Fifty years after the Cuyahoga River caught fire and became the butt of national jokes, the waterway has been named "River of the Year" by the conservation group American Rivers.

“The Cuyahoga is a national success story,” American Rivers President and CEO Bob Irvin said in a prepared statement. “The ‘River of the Year’ honor spotlights the hard work and collaboration by so many in Cleveland to improve the Cuyahoga’s health and turn it into a true asset for the city’s residents and visitors.”

The Washington, D.C.-based group noted that the river became a turning point in the fight for clean water and healthy rivers nationwide and helped spur the Clean Water Act in 1972 after it caught fire on June 22, 1969.

“The Cuyahoga and rivers nationwide wouldn’t be where they are today without strong clean water safeguards," Irvin said. "We’ve come a long way and there is a lot to celebrate. But we still have a lot of work to do. Too many people in our country don’t have access to clean water and too many of our rivers are still threatened by pollution. We must keep speaking up because everyone deserves clean water and a healthy river.”

Deb Yandala, executive director of the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a nonprofit group that supports the park, was thrilled with the national recognition. The river runs through the park.

"The story of the Cuyahoga is internationally known and to be able to recognize it for its restoration is really exciting for our region," she said. "For us in the National Park, it's the most important natural resource in the park. For 25 years, it's been the theme of our environmental education curriculum."

The healthier waterway has led to more wildlife and people using the river for recreation.

"The Cuyahoga has made an amazing transformation from 50 years ago," said Moneen McBride, owner of Burning River Adventures LLC, which provides kayak rentals in Cuyahoga Falls.

"The Cuyahoga is a great asset not only to Akron and Cuyahoga Falls, but the whole 100 miles that it spans across Northeast Ohio," she added. "The recreation and beauty of the river will only get better as the last few dams come down."

Akron and the river are tied together and the honor from American Rivers is significant for the community, Yandala said.

"It's another statement that Akron is a great place to live," she said.

The American Rivers recognition follows a decision earlier this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ease consumption restrictions for fish caught in the river between the Gorge Dam in Cuyahoga Falls and Lake Erie in Cleveland because of improving water quality.

The River of the Year announcement coincides with the release of the annual top 10 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2019. The list features the Gila in New Mexico; Hudson in New York; Upper Mississippi in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri; Green-Duwamish in Washington; Willamette in Oregon; Chilkat in Alaska; South Fork Salmon in Idaho; Buffalo National in Arkansas; Big Darby in Ohio; and Stikine in Alaska.

To read the full report, go to: www.AmericanRivers.org/EndangeredRivers2019.

 

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.