By Gina Mace
Special to the Beacon Journal
CUYAHOGA FALLS: It isn’t only the river that is changing since two man-made dams were removed from the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cuyahoga Falls last summer.
Friends of the Crooked River will be talking about new water recreation possibilities when they present “Tales of the Trail: a 2014 River Odyssey” at their annual meeting tonight at Lions Park Lodge, 641 Silver Lake Ave.
Elaine Marsh, the organization’s conservation director, is excited about the challenge a faster-flowing river will create for paddlers.
And because a higher experience level will be needed to navigate part of the river because of the dam removal, the city is working with Friends of the Crooked River, Keel-haulers Canoe Club and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to offer safe water recreation.
“Before the dams came down, it was really difficult to paddle through the city of Cuyahoga Falls,” she said. “Now the dams are down and we have a different problem.”
Steep waterfalls that resulted from the dam removals mean steeper drops — 200 feet over the two miles of water traveled between Water Works Park and the pool at Ohio Edison, Marsh said.
“We are working with the city to set up a series of put-ins and take-outs so people can use the river according to their skills,” she said.
Falls Park and Recreation Superintendent Ed Stewart hopes a grant from the Ohio Cooperative Boating Facility will pay for a boat launch at River Front Park, on Front Street at Bailey Road. Construction would start in 2015.
Novice kayakers and canoeists would be able to enter the river at Water Works Park and exit at the anticipated River Front Park boat launch — before the water flow speeds up, Marsh said.
More experienced paddlers could enter either at Water Works or River Front Park.
“Most advanced and skilled paddlers can paddle through the gorge,” Marsh said.
The water trail that is developing as the river heals itself is a reward for and investment in a clean water infrastructure, Marsh said.
“Now we have water quality, and now we have the benefits of the investment,” she said.
For those who prefer to walk along the river, Cuyahoga Falls officials have plans for South Front Street that include a biking and hiking trail.
Courtesy of a grant and partnership with Summit Metro Parks, South Front Street from Chestnut Boulevard to Gorge Metro Park would become a pedestrian-friendly parkway, enticing bicyclists and walkers with new sidewalks and a bike lane. A neighborhood park would overlook the Gorge, with an observation area, bike rack and picnic tables.
Falls Planning Director Fred Guerra said the engineering on the project, dubbed Gorge Terrace, will be done sometime in late summer or fall using Community Development Block Grant money.
Then it’s a matter of finding about $250,000 to build the project, which he hopes can begin in 2015.
Those who attend tonight’s Friends of the Crooked River meeting will hear from Stewart, Marsh and others about the progress of the river.
Doors open at 6:30, and the program starts at 7 p.m. There will be light refreshments. Guests are asked to bring a covered dish to share.
Gina Mace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.