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Grimy reminders of how waterways were once treated rest on the floor of the Cuyahoga River.
But Bob Brown wants to wash those dingy artifacts from Kent's memory.
Brown, manager of Kent's Water Reclamation Facility, organized the city's first Cuyahoga River cleanup in 1998. Cleanups are held typically once, sometimes twice a year with the help of a couple of dozen volunteers who scour roughly mile-long sections of the river that cuts through downtown Kent.
In 15 years of cleanup projects conducted between the city and Kent State University, Brown estimates nearly 100 tons of garbage has been removed from the river -- roughly the equivalent weight of an average blue whale. About eight to 10 tons on average is removed each year.
"This river used to be treated as a sewer," Brown said.
Automobile and railroad waste has contributed the bulk of debris removed through years. A variety of car parts from windshields to mufflers are common finds. Tires, railroad spikes and heavy railroad ties -- containing toxic creosote -- are also prevalent.
Brown said he believes auto shops that congested Crain Avenue decades ago are some of the culprits, along with various railroad workers.
"People think when you doing a river cleanup you're pickup up litter, but this is not litter," Brown said. "We do pick up litter, but this is heavy stuff we really need to get out."
Other interesting and peculiar finds have included kitchen appliances, bicycles, a hot water tank, collectible bottles too worn to be of value, a cast-iron bathtub and an antique safe.
It was empty.
"Over the years, you'd think we'd find a handgun or something, but we've never found any weapons," Brown said.
Volunteers help place debris on makeshift trash barges as they preen the river. Many wade through the river on foot during cleanup efforts. Others ride in kayaks and canoes, gathering trash or steering the debris-laden barges.
Tires and metal are recycled. Other materials are taken to a landfill.
Brown said there's still plenty of work to be done, but knows progress has been made because piles take slightly longer to gather up each time.
Brown first organized a river cleanup as a result of the removal of the Kent Dam -- something the Environmental Protection Agency pushed the city to consider in order to restore the river's damaged ecosystem then populated by only pollution-resistant fish such as carp and goldfish, Brown said.
The dam was built in the 1830s, restored in 1925 and finally removed in the mid-2000s after a lengthy process and some resistance from area historians who wanted to see the structure preserved.
Today, with river cleanups and other restoration projects, Brown said the quality of the river keeps getting better.
Referencing the removal of the Plum Creek Dam, which was part of the 2011 Plum Creek Stream Restoration project that also improved the overall ecosystem, Brown noted a following EPA evaluation netted more than 2,100 fish in one area with 19 different species.
But it's not just the wildlife that benefits from a clean river.
The KSU Adventure Center and Crooked River Adventures is hosting its fifth-annual river cleanup from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 28 for human benefactors as well in conjunction with National Public Lands Day.
That group will focus on three river sections: from Tannery Park to the Middlebury Road ramp in Kent, from the Middlebury Road ramp to Brust Park in Munroe Falls and one from Brust Park to Waterworks Park in Cuyahoga Falls.
"This is important to us because it's a great way for us to give back to the river that gives so much to us," said David Herpy, KSU's Outdoor Adventure Center coordinator. "This is the stretch of river that our Crooked River Adventures canoe/kayak livery operates, so it's nice to be able to help clean it for everyone to enjoy."
For more information regarding the Clean Up the Cuyahoga event, go to http://www.kent.edu/recservices/adventurecenter/trips.cfm or contact Jared Skaggs, Outdoor Adventure Program officer and livery manager, at 330-672-2802 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Participation is first-come, first-served and caps off around 30 volunteers.
"I can't stress enough the importance of events like this," Skaggs said. "As recreational users of the Cuyahoga River it is, in my opinion, essential to be good stewards of the river, keeping it clean and safe for the communities that enjoy it and the natural habitat that depend on it."
Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or email@example.com
Facebook: Jeremy Nobile, Record-Courier