Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Return of the Cuyahoga: PBS Documentary Airs April 22

PBS will be airing the documentary “The Return of the Cuyahoga” on Tuesday, April 22 at 9:00 PM. A preview is below. Please note that the airdate listed in the video is not correct for the Cleveland PBS station, WVIZ, so if you’re reading this blog from outside the Cleveland area, please check your local listings for dates and times. (UPDATE April 18: My DVR program guide now indicates this will air on the WVIX HD channel on 4/18 at 10PM...but the on-line TV Guide does not. My suggestion is to verify your local listings for availability today on WVIZ HD or the regular WVIZ channel.)

I can clearly remember when the river burned in 1969, and also remember feeling ashamed of how Cleveland's industry had abused this great waterway. I also recall, even at my young age, of being concerned about the health of the river, the people who lived and worked near it, and the wildlife that depended on the river. It is good to know that when the river burned in 1969, it fueled outrage across the country and fueled the fire, so to speak, for making the river well again.

The Cuyahoga River has been key to the area's settlement and industry in Cleveland. Our continued efforts toward preservation is vital to the survival of the region's people and wildlife. This is a show that Clevelanders – past and present – should not miss.

Here are a few excerpts from the PBS web site about the documentary:

The Return of the Cuyahoga

"THE RETURN OF THE CUYAHOGA is a fascinating look at the life, death and rebirth of one of America’s most polluted rivers. Perhaps best known as “the river that burned,” the Cuyahoga is, in fact, an emblematic waterway. Its history is the history of the American frontier, the rise of industry, and the scourge of pollution. In 1969, when the river caught on fire, the blaze ignited a political movement that not only saved the Cuyahoga and its communities, but continues today with the current environmental movement.

The Cuyahoga caught fire as far back as 1883. In 1914, a river fire threatened downtown Cleveland, until a providential shift in the wind turned it away. In 1918, a river fire spread to a shipyard and killed seven men. The Cuyahoga burned again in 1936, 1948, 1949 and 1952. Then on June 22, 1969, the polluted Cuyahoga, slick with oil and full of debris, caught on fire. The river didn’t just burn in Cleveland — it burned in the nation’s imagination. Along with the rise of other social movements in the late sixties, the country was also beginning to take note of our damaged environment. The fire started a chain of legislation and events that continue today, including the creation of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, Earth Day, and the Environmental Protection Agencies at the federal and state levels. The Cuyahoga is America’s best example yet of a watery success story. The dead river came clean — and back to life again.

“This is a truly national story,” says filmmaker Larry Hott. “Rivers in industrial cities across the country were catching fire due to the build up of oil, waste and debris. The Rouge River in Michigan, the Schuylkill in Philadelphia, and the Chicago River all burned as often and as drastically as the Cuyahoga.”

About the Cuyahoga River

When the United States was a new nation, the Cuyahoga marked the western frontier: beyond it, all was unclaimed land — Indian Territory. But by 1870, the river was on a frontier of a different kind: the industrial frontier. On the river’s banks arose the country’s pride and joy — a burgeoning multitude of smoking factories in a booming display of what was called progress. But, as it flowed through Akron and Cleveland, the river became a foul-smelling channel of sludge, with an oily surface that ignited with such regularity that river fires were treated as commonplace events by the locals.

After many fires, the river burned again in 1969 just as a third kind of frontier swept across the nation: an environmental frontier. And the Cuyahoga River became a landmark on this frontier too, a poster child for those trying to undo the destruction wrought by the rampant industrialization of America.

“This is a good news story, something we don’t often hear about the environment nowadays,” says Hott. “The river was a mess forty years ago but it’s getting better now due to the efforts of a coalition of organizations and businesses. For the Cuyahoga, and perhaps other rivers in America, there’s reason to hope.”

Cuyahoga River flowing through the Cuyahoga Valley National ParkThe Cuyahoga’s story is a particularly apt example for future environmental efforts, because the river can’t just be “set aside” as a pristine wilderness park — it runs right through Cleveland, after all. And, like most American rivers, the Cuyahoga has to serve widely varying needs — aesthetic and economic, practical and natural, human and animal. The challenge sounds impossible: how to maintain industrial uses of the river, encourage recreation and entertainment, and still preserve the nature in and around the river…a seemingly impossible challenge and yet one that much of our nation is facing today. “

Preview:The Return of the Cuyahoga

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