The Cuyahoga River is famous for being the “crooked river” — not for its whitewater. Yet when a massive freighter the size of the Terminal Tower comes by, it quickly becomes a different experience. At a press conference this week, groups involved with the Share the River initiative shared information with the public about how to stay safe and have fun.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, there were more boaters on the river, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jeremy Maginot, along with higher rates of accidents and injuries. The number of boats registered in Ohio this year is up 8%, according to data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) provided by Share the River.
“If you’ve spent time investigating tragedies on the water, as many of us have, you’ll see that some very basic tools like a life jacket could’ve made a very unfortunate scenario a completely different situation,” Maginot said.
Maginot recommended that boaters avoid drinking alcohol and tell others about their travel plans and when they plan to return. Maginot said that information can help the Coast Guard in case of an emergency.
“There’s a lot of pre-planning you can do before you get underway to enjoy our beautiful river system to ensure that while you’re out operating, you’re doing it safely,” Maginot said. “And then while you’re out doing it, put protections in place to protect yourself and your family.”
Drew Ferguson with Phastar, a nonprofit organization that is a co-founder of Davis Aerospace and Maritime High School, a Cleveland Metropolitan School District high school featuring aerospace and maritime-themed curriculum, said it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open. “We really tell people to have situational awareness of what’s going on around you. As people walk down the street with their cell phones out, so do they on their jet skis or their kayaks,” he said. “Suddenly, they look up and here comes one of the inter-lake steamship vessels, and they don’t have any idea what to do.”
Paddle sports are increasingly popular on the river, leading to the potential for more dangerous conflicts between freighters in the active shipping channel and kayakers. The 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River Fire and the designation of the Cuyahoga River Water Trail also helped to ignite interest, officials said.
Officials expect paddling and boating to be even more popular this summer. Now that Covid-19 pandemic restrictions are being lifted, kayak rentals will be once again available at Edgewater Beach and Whiskey Island. And whereas once paddling was not encouraged in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, there are now pull-off spots designated for getting in and out of the river.
For more information, visit Share the River’s website.
Lee Chilcote is a freelance writer and editor of The Land.