Reporter’s notes: dirty river clean-up

Robert Checkal

Volunteers pull trash from Cuyahoga River

Forty years after the Cuyahoga River caught fire, a small group of students, instructors and other volunteers geared up for an adventure. Little did I know I would become a part of that adventure and witness first-hand the shocking reality of one of Kent’s finest natural resources – the state of which raised concern for a cause I never even thought about.

When I signed up to actually experience (and not just blindly write about) an Adventure Trip hosted by the Student Recreation and Wellness Center’s Adventure Center, I never expected to learn anything new, take up a cause or dramatically change the way I view pollution. After witnessing a phone booth, bikes, boatloads of tires and a mailbox submerged in the river, my eyes were opened.

I launched from John Brown Tannery Park in Kent, excited about the adventure, not knowing what to expect. I was told to pick up anything I could find; I didn’t expect it to be much, but I knew there’d be an occasional bottle or wrapper to be picked up. For larger items, there’d be canoes pulling boats. Despite the weather’s gray skies and a forecast undoubtedly predicting rain, the brave group set out, and I went with them.

I paddled into the river, where I found Styrofoam cups and bowls, plastic bottles, cans and tarps. I didn’t see anything larger right away, but soon more and more tires started appearing.

One adventurer asked an instructor why we were finding so many tires, and he replied that a lot of people dumped them into the river because the trash pick-up requires a fee for them. Clearly, a lot of people refuse to pay additional fees for tires because the canoe teams started filling the boats with them.

But other large items showed up. I even paddled by as one team pulled a television out of the river. Yes. A TV.

There was an occasional drizzle, but the group continued on. Our importance became evident as we saw the state of the river. I’ve heard the stories of a dirty Cuyahoga from years past, but I had an overwhelming sense of a cleaner river from recent reports. Now I know through my own eyes how horribly we’ve treated it.

Trash bags upon trash bags gathered on my kayak and the kayaks around me. The farther we traveled, the more we found.

Rusted metal milk crates from the old days of milk delivery trucks, netting, beer bottles and gallon milk jugs still play in my head from when I discovered them or saw others discover them.

Every partially submerged item was coated in mud, and brave, usually bare, fingers grabbed for the things that the river could never have rid itself of.

As the weather forecast came to fruition, the adventure was cut short. The other drenched kayakers and I paddled in the rain to a clearing behind Stow’s water treatment plant. We gathered and loaded the equipment, shared stories of the crazy things we found and laughed about it. There was a sense of community and teamwork, and we all walked away with a sense that the river was at least a little better off now than it was that morning.

Later on, a sense of sadness about the state of the river overwhelmed me. Even though we laughed about all of the things we found, the knowledge that it ended up there in the first place haunted me. The knowledge that it would continue ending up there haunted me even more, and an unceasing, grimy feeling akin to the slimy mud on the stuff we found settled in my stomach.

Contact student recreation and wellness center reporter Robert Checkal at [email protected].