New Happenings on the Cuyahoga, Part III: Cuyahoga Water Trail
As of December 20, 2012
by Matt Muir

Elaine Marsh, Conservation Director for Friends of The Crooked River, spoke at the KHCC meeting in November. This is the third and last in a series of articles on the Cuyahoga, most of which comes from her excellent talk. See also the previous articles about Dam Removal and Combined Sewer Overflows. (Your Keel-haulers dues support the club's conservation fund, part of which helps support FoCR.)

The 100-mile Cuyahoga, the largest river in Northeast Ohio, offers multiple opportunities for paddling recreation. There’s scenic flatwater; it has gnarly whitewater; and there are all classes and types of paddling opportunities in between, affording paddlers of all levels and interests the chance to enjoy the river.

Friends of the Crooked River and other groups are advocating the formal establishment of a Water Trail, similar in concept to the Buckeye Trail and other hiking and biking trail systems in the state. In fact, Ohio already has several state-designated water trails on the Muskingum, Kokosing, Great Miami, and other rivers. As the Upper Cuyahoga is designated a State Scenic River, and the Lower Cuyahoga flows through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, it seems a natural for a water trail.

What is needed for a water trail? Mostly, access, signage, and information. While paddlers need much less infrastructure for putins and takeouts than do larger craft, parking and convenient access to the river are necessary for full enjoyment of the river.

The vision for the Water Trail considers six sections of the Cuyahoga, each with its own unique character, attractions, and concerns:

1. Scenic River
This section, from SR87 above the West Branch confluence to Lake Rockwell, is rural and mostly natural. Camp Hi Canoe Livery rents boats in Hiram. Access points could be improved; a last access point in Ravenna, just South of Rte. 303 and about 3 miles upstream of Lake Rockwell, is planned for 2013. (Paddling is not allowed on Lake Rockwell. See "No Paddle Zone" on the map.)

2. Heritage
This is the section from Lake Rockwell to Cuyahoga Falls. It was markedly improved in the first decade of this century, as the dams in Kent and Munroe Falls were removed and now Kent State University operates a canoe and kayak livery, Crooked River Adventures in Tannery Park near the Kent dam site.

3. Gorge
Keel-haulers should need little introduction to this section, from downtown Cuyahoga Falls to Cuyahoga Street in Akron. It includes the Class-V Upper Gorge and Class-III Lower Gorge, separated by the First Energy Dam (a gross insult to the river). The removal of two dams, to be completed by 2014, will improve this section; access for paddlers is good, and there are plans to improve paddlers’ access further and to extend a hiking trail along the Upper Gorge.

4. Merriman Valley
This section, roughly from Cuyahoga Street to Bath Road in Northern Akron, is scenic and offers Class-I paddling. Most access points involve parking some distance from the river and trudging your boat over boulders and down steep riverbanks. There are strainers to pay attention to, and effluent from the Akron water treatment plant adds to the river’s mystique.

5. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
This section, roughly from Bath Road through Peninsula to Rockside Road, offers some excellent scenery and pleasant Class-I and II rapids. Access and strainers are concerns here. This section has great potential, as CVNP is updating its trail system and minimal investment would substantially improve the experience for paddlers.

6. Lower River
This is the industrial section, the part of the river with a dredged shipping channel and the section that famously caught fire on June 22, 1969. Water quality and access are issues here.

7. Lakeshore
This is a 13-mile stretch beginning at Edgewater Park and extending past the river eastward.

The Plan

Friends of the Crooked River envisions a water trail with access points no farther apart than 7-10 river miles. In sections where there are liveries, shorter distances might be appropriate, to accommodate less experienced boaters. Most proposed access points are near road crossings; currently, concrete slabs and riprap at these bridges can present problems for paddlers carrying a heavy canoe.

Typically, the state of Ohio designates water trails and empowers local agencies to manage them. We may or may not formally propose a state Water Trail designation,but we will use the state’s criteria.

Some of the agencies that could be partners in developing and maintaining the Cuyahoga Water Trail would be CVNP, Cleveland MetroParks, MetroParks Serving Summit County, and Kent State University, Geauga County Parks, the Cuyahoga and Summit County Planning Commissions, and the cities of Cuyahoga Falls, Akron, and Cleveland. Currently, these groups participate in the steering committee for the water trail. CVNP has historically discouraged paddling, citing water quality; however, FOCR argues that with improving water quality, this becomes less critical. In addition, FOCR cites the enabling legislation for the creation of CVNRA (the forerunner to CVNP):
“For the purpose of preserving and protecting for public use and enjoyment, the historic, scenic, natural, and recreational values of the Cuyahoga River and the adjacent lands of the Cuyahoga Valley…”
A fair reading of that phrase would seem to say that use of the river, i.e., paddling, is one of the express purposes of CVNP. In CVNP’s plan to upgrade its trail network, paddling and access are explicitly considered in some of the options. You can read FOCR’s suggestions here. FOCR is hard at work on this proposal and anticipating a fully developed Water Trail within the next twelve months.

Those of us who live in the area might take it for granted and not fully recognize its uniqueness. Rare is the place which combines excellent whitewater and flatwater paddling with a national park, all within a half-hour’s drive of a major international airport, with the cultural trappings of a big city. Especially as the river’s water quality improves, the Cuyahoga Water Trail has the potential to bring greater economic activity to Northeast Ohio. And we paddlers will have more options for big fun.

Note: as mentioned above, this is the final installment in a trilogy of articles. In contrast to The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit, this trilogy was rolled out over only three months, not three years. Also, there's no Gollum. Although, now that you mention it, Kobak does bear an uncanny resemblance. This website is using DHTML Menu By Milonic JavaScript