Crooked River Reflections | Freeing the flow at the Brecksville dam

by Arrye Rosser, Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Landscape photographers find the river a tricky subject as it winds through Cuyahoga Valley. Views are often obscured by trees, poorly lit, or marred by unsightly riprap reinforcing the banks. A favorite spot is the Station Road Bridge looking north to the elegant high arches that support State Route 82. In winter, snow discreetly hides the west bank’s ugly armor, protection for nearby railroad tracks. Under certain weather conditions, the river becomes a mirror, as you can see in the first of this month’s photos. If you want to snap your own version, act quickly. Dramatic changes are coming.

This pond-like stillness is caused by a low head dam between the two bridges. The dam backs up water for roughly a mile which degrades the fish habitat. Removing this 1951 barrier is a top priority for the many partners working to get the Cuyahoga off the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern. The legal, financial and technical issues involved have been surprisingly complex and taken more than a decade to resolve. 

Photo: Before the Clean Water Act of 1972 and national park establishment in 1974, anglers rarely caught anything by the dam in Brecksville. Now Ohio EPA studies reveal an abundance, including sensitive fish such as this Northern Hogsucker with its amusing vacuum-cleaner mouth. Photo used with permission from NPS/Rachel Hughes.

Once the last permit is signed, a contractor will begin by notching the concrete dam. Within days this will lower the dam pool and reveal the remains of a wooden 1827 dam. Both historic dams must be documented before being destroyed. A new screw pump will maintain water in the nearby Ohio & Erie Canal and an upstream habitat restoration project will reconnect the river with its floodplain.

No one really knows what the river will look like once all this happens. For the first time in almost two centuries, the Cuyahoga will be free flowing from Akron to Lake Erie. When that occurs, cameras will be poised to record environmental history.

Arrye Rosser is an interpretive and education specialist at Cuyahoga Valley National Park and co-curator of Crooked River Contrasts, a photo series on the past and present of the Cuyahoga River.

Photo at top: The Cuyahoga River reflects the Brecksville-Northfield bridge. Photo by Jeffrey Gibson.