Green Portage: Cuyahoga River offers beauty, recreation opportunities

by MATTHEW SMITH Published:

What images come to mind when you hear the name Cuyahoga River?

Do you envision a healthy river that supports many species of fish, freshwater mussels, and other invertebrates? Do you picture a natural stream corridor lined with forest and wetlands? Do you think about the excellent recreational opportunities the river provides?

The Cuyahoga River possesses many of these qualities, along with exceptional water quality in many sections.

On June 26, 1974, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources designated portions of the Upper Cuyahoga River as a State Scenic River. This 25-mile section extending from the Troy/Burton Township line in Geauga County to Route 14 in Portage County, is a testament to the high water quality, fish diversity and natural conditions that exist in that section.

In this area, the Cuyahoga River has access to vast portions of wetlands, which filter the water and provide flood water storage capacity.

With a main goal of protecting its drinking water supply, provided by Lake Rockwell at the lower end of the river, the city of Akron has purchased thousands of acres of wooded riparian lands along the Upper Cuyahoga.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, through the Divisions of Wildlife, Natural Areas and Preserves and Watercraft, along with the Geauga and Portage counties park districts, has also protected riparian forest corridors and wetlands through purchases and conservation easements.

THESE RIVER corridors also filter pollutants from runoff, stabilize stream banks and lessen floodwater flow velocities. The shading they provide creates cooler water critical for diverse and healthy populations of fish, freshwater mussels and invertebrates.

Because of the excellent recreational opportunities provided by the river, a group of local stakeholders has come together to propose that it be designated a State Water Trail.

Organizations such as Friends of the Crooked River, Keel-Haulers Canoe Club, Portage County Park District, Metro Parks Serving Summit County, Kent State University, National Park Service and many local municipal governments have expressed support.

ODNR's Division of Watercraft has developed a process to officially designate a river system as a State Water Trail. Completing this process for the Cuyahoga will result in a plan to maintain access points, maps and signage to provide for safe paddling adventures on this beautiful river.

Paddlers of all experience levels can find waters that will ease the soul or stir adrenaline along the Cuyahoga River. Canoers and kayakers can paddle the calm, flat waters of the Upper Cuyahoga or take a trip along the restored free-flowing waters through Kent.

In these sections you will pass beautiful wetlands, Hiram Rapids, historic Brady's Leap and the remains of the Kent Dam.

For only the highly experience paddler, with the appropriate safety equipment and training, the rapids and waterfalls in Cuyahoga Falls provide a whitewater experience. Downstream from Cuyahoga Falls, paddlers also can enjoy the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

THE NATIONAL Park Service offers daily water quality reports on its website for paddlers to track safe water conditions by using key search words: Cuyahoga National Park Water Quality.

Visit the Keel-Haulers website at www.keelhauler.org/ for a more detailed description of the different sections of the planned Cuyahoga River Water Trail.

If people are interested in contributing to the conservation efforts along the river, there are many volunteer opportunities. The local park districts along the river and ODNR's Division of Natural Areas and Preserves can use volunteers to assist with programs and site maintenance.

The Division of Watercraft's Scenic Rivers Program staff also trains interested volunteers to take part in the Stream Quality Monitoring Project, evaluating the river's water quality by sampling the macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects, crayfish and other organisms without a backbone) that live in the stream.

For more information on the scenic rivers program, visit watercraft.ohiodnr.gov/scenicrivers.

I hope you'll take an opportunity to visit and enjoy the Cuyahoga River. Its watershed is full of history, beautiful scenery, natural wonders and a wealth of recreational opportunities.

Matthew Smith is assistant regional scenic river manager of ODNR's Division of Watercraft. Green Portage is a regular feature of the Record Publishing Co. in cooperation with the Portage Park District.

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