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WKSU News marks the 50th anniversary with the series, Watershed.

X-Tinguish Torch Fest Passes Breckvsville Dam in the CVNP On Its Way to Cleveland

photo of Meg Plona, Gary Whidden
Cuyahoga Valley National Park volulnteer Gary Whidden (right) walks the torch over the river past the Brecksville Dam with park biologist Meg Plona.

The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the final Cuyahoga River fire came to the Brecksville Dam Friday as part of the X-tinguish Torch Fest.

“We have gathered to celebrate the river, and the river is rising to celebrate the occasion, right?” Cuyahoga Valley National Park Superintendent Craig Kenkel asked.

The river was so swollen after days of heavy rain, the torch had to be walked across the river. The plan had been to bring it across the river on a boat.

Gary Whidden was chosen to walk the torch. He’s been volunteering in the national park since the early 1970s. Back then, he was hopeful the river would one day get cleaned up.

“Well, I’ve always been very optimistic about what’s happening because it’s such a beautiful area. And it’s always been beautiful. But back then, I would have said, ‘Don’t go in the water,’” he said.

At the Station Road trailhead, crowds cheered as the torch made its way past the Brecksville Dam, which is slated for removal this year.

Melinda Kellerstrass from North Royalton was there, volunteering with the CVNP. She said with the river’s rebirth, she hopes people start looking toward other waterways that need attention.

“As a paddler, I’m highly concerned with the whole blue algae issues that are going on," she said. "I bought my stand-up board about six years ago. And in those six years, I have been able to use it less and less, especially toward the end of season, because the blue-green algae is so bad.”

The Torch Fest began its journey up the river Wednesday in Geauga County and concludes in The Flats in Cleveland Saturday morning.


Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.