The River Cleanup

The river fire may be the big joke, but it got the nation serious about the environment. Congressman Louis Stokes recalled the work that went into the Clean Water Act of 1972 for a story we wrote in 2009 marking the 40th anniversary of the fire.

 I was sworn into office in January of '69, so this was one of the major events that, as a young congressman, I was subjected to trying to respond to.

Being in Washington was very embarrassing at that time, when on the national news, you'd hear about the river that caught fire in Cleveland or about Ralph Perk setting his hair on fire. You'd be teased from time to time [by other congressmen]. But those who had responsibility in that area, they understood what I was trying to do.

I remember sitting down with congressman [James] Howard, [a member] of the subcommittee having jurisdiction over water projects. I explained to him that this was a major event, where across the country Cuyahoga County was being laughed at. I said this would be an excellent project for Congress: If we could clean up the Cuyahoga River, it would demonstrate that you could clean up any body of water in the nation.

I was very proud I was able to get that legislation passed and help begin the [effort on] the Cuyahoga River that has now made it a clean, navigable body of water.

I think issues such as the Cuyahoga River's burning were part and parcel of people saying, "We have to be able to provide clean air and clean water and a clean environment." My brother, Carl, [Cleveland's mayor,] came to Washington and testified about the need for a Clean Water Act.

We were very proud when the warehouse area grew up around the Cuyahoga River and the Towpath [was redeveloped]. It's an asset of the city, to be able to go down and see what has been done since 1970.

— Louis Stokes from "Burn On," July 2009

Urban Farming

 The goal is that, by 2015, the Towpath Trail will link the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to Cleveland with paved paths leading from Rivergate Park to the nearby 21-acre Canal Basin Park. People will be able to rent canoes and kayaks at Rivergate, then walk to the Flats East Bank for some shopping and outdoor dining.

— from our July 2011 story "The Burning Question," which examined whether the
then-newly created 6.5-acre Rivergate Park could be a crucial connector for development
along the river. In May, the Cleveland Metroparks purchased 2.4 acres to develop as a public park.

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