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Warm weather and sunny skies are expected to greet visitors to the Kent Environmental Council's annual Cuyahoga River Day festival on Friday and Saturday.
Cathy Ricks, environmental educator for Kent Parks and Recreation Department and coordinator of River Day, said a celebration with Kent City Schools will kick off the River Day experience from 9:30 a.m. to noon Friday at Heritage Park, under the Main Street Bridge in downtown Kent.
"Our River Day initiative is a way to get them out of the classroom and having those things they're learning in the classroom come alive," Ricks said. "Also, to get that sense of ownership for what they have. I think once anybody gets down there and sees how beautiful the river is and the opportunity we have to afford this recreationally, they enjoy it. So often we just drive over the river, but we're taking a chance to go down to see the river."
The Portage County Storm Water committee will teach students about the connection of soil and water. Students will also have the opportunity to test the water, put on a life jacket and kayak in the river. Ricks said those who participate will learn how much of a tremendous resource the river is to our community.
"We have an incredible river that flows through the town," Ricks said. "We have an opportunity to help take care of it and learn about it. There are so many things that have come from improving our river and watersheds. We have plants and animals around the community we never had before. We discovered endangered mussels by the Kramer Ball Fields and there have been reports of otters. Those are an invitation of higher water quality."
For Ricks, River Day is all about looking at the bigger picture.
"The river connects to a lot of different elements," Ricks said. "We're looking at a whole watershed that eventually flows into the ocean. We're all connected. We have to recognize that our watershed begins with everybody. What we do in our homes and our businesses eventually can make its way to the river."
More activities to celebrate the Cuyahoga River will take place from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Plum Creek Park, at the corner of Cherry and Mogadore streets.
Edith Chase, who has worked with Ricks to coordinate Kent's River Day since 1991 along with Friends of the Crooked River, said the theme of the 23rd annual event is celebrating the past, present and future of our watershed.
"The past of it is the 1913 flood," Chase said. "This year is the 100th anniversary of the flood. It's something you don't get to celebrate very often. Kent Historical Society will have photos of the flood in one of their exhibits and a handout table for anyone who is interested."
Chase said Bob Brown, manager of Kent Water Reclamation Facility, will talk about the present condition of the river and Mandy Razzano, with Ohio EPA, will present "Caring For Our River."
River Day will also offer free activities, including an endangered species art contest, a concert by Holden Elementary Lunch Bunch Choir, environmental and historical displays and hands on activities with a 16 foot Stone Age Indian teepee, grass looms, rain barrels, tiny aquatic animals and life jackets.
"KSU Crooked River Adventure Center will be there with kayaks and canoes," Chase said. "We'll be participating in a statewide initiative called, 'Ready, Set, Wear it Ohio!' where we try to break a world record to see how many people in Ohio can wear a life jacket on the same weekend. It's good fun. We'll be taught how to put on a life jacket properly and we'll talk about how to explore our rivers safely. Then we will walk down by the river and look at the animals in the water. Last year, we saw turtles and salamanders."
Festivities will continue in the evening with the Kent Community Dinner and potluck complete with live dinner music and a program on the Native American view of the value of running water.
"This year is the first year Kent State University's Native American Student Association will be joining us," Chase said. "They coordinated for us to see Native Americans dressed in their traditional clothing. We will drum and sing and dance in celebration of the river."
Chase said River Day will teach us all how to enjoy our river, but most importantly how to take care of it.
"The Cuyahoga River starts in northern Geauga County and it comes down through Lake Rockwell through Kent and the river turns because of the glaciers and goes back up north into Lake Erie, and that's why they call it the crooked river," Chase said. "It's about learning what it takes to take good care of our river. In the old days, when Kent Environmental Council started the river was a place where you threw trash. Every year, we have cleanups and there's hundreds of tires, bicycles and even picnic tables that are hauled out from the bottom of the river. There's a huge effort in Kent to clean the river. It took years to clean it up and now we can start to enjoy it once again."
A final event, the Kent Community Dinner will take place from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Plum Creek Park. For more information, call 330-673-8897 or visit www.kentenvironment.org or kentparksandrec.com.