River revival

So it caught on fire in 1969. That was almost 40 years ago and in Cleveland, not Kent. Still, the Cuyahoga River doesn’t have the best of reputations.

The city of Kent is trying to change that.

A little under a month ago, Kent City Council voted 8-0 to apply for a grant from the Ohio Department of National Resources to pay for construction of a whitewater recreation park along the Cuyahoga downtown.

In a March 7 entry on his blog, Kent360.com, City Manager Dave Ruller wrote:

“The fact that we would actually want to get people in the Cuyahoga (and likewise they would actually want to get in it) is a testament to one of the most amazing river turnaround stories in the country.”

For Kent’s part, reworking the river around the Kent dam has improved the immediate area’s water quality.

A PBS documentary, “Return of the Cuyahoga,” which details the turnaround of the length of the river, began airing Friday. It re-airs throughout the week.

So the idea of recreation in the Cuyahoga isn’t so far-fetched.

In addition to a boat ramp and improvements to Riveredge Park, the grant — they’re asking for $1.5 million — would pay for changes to the river itself, making it more conducive to whitewater rafting by installing boulders to create waves.

Admittedly, whitewater rafting isn’t the first thing most people would think about for boosting Kent’s economy. But we think the river could be a good resource for the city. We already have a nice park system along the river. There are nice trails and lookouts, but there’s not a whole lot else. Not that a peaceful walk along the river is a bad thing, but why not give more reason for people to visit, and why look at the riverfront as a possible moneymaker for the city?

John Idone, director of Kent Parks & Recreation, said the park could attract tourists to Kent. We think so too. A waterpark on the Cuyahoga isn’t going to draw serious whitewater enthusiasts away from places like the New River in West Virginia or the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania.

But for the region’s casual adventure-seeker, why not come to Kent? Especially if the park spawns other businesses, such as canoe/kayak rentals — something there has already been interest in — or more shops or restaurants along the river.

It’s good that the city is not only trying to keep local business in Kent, but also trying to get people outside the area involved in downtown commerce.

Obviously, it’s a delicate balance of development and the environment, but it sounds like the city has the right idea.

The only concern we have is that the city not see this as an absolute end-all solution. The ODNR only has $3.6 million available in grant money for what Kent applied. Ruller said even should the grant be denied, they intend to search for different ways of funding the project. We just hope the city doesn’t get married to an idea that could end up being impractical.

But we like the ambition. We like the creative thinking. We like them using something that gives our city identity to further its development.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.