CLEVELAND — In its present glory, it’s clear that the Cuyahoga River is a crown jewel of Cleveland, but it’s no secret that it has been quite the uphill, or upstream, battle to get here.
“It’s interesting to see how that highway for raw materials and industry can co-exist with recreation, on the body of water that, 53 years ago, was the poster child for environmental ruin,” said Jim Ridges.
Ridges is the founder of Share the River, a nonprofit organization focused on branding Cleveland as a waterfront city and promoting the social, economic and recreational vibrancy of the waterfront.
He is also the founder of Blazing Paddles Paddlefest. The 4th annual festival takes place July 23. Ridges said it’s a chance for recreational or competitive paddlers on the Cuyahoga River, offering races or just a chance to float down the river, exclusively.
“It’s a neat opportunity to tell all the different stories of all the different stakeholders that operate in this very narrow band of water,” said Ridges. “
It is taking place on the 226th birthday of Cleveland; The day when Moses Cleaveland landed on the river. It is also the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.
“That mindset that clean water regulations are anti-business, that is false. Anybody can take a look at the development that is happening along Cleveland’s waterfront and see that,” he said. “If folks are going to move here from another city, those are the quality of life metrics that they’re looking for in a city and when they come here and they see the river and they check the other things happening in Cleveland people are going to go ‘Cleveland is a cool city'.”
There are 600 paddlers from 15 states registered to participate in Saturday’s event.
“When they see this ribbon of blue with 600, multi-colored kayaks, canoes and paddle boards, they’re just going to go ‘that’s not the Cleveland I knew, and these old notions of the Cuyahoga River are going to go away,” he said.
P.J. Donovan is an avid paddler from West Virginia, who has returned for a third time.
“It is definitely a destination paddle. If it’s not on someone’s bucket list, they need to come up and paddle,” he said. “I think people are surprised at the urban green-space when you get down in here, and the historic bridges and the fact that we paddle under the Guardians on the bridges, I mean, just cool things you start learning about it with this race and the local history.”
The festival begins at 8:00 a.m. Saturday at Merwin’s Wharf.