsey: Burning River Adventures LLC

Each year, the river hosts more and more people. The Cuyahoga Valley National Park generally receives more than 2.2 million recreational visits each year, making it one of the most-visited national parks in the United States, according to the National Park Service website.

McBride says her company benefits from the turnout increasing each year and with more people comes the opportunity to educate those who will be the future stewards of the river. 

“We want young kids to get out and enjoy nature at a young age. When you get kids out as early as possible, they enjoy nature and become stewards. From the beginning, they learn not to litter, they learn to take care of our environment. Not that kids that are playing video games don’t know how to do that, but they have a greater appreciation for being outside in the elements and enjoying the dirt, the water, all of the things that encompass our life in general. It also provides social skills outside of sitting and talking on a computer screen and what not.”

2019 was a big year for the river, from celebrating the 50 year anniversary of the infamous fires to its new designation as a water trail. Though the kayak and canoeing season has ended, below is a list of all parks along the river and businesses that can get you on it.


  1. Eldon Russel Park (Geauga Park District)
    • Boat Launch
  2. River Bend Park (Kent)
    • Fishing
  3. Franklin Mills Riveredge (Kent)
    • Canoeing and Kayaking
  4. Middlebury Road (Kent)
    • Canoeing and Kayaking
  5. WaterWorks Park (Kent)
    • Boat launch
  6. Silver Lake (Trustees of Silver Lake)
    • Fishing
  7. River Front Park North (Cuyahoga Falls)
    • Boardwalk with signage
  8. Oxbow Area (Summit Metro Parks)
    • Boating
  9. Lock 29 (National Park Service)
    • Fishing, some canoeing/kayaking
  10. Red Lock Trailhead (National Park Service)
    • Fishing, some canoeing/kayaking 
  11. Station Road Bridge Trailhead (National Park Service)
    • Recreation limited due to Brecksville Dam
  12. Lock 39 Trailhead (National Park Service)
    • Social trail, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking
  13. Rivergate Park Merwin’s Wharf (Cleveland Metroparks)
    • Fishing, canoeing, kayaking, paddling, boating


  1. Burning River Adventures
  2. Camp Hi Canoe & Kayak Livery
  3. Breakaway Excursions
  4. Great Lakes Watersports
  5. River Cruiser Kayaking
  6. West River Paddling Company


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