Most articles on Cleveland drop the ‘burning river’ reference in the first two paragraphs. In 1969, the Cuyahoga (means ‘crooked river’) — covered in oil slicks that had killed off all fish life — burned for 20 minutes causing $50,000 or so damage. It was one of the least damaging river fires in Cleveland’s history, and less than ones in Chicago or Detroit too. But thankfully it caught on, ushering in the Clean Water Act.
Now the Cuyahoga — sung about by Randy Newman and REM — is bouncing back. There’s a riverfront project bringing homes and a hotel near the mouth of the river, and 50 species of fish are back. Riding it — as I did yesterday on a fun tour with 41 Degrees North Kayaking — puts you at water level through industrial relics of overlapping railway bridge, some rusted, raised and out of use — and at the same time seeing the first steps of a greener Cleveland. It got a little rougher in the waves of Lake Erie, fresh water waters crossing over the boat and soaking my airport-bound corduroys. It felt good.