CLEVELAND — The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland has often become the butt of jokes for catching fire more than 50 years ago because it was so polluted. But it's made a lot of progress since then, including the creation of the EPA, and Saturday that progress continued with the annual RiverSweep clean-up.
About 300 volunteers got right to work early Saturday morning for RiverSweep.
They worked in small teams across sixteen different sites from the Flats, to Irishtown Bend, and even on the Cuyahoga River itself.
Typically, the event is held on Mother’s Day weekend every year, but because of the pandemic, organizers had to go back to the drawing board to make sure all of the volunteers would be safe while cleaning up.
The goal remained the same - to clean up and bring awareness to areas in the Cuyahoga River Valley that could one day become trails or parks.
However, the process was a little different.
Volunteers wore masks and followed social distancing guidelines, and organizers capped volunteer participation to about a third of traditional levels.
Mera Cardenas, the executive director of Canalway Partners, which organizes RiverSweep, said the impact of the clean-up goes far beyond just the environment.
“If you think about the history of the Cuyahoga River, trash in your river affects how you think about the river. Today we think about it as not just a shipping channel but also a recreational amenity. So, if it were- if all that trash actually made it to the river, how would that change how you think about your river,” Cardenas said.
Over the last 30 years, nearly 20,000 volunteers have participated in RiverSweep and helped get rid of more than 700 tons of trash.
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