Despite all its challenges, 2020 is shaping up as a banner year for river restoration in Cuyahoga Valley. The dams in Brecksville were removed. Check. The work to reconnect Stanford Run to the Cuyahoga River wrapped up. Check. Both projects were complex and took decades to move from vision through planning, funding, and then implementation. Both contribute to the larger effort to restore the Great Lakes by removing barriers to flow. For Stanford Run, the “dam” was our beloved Towpath Trail.
If you have ever hiked from Boston to Brandywine Falls, you may have explored the closed section of Stanford Road just north of Stanford House. Stanford Run is the stream that “runs” under the road bridge. Historically, it continued west, passing under the towpath through a canal-era culvert into the Cuyahoga River near today’s Boston Mills Ski Resort.
By the 1980s, when the Towpath Trail planning began, the culvert was so clogged that a large wetland had formed. When moving water slows, it drops what it is carrying. In this case, it dropped so much dirt that the floodplain has risen five FEET in the past 50 to 60 years, judging from the age of partially buried trees!
Invasive plants took over the wetland, fish disappeared from lower Stanford Run, and Stanford Road regularly flooded. In short, it was a mess.
So the national park called in the troops: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
During winter and spring 2019, the Corps’ contractor installed a larger culvert under the Towpath Trail and began digging about 2,300 linear feet of stream channel. This involved engineering the water’s new curved path and hauling away a huge amount of sediment. Construction wrapped up in winter 2020.
Meanwhile, over 300 national park volunteers planted about 1,000 native trees. In time, their leaves will cool the stream, improving the habitat for fish. Stones from upstream will build up on the mud bottom, creating homes for the aquatic insects that fish eat. When I was out photographing this site with the project leaders, we spotted schools of darters already exploring their new home.
The cost to fix the environmental damage caused by this clogged pipe: roughly $1.5 million. The benefits to our national park and the largest freshwater system in the world: priceless.