The banks of the Cuyahoga River were packed with onlookers this past Saturday for the fourth annual Cuyahoga Falls Kayak Race.
Racers faced a half-mile of treacherous white-water rapids, waterfalls and other hazards at the bottom of a hundred-foot canyon, while dozens of spectators watched from overhead. Some brave attendees even tried to scale the steep rock faces of the riverbank for a closer look.
Amidst fears that the event would be postponed due to high water levels, the rapids made for an entertaining, if risky, obstacle.
The event, sponsored by the nonprofit Friends of the Crooked River, marked the beginning of an exciting summer season for the river and its many expected visitors.
“50 years ago, the river caught fire in Cleveland, and today it’s very clean.”Harold Marsh, cofounder, Friends of the Crooked River
“Everything’s fun about the race,” race attendee and amateur kayaker David Mullen said. “It’s nice seeing [that] the community’s opened up and embraced the whole thing.”
Families looking for a break from the exhilarating action down in the canyon could find solace in everything from a craft beer tent to a bunny petting zoo at the festival grounds.
But for organizers, the event was about much more than the thrill of the race.
Efforts to clean the Cuyahoga River have been underway for decades, and events like the race are a valuable demonstration of how far it’s come.
“50 years ago, the river caught fire in Cleveland, and today it’s very clean,” Friends of the Crooked River cofounder Harold Marsh said. “The river now is largely in attainment, and the only place that isn’t in attainment is behind dams and in the dam pools.”
Removing manmade dams from the Cuyahoga has been a goal of the FotCR since its inception. And for many in Cuyahoga Falls and the surrounding area, saving the river represents an opportunity to foster a community and preserve natural splendor.
“Once they get rid of that big dam the world will open up,” Mullen said. “People will show up and the river will flow, and it’ll be amazing.”