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After a Busy 2019, Cuyahoga River Groups Looking Forward to Increased River Traffic in 2020

photo of Cuyahoga River
The Cuyahoga River -- and all of Northeast Ohio's waterways -- received national attention in 2019 with the 50th anniversary of the last river fire.

The Cuyahoga River received national attention this year with the 50th anniversary of the famous river fire. And one expert says 2020 could be just as busy for recreation on the river.

The 1969 fire sparked an environmental movement that -- 50 years later – has led to a cleaner river that’s used for commerce and recreation. Jim Ridge is founder of the group Share the River, and he helps maintain and promote that balance. He says the recent designation of the Cuyahoga as an official Ohio water trail should spur more paddlers to explore the river and its history.

“Most of the time they’ve stayed farther upstream. But I think more folks are curious about that interesting mix of greenlands and industrial space as the river courses through downtown Cleveland [and] out to Lake Erie.”

Ridge adds that the upcoming 50th anniversary of Earth Day – as well as his group’s third annual Blazing Paddles kayaking event – should also highlight the river’s rebirth.

“We’re hopeful that folks understand that the Cuyahoga River is inextricably linked to Earth Day in terms of being -- in some respects -- the poster child for the ravages of industrial pollution. The cool thing is that the river that used to be a pipeline for industrial pollution is now a conduit for tourism and recreation.”

Ridge adds that he’s also looking forward to the removal of the Brecksville Dam, slated for 2020, which will improve water quality on the Cuyahoga. And he may consider expanding his Blazing Paddles event to two days in the future. The 2019 event attracted close to 250 people from 11 states and Canada – and that could double in 2020.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.