• Photo of the Beaver Marsh by Jeffrey Gibson.

    Cuyahoga Valley

    National Park Ohio

There are park alerts in effect.
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  • Valley Picnic Area Park Lot CLosed - Plateau Trail Loop Affected

    Valley Picnic Area Parking Lot is closed for the replacement of the damaged culvert on the Plateau Trail, from dusk on Monday, September22 to 5 p.m., Thursday, October 2, 2014. Access to Plateau Trail is via the Oak Hill Trailhead. Loop unavailable.

  • Other Closures

    Valley Bridle Trail south of SR 303, across from golf course, is collapsed by river. Hard closure. Plateau Trail Bridge, north of Valley Picnic Area is closed. No detours. Plateau & Oak Hill trails are open. More »

Water Quality

Cuyahoga River still faces water quality challenges.

The Cuyahoga River is designated as an American Heritage River, but the waterway still faces challenges.


The Cuyahoga River, made famous by its troubled history of industrial pollution and spontaneous fires, lies at the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The river, wining 100 miles through northeast Ohio, offered convenience to growing cities, drawing many people to settle the banks of the once pristine waterway. Growing communities brought industry and companies began using the river as a dumping station for wastes produced by factories. The river quickly fell victim to severe pollution, degrading the water quality and guaranteeing that no life could survive in the thick, murky water. In 1969, a passing rail car created a spark that would ignite more than just a fire on the Cuyahoga River. The fire of 1969 sparked an environmental movement.

Just one of over a dozen fires on the Cuyahoga River, the 1969 blaze was nothing new. Industrial rivers, much like the Cuyahoga, burned frequently, but it was the preceding events that made the 1969 fire vastly different from the others. Time magazine published an article about the burning of the Cuyahoga River that would prove to be a pivotal turning point in the fate of the heavily polluted waterway. The "Mistake by the Lake," as the city of Cleveland was called, became a poster child for the environmental movement. Something had to change. The burning of 1969, and subsequent popularity, sparked legislation for the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the Clean Water Act of the early 1970s. The Cuyahoga River, among many others, was on track to cleaner days.

Today, the Cuyahoga River is designated as an American Heritage River, however, the waterway still faces its challenges. Although much healthier than forty years ago, some sections of the river remain on the list of impaired waters as established under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. Portions of the Cuyahoga River Watershed, including the section of river that travels through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, have been classified as one of the 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern, necessitating the development of a Remedial Action Plan (RAP).

The Cuyahoga River RAP works to plan and promote restoration of beneficial uses, such as fishing and canoeing, of the lower Cuyahoga and near-shore Lake Erie through remediation of existing pollution problems and prevention of future ones. Beneficial use impairments were identified in the Stage One Remedial Action Plan. Stage Two, implementation and restoration of beneficial uses, is only partially completed. Extensive research and monitoring by numerous agencies have been funded to improve understanding of water quality impairments within the watershed.

Currently, impairments to the water quality of the Cuyahoga River are being addressed under the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program. A TMDL is a written, quantitative assessment of water quality problems in a water body and contributing sources of pollution. It specifies the amount a pollutant needs to be reduced to meet water quality standards, allocates pollutant load reductions, and provides the basis for taking actions needed to restore a water body. The TMDL for the Cuyahoga River is divided into three sections, the upper, middle, and lower Cuyahoga. The section of the river that flows through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is considered part of the lower Cuyahoga.

For more information regarding TMDLs for the Cuyahoga River visit the Ohio EPA:

Upper Cuyahoga TMDL

Middle Cuyahoga TMDL

Lower Cuyahoga TMDL

The water quality of the Cuyahoga River within the park is of particular concern to park managers as it is often unacceptable for recreational use due to the high concentrations of Escherichia coli (E. coli), a fecal-indicator bacterium. Park management would like to encourage use of the river when the water quality is within acceptable limits. The river still receives discharges of storm water, combined-sewer overflows, and incompletely disinfected wastewater from urban areas upstream of the park. These discharges result in a threat to the health of visitors who come into contact with river water during recreational use. Because park managers are concerned about the threat posed to human health by sewage and pathogen contamination, the park currently discourages any canoeing, swimming, or wading in the river.

Ohio Nowcast
To address concerns of fecal bacteria contamination of the Cuyahoga River, the National Park Service is working with the United States Geological Survey to test and refine a predictive model that will provide recreational water quality information. Daily results of the model to predict bacteria levels that may be present in the water will be posted on the Ohio Nowcast website.

The park hopes to gain a better understanding of the ability of indicator organisms to predict the presence of human pathogens and, consequently, risks to human health. This information will improve our understanding of waterborne pathogen occurrence and assist the NPS in making informed decisions about when the water quality in the Cuyahoga River will be safe for recreational use in the future.

Visitors should still be warned to use caution when contacting Cuyahoga River water. While water quality has steadily improved over the past 40 years, contaminant and bacteria levels can still be high, especially after periods of rain.

For more information on Cuyahoga water quality and advisories, visit the FAQs page.

Read the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) fact sheet on water quality work at CVNP, Escherichia coli in the Cuyahoga River within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Visit the USGS website for a direct link to all kinds of water information. Here you'll find information on Ohio's streams, ground water, water quality, and many other topics.

Did You Know?

Drawing of a mule driver on the Ohio & Erie Canal.

A young James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States, worked briefly as a mule boy on the Ohio & Erie Canal, an important cultural resource within Cuyahoga Valley National Park.