What images come to mind when you hear the name Cuyahoga River? Do you envision a healthy river that supports many species of fish, freshwater mussels, and other invertebrates? Do you picture a natural stream corridor lined with forest and wetlands? Do you think about the excellent recreational opportunities the river provides? The Cuyahoga River possesses many of these qualities along with exceptional water quality in many sections.
On June 26, 1974, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources designated portions of the Upper Cuyahoga River as a State Scenic River. This 25-mile section extending from the Troy/Burton Township line in Geauga County downstream to S.R. 14 in Portage County, is a testament to the high water quality, fish diversity, and natural conditions that exist in this section of the river.
In this area, the Cuyahoga River has access to vast portions of wetland floodplains, which filter the water and provide flood water storage capacity. With a main goal of protecting its drinking water supply, provided by Lake Rockwell at the lower end of the Cuyahoga Scenic River, the city of Akron has purchased thousands of acres of wooded riparian lands along the Upper Cuyahoga. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, through the Divisions of Wildlife, Natural Areas and Preserves and Watercraft, along with the Geauga and Portage County park districts, has also protected riparian forest corridors and wetlands through purchases and conservation easements.
These river corridors also filter pollutants from runoff, stabilize stream banks and lessen floodwater flow velocities. The shading they provide creates cooler water critical for diverse and healthy populations of fish, freshwater mussels and invertebrates.
Because of the excellent recreational opportunities provided by the Cuyahoga River, a group of local stakeholders has come together to propose that the Cuyahoga be designated as a State Water Trail. Organizations such as Friends of the Crooked River, Keel-Haulers Canoe Club, Portage County Park District, Metro Parks Serving Summit County, Kent State University, National Park Service, and many local municipal governments have all expressed their support for the proposed designation.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft has developed a process to officially designate a river system as a State Water Trail. Completing this process for the Cuyahoga River will result in a plan to maintain access points, maps, and signage to provide for safe paddling adventures on this beautiful river.
Paddlers of all experience levels can find waters that will ease the soul or stir adrenaline along the Cuyahoga River. Canoers and kayakers can paddle the calm, flat waters of the Upper Cuyahoga or take a trip along the restored free-flowing waters through Kent. In these sections you will pass beautiful wetlands, Hiram Rapids, historic Brady's Leap and the remains of the Kent Dam.
For only the highly experience paddler, with the appropriate safety equipment and training, the rapids and waterfalls in Cuyahoga Falls provides a whitewater experience. Downstream of Cuyahoga Falls, paddlers can also enjoy Ohio's Cuyahoga National Park. The National Park Service offers daily water quality reports on its website for paddlers to track safe water conditions by using key search words: Cuyahoga National Park Water Quality. Visit the Keel-Haulers website at www.keelhauler.org/ for a more detailed description of the different sections of the planned Cuyahoga River Water Trail.
If people are interested in contributing to the conservation efforts along the river, there are many volunteer opportunities. The local park districts along the river and the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves can use volunteers to assist with programs and site maintenance. The ODNR Division of Watercraft's Scenic Rivers Program staff also train interested volunteers to take part in the Stream Quality Monitoring Project evaluates the river's water quality by sampling the macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects, crayfish and other organisms without a backbone) that live in the stream. For more information on Ohio's Scenic Rivers Program, visit the ODNR Division of Watercraft's Scenic Rivers page at watercraft.ohiodnr.gov/scenicrivers.
I hope that you will take an opportunity to visit and enjoy the Cuyahoga River. The Cuyahoga's watershed is full of history, beautiful scenery, natural wonders and a wealth of recreational opportunities.
Matthew Smith is Assistant Regional Scenic River Manager, ODNR Division of Watercraft. Green Portage is a monthly feature of the Record-Courier in cooperation with the Portage Park District.