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Local Groups Prepare For Year-Long Burning River Celebration

The Cuyahoga River, at the site of the 1969 fire [Elizabeth Miller/ideastream]
The Cuyahoga River, at the site of the 1969 fire [Elizabeth Miller/ideastream]

June 22, 2019, marks 50 years since the last time the Cuyahoga River burned. Throughout the year, regional and local events will celebrate the crooked river’s revitalization.

After taking place in August for the last three years, the Great Lakes Burning River music festival will celebrate its 18 th year on June 22. River Rally, a national conference, will convene in downtown Cleveland the week of the anniversary. And stand-up paddleboarders will travel almost six miles along the Cuyahoga, marking the day the river burned.

It’s a stark contrast to the city’s neglect of the river decades ago, says Peter Bode of West Creek Conservancy.

“Everybody historically has turned their back to the river and looked at their city,” said Bode. “Just recently within the last 20 years, everyone’s been looking back and seeing it as a resource, seeing it as an asset, something they can really latch on to and actually utilize.”

Bode’s organization is working with over 350 local organizations to celebrate the river from the headwaters all the way to Lake Erie. The Xtinguish Celebration will consist of a passing of the torch stopping at festivals in Kent, Cuyahoga Falls, and Cleveland and “crooked conversations” throughout the year about the Cuyahoga.

“This is really the revival of our river,” said Bode. “Restoration of and all of the efforts everyone has done from economics to law and environmental and everything in between.”

West Creek Conservancy’s events kick off in March with Crooked River Contrasts – a photography and media exhibit. The City Club will host a conversation on Cleveland and the modern environmental movement next month, and Cleveland Public Theatre will reprise Fire on the Water, a play inspired by the Cuyahoga River.