by Arrye Rosser

In early 2017, students from Akron, Cleveland, and Kent contributed their ideas for how Northeast Ohio could celebrate the Cuyahoga River’s renewal 50 years after the infamous 1969 fire. “We should show everyone that we strive for higher than our expectations,” wrote a Summit Academy student.

Out of six community listening sessions bubbled the idea of a torch relay connecting festivals from the headwaters to Cleveland. This dream became a reality June 19-22 when hundreds of partners came together to create numerous Cuyahoga50 and Xtinguish Torch Fest events. 

People here get that the health of our waterways is a metaphor for the health of our communities. We cannot move forward until we demonstrate to ourselves, the nation, and the world that old punchlines no longer apply. The return of pollution-sensitive wildlife to the Cuyahoga was unimaginable when the US EPA wrote its state of the environment report in 1980.

Now Ohio EPA studies show that our once-“dead” river supports more than 70 kinds of fish. This has attracted bald eagles, otters, great blue herons—and people.

As we look to the next 50 years, consider how we can keep moving forward, igniting our common future. Imagine vibrant communities, united by water, benefiting all.

Photos, top to bottom: A great blue heron spears a bluegill sunfish at Beaver Marsh, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. (Photo: Steve Paddon.) Akron-based artist Michael Marras installs his sculpture, Return to the River (Cuyahoga Valley National Park), at Station Road Bridge Trailhead in Brecksville. The design combines four symbols of the river’s ecological renewal: the great blue heron, northern hogsucker, smallmouth bass, and mayfly. (Photo: National Park Service / Ted Toth).

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. Arrye’s reflections will appear in The Devil Strip regularly in 2019.

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