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Towpath Trail Groundbreaking, New Sewer District Pump Station Part of Cuyahoga50 Events

photo of Tom Yablonsky and Tim Donovan
Tom Yablonsky (center, in white cap) and Tim Donovan (blue cap) from Canalway Partners joined state, local and federal officials to break ground on the final piece of the Towpath Trail in Cleveland.

State, local and federal officials broke ground on Saturday on the final piece of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail in Cleveland. 

The final section will run from Tremont to Canal Basin Park and should be done by 2021.

Tom Yablonsky co-founded Canalway Partners, which has helped develop the Towpath Trail. He says this final piece is more than just the culmination of decades of planning.

“The towpath is – in Cleveland – not just a trail. It’s a greenway. And there are many important trailheads. So this is really the anchor trailhead. It’s either the alpha or the omega of the whole system; all 101 miles. You either start in Cleveland or you end in Cleveland.”

Of the three other sections in Cleveland, the one through Steelyard Commons is done. The segment connecting that to Tremont is slated for completion this summer. And officials say the section to the south -- through the Industrial Valley – should be finished by the end of this year.

A new pump station
Officials from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer Districthelped highlight the rebirth of the Cuyahoga River with the opening of a new pump station in Canal Basin Park.

The station is part of the sewer district’s work under a consent decree to keep sewer overflows out of Northeast Ohio’s water by 2036.

Julius Ciaccia retired as CEO of the district in 2016. He says the work on Project Clean Lake has helped expand the agency’s focus on the region’s entire watershed.

Ciaccia on the future of Northeast Ohio's waterways

“Not only our watershed, but other entities [and] other communities need to look at their watersheds. We can’t just focus on the lake or the river. We’ve got to look within the watersheds and expand what we’re doing.”

Ciaccia adds that the region will also need to focus in the future on blue-green algae linked to agricultural and stormwater runoff.

Rowing on the river
Everything from canoes to power boats were on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland over the weekend as part of the anniversary of the 1969 fire that sparked an environmental movement.

In The Flats, the Cleveland Rowing Foundation kicked off its summer league on Saturday. Kerry Pachla from Avon Lake has been rowing with the group for close to two decades and says the river’s rebirth is encouraging.

Pachla on rowing the Cuyahoga

“Well, compared to when we first started, it's been a huge difference. You would see lots of dead rats floating by and things like that. The smells would be really bad. When we get a storm, there's stuff that comes in. But I mean, that's just nature working.”

Along with the rowing league, the second annual Blazing Paddles event took place at nearby Merwin’s Wharf, attracting about 250 people.

Blazing Paddles
Organizers say the goal is to celebrate the river’s rebirth, by encouraging people to support infrastructure and legislation that helps keep the water clean.

Gerry James is with the Kentucky Waterman series of events for paddlers of all skills levels. His organization co-sponsored Blazing Paddles, an event he says is a model for bringing people from all walks of life together around waterways like the Cuyahoga.

“What I’m looking for in events is exactly what we have here: we’re looking for diversity. We’re looking for inclusivity. But we’re also looking for that environmental advocacy component.”

This year’s Blazing Paddles attracted about three times as many people as last year.

The Cuyahoga50 celebrations also included the X-Tinguish Torch Fest, which began its journey up the river in Geauga County on Wednesday, passed through Kent on Thursday, Akron and the Brecksville Dam on Friday, before arriving in Cleveland on Saturday.

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