If you follow Kent news much you would have seen some interesting discussions recently about the city’s interest in creating a new white water park in downtown Kent. The whitewater in the name gets all the attention but the whole concept is really about creating more passive and active recreational opportunities for everyone to reconnect and rediscover the mighty Cuyahoga River. The fact that we would actually want to get people in the Cuyahoga (and likewise they would actually want to get in it) is a testament to one of the most amazing river turnaround stories in the country. What was the national symbol for everything that had gone wrong with polluted rivers has reemerged as everything that is going right with environmental stewardship. Kent is proud to have helped rewrite the ending to the Cuyahoga’s story which is being featured nationwide with a new PBS documentary titled the “Return of the Cuyahoga.”
THE RETURN OF THE CUYAHOGA (56:46)
Diane Garey and Lawrence R. Hott of Florentine Films/Hott Productions
CLICK HERE for WVIZ/PBS ideastream® national broadcast dates and more information.
THE RETURN OF THE CUYAHOGA is a fascinating look at the life, death and rebirth of one of America’s most polluted rivers. Perhaps best known as “the river that burned,” the Cuyahoga is, in fact, an emblematic waterway. Its history is the history of the American frontier, the rise of industry, and the scourge of pollution. In 1969, when the river caught on fire, the blaze ignited a political movement that not only saved the Cuyahoga and its communities, but continues today with the current environmental movement. THE RETURN OF THE CUYAHOGA will air nationally on PBS on Friday, April 18th at 10PM (check local listings.)
The Cuyahoga caught fire as far back as 1883. In 1914, a river fire threatened downtown Cleveland, until a providential shift in the wind turned it away. In 1918, a river fire spread to a shipyard and killed seven men. The Cuyahoga burned again in 1936, 1948, 1949 and 1952. Then on June 22, 1969, the polluted Cuyahoga, slick with oil and full of debris, caught on fire. The river didn’t just burn in Cleveland — it burned in the nation’s imagination. Along with the rise of other social movements in the late sixties, the country was also beginning to take note of our damaged environment. The fire started a chain of legislation and events that continue today, including the creation of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, Earth Day, and the Environmental Protection Agencies at the federal and state levels. The Cuyahoga is America’s best example yet of a watery success story. The dead river came clean — and back to life again.
“This is a truly national story,” says filmmaker Larry Hott. “Rivers in industrial cities across the country were catching fire due to the build up of oil, waste and debris. The Rouge River in Michigan, the Schuylkill in Philadelphia, and the Chicago River all burned as often and as drastically as the Cuyahoga.”
About the Cuyahoga River
When the United States was a new nation, the Cuyahoga marked the western frontier: beyond it, all was unclaimed land — Indian Territory. But by 1870, the river was on a frontier of a different kind: the industrial frontier. On the river’s banks arose the country’s pride and joy — a burgeoning multitude of smoking factories in a booming display of what was called progress. But, as it flowed through Akron and Cleveland, the river became a foul-smelling channel of sludge, with an oily surface that ignited with such regularity that river fires were treated as commonplace events by the locals.
After many fires, the river burned again in 1969 just as a third kind of frontier swept across the nation: an environmental frontier. And the Cuyahoga River became a landmark on this frontier too, a poster child for those trying to undo the destruction wrought by the rampant industrialization of America.
“This is a good news story, something we don’t often hear about the environment nowadays,” says Hott. “The river was a mess forty years ago but it’s getting better now due to the efforts of a coalition of organizations and businesses. For the Cuyahoga, and perhaps other rivers in America, there’s reason to hope.”
The Cuyahoga’s story is a particularly apt example for future environmental efforts, because the river can’t just be “set aside” as a pristine wilderness park — it runs right through Cleveland, after all. And, like most American rivers, the Cuyahoga has to serve widely varying needs — aesthetic and economic, practical and natural, human and animal. The challenge sounds impossible: how to maintain industrial uses of the river, encourage recreation and entertainment, and still preserve the nature in and around the river…a seemingly impossible challenge and yet one that much of our nation is facing today.
Diane Garey and Lawrence R. Hott of Florentine Films/Hott Productions produced and directed THE RETURN OF THE CUYAHOGA. The pair has received numerous honors including an Emmy, the Peabody Award, two Academy Award nominations and in January 2008, a duPont-Columbia Journalism Award.
Funding for THE RETURN OF THE CUYAHOGA provided by Peter B. Lewis, The Cleveland Foundation, McDonald Hopkins, LLC, The Lubrizol Foundation, The Abington Foundation, The GAR Foundation, The George Gund Foundation, The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, The Akron Community Foundation, The Ohio Humanities Council and the Davey Tree Company.
MORE RIVER IMPROVEMENT NOTES
According to the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, for the first time ever, the lower Cuyahoga River has attained one of the State’s expectations for an “Exceptional” warm-water habitat, another sign of the health and vitality returning to this once polluted river.
Final results from the recent electrofishing surveys indicate that the fish community has achieved the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality score of “Exceptional.” The index is a specific water quality indicator that ranges from very poor to exceptional.
“Exceptional”…it doesn’t get any better than that.