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The Cuyahoga River ( , or ) is located in Northeast Ohio in the United Statesmarker. Outside of Ohiomarker, the river is most famous for being "the river that caught fire", helping to spur the environmental movement in the late 1960s. Native Americans called this winding water "Cuyahoga," which means "crooked river" in the Iroquois language.


The Cuyahoga watershed begins its journey in Hambden, Ohiomarker, flowing southwards to the confluence of the East Branch Cuyahoga River and West Branch Cuyahoga River in Burtonmarker where the Cuyahoga River officially begins. It continues on its journey flowing Southward to Cuyahoga Fallsmarker, where it turns sharply North and flows through the Cuyahoga Valley National Parkmarker (CUVA or CVNP) in Northern Summit Countymarker and Southern Cuyahoga Countymarker. It then flows through Independencemarker, Valley Viewmarker, Cuyahoga Heightsmarker, Newburg Heightsmarker and Clevelandmarker to its northern terminus, emptying into Lake Eriemarker. The Cuyahoga River and its tributaries drain of land in portions of six counties.

The river is a relatively recent geological formation, formed by the advance and retreat of ice sheets during the last ice age. The final glacial retreat, which occurred 10–12,000 years ago, caused changes in the drainage pattern near Akronmarker. This change in pattern caused the originally southward-flowing Cuyahoga to flow to the north. As its newly reversed currents flowed towards Lake Erie, the river carved its way around glacial debris left by the receding ice sheet, resulting in the river's winding U-shape. These meanderings stretched the length of the river (which was only 30 miles (50 km) when travelled directly) into a 100-mile (160 km) trek from its headwaters to its mouth. The depth of the river (except where noted below) ranges from 3 to 6 feet (90-180 cm).


Moses Cleaveland, a surveyor charged with exploring the Connecticut Western Reserve, first arrived at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in 1796, and subsequently decided to locate a settlement there, which became Cleveland, Ohiomarker.

The river was one of the features along which the "Greenville Treaty Line" ran beginning in 1795, per the Treaty of Greenvillemarker, effectively becoming the western boundary of the United States and remaining as such briefly.

Environmental concerns

The Cuyahoga River at one time was one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. The reach from Akron to Cleveland was devoid of fish. A Kent State Universitymarker symposium convened one year before the infamous 1969 fire described one section of the river:

From 1,000 feet below Lower Harvard Bridge to Nickel and South Shore Railroad Bridge, the channel becomes wider and deeper and the level is controlled by Lake Erie. Downstream of the railroad bridge to the harbor, the depth is held constant by dredging, and the width is maintained by piling along both banks. The surface is covered with the brown oily film observed upstream as far as the Southerly Plant effluent. In addition, large quantities of black heavy oil floating in slicks, sometimes several inches thick, are observed frequently. Debris and trash are commonly caught up in these slicks forming an unsightly floating mess. Anaerobic action is common as the dissolved oxygen is seldom above a fraction of a part per million. The discharge of cooling water increases the temperature by 10 to 15°F. The velocity is negligible, and sludge accumulates on the bottom. Animal life does not exist. Only the algae Oscillatoria grows along the piers above the water line.
The color changes from gray-brown to rusty brown as the river proceeds downstream. Transparency is less than 0.5 feet in this reach. This entire reach is grossly polluted.

There have reportedly been at least thirteen fires on the Cuyahoga River, the first occurring in 1868. The largest river fire in 1952 caused over $1 million in damage to boats and a riverfront office building. Fires erupted on the river several more times before June 22, 1969, when a river fire captured the attention of Time magazine, which described the Cuyahoga as the river that "oozes rather than flows" and in which a person "does not drown but decays."

A view of the river from the Ohio and Erie Canal Tow-Path Trail
The 1969 Cuyahoga River fire helped spur an avalanche of water pollution control activities resulting in the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA). As a result, large point sources of pollution on the Cuyahoga have received significant attention from the OEPA in recent decades. These events are referred to in Randy Newman's 1972 song "Burn On", R.E.M.'s 1986 song "Cuyahoga", The Simpsons episode "Lemon of Troy", and Adam Again's 1992 song "River on Fire". Great Lakes Brewing Companymarker of Cleveland, Ohio name their Burning River Pale Ale after the event.

Water quality has improved and, partially in recognition of this improvement, the Cuyahoga River was designated as one of 14 American Heritage Rivers in 1998. Pollution remains, however, including urban runoff, nonpoint source problems, combined sewer overflows, and stagnation due to water impounded by dams. For this reason, the Environmental Protection Agency classified portions of the Cuyahoga River Watershed as one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. The most polluted portions of the river now generally meet established aquatic life water quality standards except near dam impoundments. The reasons for not meeting standards near the dam pools are habitat and fish passage issues rather than water quality. River reaches that were once devoid of fishes now support 44 species. The most recent survey in 2008 revealed the two most common species in the river were Hogsuckers and Spotfin Shiners, both moderately sensitive to water quality. Habitat issues within the navigation channel still preclude a robust fishery in that reach. Recreation water quality standards (using bacteria as indicators) are generally met during dry weather conditions, but are often exceeded during significant rains due to non-point sources and combined sewer overflows.


The lower Cuyahoga River has been subjected to numerous changes. Originally, the Cuyahoga river met Lake Eriemarker approximately west of its current mouth, forming a shallow marsh. The current mouth is man-made, and it lies just west of present-day downtown Cleveland, which allows shipping traffic to flow freely between the river and the lake. Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers periodically dredges the navigation channel of the otherwise shallow river to a depth of , along the river's lower , from its mouth up to the Mittal Steel Cleveland Works steel mills, to accommodate Great Lakesmarker freighter traffic which serves the bulk (asphalt, gravel, petroleum, salt, steel, and other) industries located along the lower Cuyahoga River banks in Cleveland's Flats districtmarker. The Corps of Engineers has also straightened river banks and widened turning basins in the Federal Navigation Channel on the lower Cuyahoga River to facilitate maritime operations.


The United States Coast Guard sometimes conducts fall and spring ice-breaking operations along Lake Eriemarker and the lower Cuyahoga River to prolong the Great Lakes shipping season, depending on shipping schedules and weather conditions.


Some attempts (including dams and dredging) have been made to control flooding along the Cuyahoga River basin. People have developed many flat areas which are only a few feet above the normal river levels. Sudden strong rain or snow storms can create severe flooding in these low-lying areas.

While the upper Cuyahoga River, starting at over from its mouth, drops in elevation fairly steeply producing falls and rapids in some places; the lower Cuyahoga River only drops several feet along the last several miles of the lower river to at the mouth on Lake Erie, resulting in relatively slow moving waters which can take a while to drain compared to the upper Cuyahoga River.

Some tributary elevations above are higher than the Cuyahoga River elevation, because of small waterfalls at or near their confluences; and distances are measured in "river miles" along the river's length from its mouth on Lake Erie.


Ohio and Erie Canal diversion dam

The Brecksville Dam at river mile 20 is the first dam upstream of Lake Erie. It impacts fish populations by restricting fish passage.

Gorge Metropolitan Park Dam

FirstEnergy Dam
The largest dam is the Gorge Metropolitan Park Dam, also known as the FirstEnergy Dam, on the border between Cuyahoga Falls and Akron. This 57-foot dam has for over 90 years flooded the falls for which the City of Cuyahoga Falls was named; more to the point of water quality, it has created a large stagnant pool with low dissolved oxygen.

The FirstEnergy Dam was built by the Northern Ohio Traction & Light Co. in 1912 to serve the dual functions of generating hydropower for its local streetcar system and providing cooling-water storage for a coal-burning power plant; however, the hydropower operation was discontinued in 1958, and the coal-burning plant was decommissioned in 1991. Some environmental groups (including American Rivers and Friends of the Crooked River) and recreational groups (including the Cleveland-based Keel-haulers Canoe Club and American Whitewater) want the dam removed. Others contend that such an effort would be expensive and complicated, for at least two reasons: 1) the formerly hollow dam was filled in with concrete in the early 1990s, and 2) because of the industrial history of Cuyahoga Falls, the sediment upstream of the dam is expected to contain hazardous chemicals, possibly including heavy metals and PCBs. The Ohio EPA estimates that removal of the dam would cost $5–10 million, and removal of the contaminated sediments $60 million. The dam is licensed through 2041.

Advanced Hydro Solutions (AHS), a company based in Fairlawn, Ohiomarker, filed a notice of intent to utilize the dam to generate hydropower. The company contends that hydropower is a cleaner source of power and that the emissions saved by the plant will be the equivalent of taking 10,000 cars off the road. Citing concerns with erosion, dewatering of the scenic river reach below the dam, and use that is inconsistent with the Gorge MetroPark's purpose, opponents to this plan include, in addition to environmental and recreational groups, some governmental agencies, including Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, the U.S.marker Department of the Interiormarker, and the Ohio EPA. At public meetings held on July 27, 2005, the proposed project, which would only generate enough electricity to power 2000 homes, encountered substantial opposition. On May 25, 2007, AHS suffered a setback in its effort to develop the site. The United States Court of Appeals for the sixth circuit denied its application to conduct tests at the site, refusing to overturn a lower court's ruling that the MetroParks had the right to deny AHS access to conduct the tests. In a letter dated June 14, 2007, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) terminated AHS's application for the Integrated Licensing Permit without prejudice, citing the company's failure to adhere to strict timelines. FERC will allow AHS to re-file if it can conduct the required studies and move forward with the project. The final decision from the FERC on the project is due in July 2009. On June 12, 2009, AHS dropped its permit and terminated the project.

Munroe Falls Dam

Two other dams, in Kentmarker and in Munroe Fallsmarker, though smaller, have had an even greater impact on water quality due to the lower gradient in their respective reaches. For this reason, the Ohio EPA required the communities to mitigate the effects of the dams.

The Munroe Falls Dam was modified in 2005. Work on this project uncovered a natural waterfall. Given this new knowledge about the riverbed, some interested parties, including Summit County, campaigned for complete removal of the dam. The revised plan, initially denied on September 20, 2005, was approved by the Munroe Falls City Council on September 27, 2005. The dam, constructed of sandstone blocks, has been removed, replacing an 11.5-foot dam with a natural ledge which is 4.5 feet high at its maximum drop.

Kent Dam

The Kent Dam was bypassed in 2004.


Variant names

According to the United States Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System,the Cuyahoga River has also been known as:

  • Cajahage River
  • Cayagaga River
  • Cayahoga River
  • Cayhahoga River
  • Cayohoga River
  • Cujahaga River
  • Cuyohaga River
  • Gichawaga Creek
  • Goyahague River
  • Gwahago River
  • River de Saguin
  • Rivière Blanche

  • Rivière à Seguin
  • Saguin River
  • Yashahia
  • Cayahaga River
  • Cayanhoga River
  • Cayhoga River
  • Coyahoga River
  • Cuahoga River
  • Guyahoga River
  • Gwahoga River
  • Kiahagoh River
  • White River


Dams on the Cuyahoga River







Ohio and Erie Canalmarker diversion dam, built 1825-1827

upstream from
SR 82 Chippewa Road-West Aurora Road bridge,

downstream from Station Road-Bridle Trail bridge

Summitmarker Gorge Metropolitan Park Dam, built in 1912,

upstream from SR 8 North Main Street-State Road bridge,

downstream from SR 59 Front Street bridge

Cuyahoga Fallsmarker Summitmarker Cuyahoga Falls Low Head Dam,

upstream from Portage Trail bridge,

downstream from SR 8/SR 59 bridge

Kentmarker Portagemarker Kent dam,

upstream from SR 59/SR 43 Haymaker Parkway bridge,

immediately downstream from West Main Street bridge

Franklin Townshipmarker Portagemarker Lake Rockwell Dam,

upstream from Ravenna Road bridge,

downstream from SR 14 Cleveland-East Liverpool Road bridge


Generally, rivers are larger than creeks, which are larger than brooks, which are larger than runs.Runs may be dry except during or after a rain, at which point they can flash flood and be torrential.

Default is standard order from mouth to upstream:
Tributaries on the Cuyahoga River







Old River Clevelandmarker Cuyahogamarker near Division Avenue/River Road

Kingsbury Run Cuyahogamarker near Independence Road and Rockefeller Avenue

Morgan Run Cuyahogamarker near Independence Road and Pershing Avenue

Burk Branch Cuyahogamarker near CW steel mill

Big Creek Cuyahogamarker near Jennings Road, Harvard Avenue and Valley Road

West Creek Cuyahogamarker near SR-17 Granger Road, Valley Belt Road, and I-77

Mill Creek Cuyahogamarker near Canal Road and Warner Road

Tinkers Creek marker Cuyahogamarker,



near Canal Road and Tinkers Creek Road
18.08 from Willow Lake

Chippewa Creek Cuyahogamarker


near Chippewa Creek Drive and Riverview Road

Brandywine Creek marker Summitmarker near Highland Road

Stanford Run Summitmarker near Stanford Road
Grannys Run Summitmarker near Boston Mills Road and Riverview Road

Slipper Run Summitmarker near SR-303 Main Street/West Streetsboro Road and Riverview Road

Boston Run Summitmarker near East Mill Street and West Mill Street

Peninsula Creek Summitmarker

Haskell Run Summitmarker near Akron-Peninsula Road

Salt Run Summitmarker near Akron-Peninsula Road and Truxell Road

Dickerson Run Summitmarker near

Langes Run Summitmarker

Robinson Run Summitmarker

Furnace Run Summitmarker



Yellow Creek Summitmarker



Woodward Creek Summitmarker

Sand Run Summitmarker

Mud Brook Summitmarker

Little Cuyahoga River Summitmarker

Fish Creek Stowmarker Summitmarker


near North River Road between Marsh Road and Verner Road

Plum Creek Kentmarker Portagemarker near Cherry Street and Mogadore Road

Breakneck Creek Kentmarker/Franklin Townshipmarker border Portagemarker near River Bend Boulevard and Beechwold Drive

Twin Lakes Outlet

Eckert Ditch Portagemarker

Yoder Ditch Portagemarker

Bollingbrook, Portage

Harper Ditch Portagemarker

Black Creek Portagemarker near SR-700 Welshfield Limaville Road between SR-254 Pioneer Trail and CR-224 Hankee Road

Sawyer Brook Geaugamarker near Main Market Road US-422 and Claridon Troy Road

Bridge Creek Geaugamarker

West Branch Cuyahoga River Geaugamarker

East Branch Cuyahoga River Geaugamarker



See also



General references

External links

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