CLEVELAND-From burning river to a city on “fire," says Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and the secret weapon in luring major events to the city has become the once polluted Cuyahoga River.
“That has worked to our advantage in many instances because we’re always the underdog and we always wound up cleaning their clock as a result of it," said Mayor Jackson.
Fifty years after the last fire on the Cuyahoga River on June 22, 1969, both the river and city have experienced a dramatic revitalization.
Wildlife and 50 species of fish have returned to the river.
“And you can eat them now,” said Mayor Jackson.
In recent years, Cleveland has landed multiple major national and international events including, but not limited to the RNC, Gay Games, International Children's Games, 2021 NFL Draft and upcoming 2019 MLB All-Star game.
Clean industry and shipping are also thriving on the river, side by side with kayakers and crew teams.
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park was formed in the years following the fire and Cleveland Metroparks vastly expanded.
They’re now preparing to start the final phase of the Lake Link Trail and Towpath trail, that will connect 100 miles along the river.
“Which closely follows the historic path that horses and mules used tow the canal boats on the Ohio and Erie canal,” said Doug Kusak, Cleveland Metroparks historical interpreter.
The river was recently named 2019 River of the Year by the conversation group American Rivers, and multiple restoration projects are underway with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
USACE Project Manager Russell Brandenburg says, since 1990, the USACE has safely dredged over seven-million cubic yards of material that has improved the river and shipping lanes.
Several new restoration projects are also underway in partnership with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and EPA with funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Great Lakes Legacy Act.
One, in particular, has Mayor Jackson seeing tremendous opportunity.
“We have 44-million dollars as a federal grant,” said Mayor Jackson.
The money is to build a wind farm off the shores of Lake Erie.
“We can create an industry around this,” said Mayor Jackson, “Whether it’s component parts of wind turbines, the assembly of wind turbines, exporting of wind turbines... all that can happen in Cleveland.”
In 2009, Mayor Jackson launched Sustainable Cleveland with the goal of not only improving the environment but economy, jobs and quality of life for all citizens.
As for the 50th anniversary of the burning river, the mayor would rather focus on what Cleveland did during that time to improve the country and nation.
“All these kinds of things we take for granted like the EPA, the Clean Water Act, all these things come out of that event and that is the significance of it,” said Mayor Jackson.
He says doesn’t worry about past perceptions, or even people who still criticize Cleveland because he has faith in the people and the now glowing future of the city
“People are gonna say what they’re gonna say; we as a city have to be confident enough to know who we are,” said Jackson.