Eight years of work finally paid off Friday with the official designation of the Cuyahoga River as an Ohio Water Trail.
The new Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) trail designation means paddlers will have signage, amenities and access points to guide them along the more than 90-mile Cuyahoga River.
The National Park Service’s Andrea Irland spearheaded the project, with help from dozens of agencies, organizations and communities over the years. The trail offers more than just recreational opportunities, she said at the Oct. 4 celebration.
“It also provides economic development benefits for those park districts that get more visitors and communities that have a chance to promote paddling,” Irland said.
The state-wide water trail project aims to develop dedicated, safe routes for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, small motor watercraft and other recreation. With the designation also comes $20,000 in grant funding from ODNR for resources like maps and signage showing official access points and safety information, including water condition updates.
With the Cuyahoga River’s new status, Ohio now has a total of 13 water trails, and plans are to eventually include a route to paddle along the Lake Erie coast.
The Cuyahoga trail has 24 access points between Burton and Downtown Cleveland, following the unique flow of the river that starts off heading south from Burton and eventually, near Akron, turns back north toward Lake Erie. The route features five types of paddling, ranging from calm, flat water near Hiram to challenging whitewater at the Gorge in Cuyahoga Falls.
Irland says the trail designation shows how valued the river has become since 1969, when the famous fire sparked efforts to clean and redeem the Cuyahoga.
“It’s taken 50 years to change those attitudes,” she said. "We wouldn’t have been on the river paddling maybe even 20 years ago…[the water trail] is a lasting legacy of the rejuvenation of the river.”