BRECKSVILLE, Ohio — The Cuyahoga River in Brecksville is free-flowing and open for recreation for the first time since the Pinery Dam was built in 1827.
Crews have removed the dam and the Brecksville Diversion Dam, so paddlers can now travel the Cuyahoga River from Cuyahoga Valley National Park into Cleveland, the National Park Service announced Thursday.
The areas above and below the dams had been closed during removal, but since have reopened. A section of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail closest to the river remains closed, but a parallel section of trail is still open.
Dam removal began in May, about 14 years after an initial feasibility study first considered it. The project was a joint effort between the National Park Service, the Ohio EPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Cleveland Metroparks and Friends of the Crooked River, and it was funded in part through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
“Organizations and individuals throughout the region have been working for decades to rewrite the narrative about the Cuyahoga River — from a source of shame and a symbol of environmental degradation to a source of pride and a symbol of renewal,” said CVNP Superintendent Craig Kenkel. “We made it a point to align our goals with the phenomenal work that has made the Cuyahoga River the success story that it is today.”
Removing the dams has already improved water quality, wildlife habitats and recreational access, according to the park service. It also puts the Cuyahoga one step closer to receiving recognition as a “Wild and Scenic River” by the U.S. Forest Service, and getting the river removed from the U.S. EPA’s list of “Areas of Concern.”
Cuyahoga Valley National Park began a five-year effort in 2016 to restore the river’s condition and reputation, about 50 years after the last fire on the Cuyahoga. The fires spurred decades of grassroots clean-ups, nonprofit work, municipal policies and federal enforcement to make the river an environmental and recreational asset to the region. In October 2019, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources designated the Cuyahoga River as the state’s 13th official water trail with 24 access points, signs, maps and educational materials for paddlers on nearly 100 miles of river.
Although the dams are removed, the project isn’t quite finished. The Pinery Feeder Dam used to provide water to the Ohio & Erie Canal, so the next step is to design and install a pump to connect the canal to river water. The canal section between Wilson Feed Mill and Rockside Road in Valley View is designated as a National Historic Landmark, and includes Lock 38 in front of the Canal Exploration Center.
The canal will remain dry until the pump is installed in 2021. CVNP plans to improve the conditions of the canal until the water source is restored, the park service said.