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A River Reborn

The Cuyahoga River famously caught fire on June 22, 1969, inspiring several songs and sullying Cleveland’s reputation for generations. Ultimately, though, the incident sparked conservation efforts and led to the Clean Water Act. Today, the water flowing by the Greater Cleveland Aquarium is home to more than 60 species of fish along with rowing crews, paddleboarders, boaters and others enjoying the river’s scenic beauty.  That’s the story we want to tell as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the last time the river burned; not the burning but the inspiration and restoration.

Northeast Ohio is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River’s last fire as to remind us of the importance of our natural resources and as an opportunity reflect on how far Northeast Ohio and the nation have come in cleaning up our waterways.  So far this year, the Aquarium has participated in the River Sweep cleanup, made presentations to more than 30 groups on the history of the Cuyahoga River and conducted a river walking tour that ended with a citizen science water quality test.

On the actual anniversary, we have our grand finale commemoration event. We’re inviting the community to a Cuyahoga50 #RiverReborn Family Celebration filled with feel-good music and hands-on kids’ activities. Join the Cleveland History Center, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Creative Concepts in Music’s Sheela Das, Eriesponsible, Holden Forest & Gardens, International Women’s Air & Space Museum, musician Brent Kirby, National First Ladies’ Library, Nautica Queen, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) and Sierra Club for an afternoon of make-and-take crafts, games and informational displays focused on being good stewards of our natural resources. All activities are included with Aquarium admission.

Whether it’s making recycled water bottle fish, ship or plane, taking a narrated walk along the Cuyahoga or guessing how long it takes trash to break down, this rain-or-shine afternoon event is full of fun, hands-on activities and organizations that will help future generations gain a better understanding of their relation to and impact on natural resources.

Many thanks to NEORSD for its partnership and support of these initiatives.

(If you’re able to stick around on the West Bank of the Flats, there’s a Farmer’s Market beginning at 4pm steps away at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica AND an evening Cuyahoga River Boat Parade that day too!)

Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Make a Difference: 2019 Beach Clean-ups

For more than 25 years, the Alliance for the Great Lakes has hosted Adopt-a-Beach events all over the Great Lakes to keep the shorelines healthy, safe and beautiful. In 2018 alone, more than 14,000 volunteers picked up 35,606 pounds of litter over the course of 900 cleanups.

The Splash Fund (a non-profit affiliate of the Greater Cleveland Aquarium) has hosted beach clean-ups in Cleveland since we opened seven years ago. This year, our beach cleanups are scheduled:

5/18 – 10am-12pm Perkins Beach (Edgewater) in partnership with Drink Local. Drink Tap.

6/15 – 10am-12pm Edgewater (main beach)

7/20 – 10am-12pm Edgewater (main beach)

8/17 – 10am-12pm Edgewater (main beach)

9/28 – 10am-12pm Perkins Beach (Edgewater) in partnership with Drink Local. Drink Tap.

The Cleveland Metroparks team does a terrific job of keeping big waste items off the beach, so what exactly gets picked up during these volunteer events? We mostly collect small plastic items including cigarette butts, water bottles, food containers, straws and cigar tips. Even though we are picking up primarily small pieces of plastic, we still remove around 100 pounds of garbage each of the mornings. We couldn’t do it without the help of hundreds of volunteers each summer. We show our gratitude for this effort by offering each volunteer one free post-event ticket to visit the Aquarium.

The easiest way to sign up for one of our beach clean-ups is to register here. It’s easy and fun and make a big difference. We hope to see you at the beach this summer!

World Water Day 2019

In 2010, the United Nations recognized the right to safe and clean drinking water as a human right. This means that everyone in the world should have access to safe water for personal use including for drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes and food and personal and household cleanliness.

In the United States, it is hard to imagine not having access to clean water. In fact, when a community does face a water challenge like in Flint Michigan or the droughts in California, the incidents make big news.   Worldwide, however, 2.1 billion people live without safe water at home.  And 4 billion people (nearly 2/3 of the world’s population) experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. More than 700 children younger than five die every day from diarrhea linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation.

World Water Day was first celebrated in 1993 after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development recommended an international celebration to focus attention on the importance of freshwater. In 2016, more than 500 events taking place in 1000 countries celebrated World Water Day.

At the Aquarium, we obviously support any effort to advocate for clean water. Without clean water, animal life could not thrive. So it was a natural fit when Drink Local Drink Tap invited us to partner for their World Water Day Celebration several years ago. The mission statement for Drink Local Drink Tap reads, “Inspiring individuals to recognize and solve our water issues through creative education, events and providing safe water access to people in need.” Since DLDT’s formation, the organization has provided safe water to 21, 311 people in Uganda and sanitation to 6,994 people, collected 6,255 pounds of trash from Edgewater Park and celebrated World Water Day with 12,679 students through their Wavemaker Program.

The Wavemaker program is an opportunity for students to take action locally and globally to care for shared water. Becoming a wavemaker means you:

  • Stop using one time use plastic water bottles and commit to a reusable water bottle;
  • Volunteer at a beach cleanup in your area or host your own beach clean-up;
  • Participate in 4 Miles 4 Water, a walk/run to raise funds for DLDT;
  • Do your best to reduce water waste;
  • Raise funds to help students in Uganda access safe water;
  • Arrange for DLDT to come to speak at your school, church, temple, community, etc.

Drink Local Drink Tap celebrates all the students who have chosen to be wavemakers each year with a gathering at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Students have the chance to learn about each other’s projects and to tour the Aquarium, through support from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

This year, the Aquarium is celebrating World Water Day all weekend long. From Friday March 22 through Sunday March 24, we’ll have a clean water scavenger hunt with the chance to win an annual family pass, and $5 off regular walk-in admission with the code BeATourist19. The first 150 guests on World Water Day (March 22) receive a pin set commemorating the Cuyahoga River, courtesy of Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. Come help us celebrate clean water!

-Tami Brown

Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Cuyahoga River Reborn

The Cuyahoga River famously caught fire on June 22, 1969, inspiring several songs and sullying Cleveland’s reputation for generations. But do you know the real history of our beloved river?

The Cuyahoga River officially begins about 35 miles east of Cleveland and continues its 85-mile journey south to Akron, where it turns sharply north and flows through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to Lake Erie. The depth of the river ranges from 3 to 6 ft. except at the last 6 miles, where it is dredged to a depth of 27 feet.

Originally the river bed’s last bend took the mouth westward along the lakeshore to W. 54th St., until the present mouth was dug in 1827 to form Whiskey Island and a more direct channel which leads straight into Lake Erie.

The Cuyahoga actually caught on fire 13 times. The first fire occurred in 1868, just after the Civil War. The largest fire occurred in 1952, causing more than $1 million damage and the deadliest fire was in 1912, killing five men.

The Cuyahoga is not the only river that caught fire in US history. Rivers in Washington, D.C., Omaha, Buffalo, Dearborn and Philadelphia all caught fire as well.

By 1968, the reach from Akron to Cleveland was devoid of fish. Mayor Carl Stokes began advocating to clean up the river. Cleveland voters approved a $100 million bond issue to finance river cleanup efforts, including sewer system improvements, debris removal and stormwater overflow controls.

On June 22, 1969, just before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon, the river burned for the last time. The event was not considered “big news” and in fact there are no photos of the actual fire since news media did not make it there fast enough. However, on August 1, 1969, that small fire on the Cuyahoga river captured the attention of Time magazine, which described it as the river that “oozes rather than flows” and in which a person “does not drown but decays”.

Inspired by the 1969 river fire, the Time article and other initiatives, Congress passed the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) which was signed into law on January 1, 1970.  This act helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). One of the first legislations that the EPA put-forth was the Clean Water Act (1972), which mandated that all rivers throughout the United States be hygienic enough to safely allow mass amounts of swimmers and fish within the water by 1983.

The river’s water quality finally began to improve during the following decades, and by the 1980s business investors capitalized on this by converting parts of the Flats’ abandoned industrial landscape into an entertainment district featuring restaurants, nightclubs, and music venues.

Recent water tests have found the cleanest river readings in the past 20 years and it is now home to about 60 different species of fish. The river continues to serve as the center of an active maritime industry, a growing recreational attraction, the link that connects the cities of Cleveland and Akron, the home of a national park, and the hub of Cleveland’s urban revitalization.

It took us about 100 years of fires on the river to finally take action, but once we did, the river reached an acceptable water quality level in less than 50 years. There’s still work to be done, but going from 0 species of fish to 60 species of fish represents great progress. And in the future, our hope is that the burning river will only refer to a really great beer.

If you have a group that would like to learn more about a #riverreborn, please contact us to have a speaker make a presentation!