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NPS Arrowhead National Park Service
US Department of the Interior
Office of Public Health 1201 Eye Street, NW
Room 1131
Washington, DC 20005

Phone: 202-513-7215
Fax: 202-371-1349
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Interpreting Water Quality and Public Health
Cuyahoga Valley National Park 2010

Points Of Contact
Director
(202) 513-7217
Assistant to Director for Science
(202) 513-7097
Epidemiologist
(505) 248-7806
Assistant to Director for Field Operations
(202) 513-7056
National Capitol Region
202-619-7070
Northeast Region
(215) 597-5371
Southeast Region
(404) 507-5730
Mid-West Region
(402) 661-1718
Intermountain Region
(505) 988-6040
Pacific West Region
(510) 817-1375
Alaska Region
(206) 220-4270

Project summary

The National Park Service offered water quality interpretation and education to the public three days a week throughout the months of June, July, and August in 2010.  A water quality rove kit was developed and used along the Towpath Trail and at visitor centers to educate the public about a variety of topics regarding water quality. Topics included safe water recreation, fish consumption advisories, environmental health/degradation, and water pollution.  On some days, a table was set up with water quality tests and/or macro invertebrate samples from the Cuyahoga River, while on other days, NPS ranger Danae Wolfe roved public trails making conversation about water quality with park visitors.  In addition to public contact, the water quality information on the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s website was reviewed and updated.

Measurable outcomes of the project

Through the course of the summer, several projects were completed as part of the public health water quality education project.  A water quality rove kit was developed with the intention of being used throughout the year by park staff and volunteers.  The rove kit includes materials related to:

  • Water quality testing (turbidity, dissolved oxygen, phosphates, and pH)
  • Macro invertebrate sampling
  • Fishing/fish consumption advisory information

A major component of the summer project was direct interaction with park visitors.  Approximately 65 hours were spent roving public park trails, including Towpath Trail, a major multi-purpose trail that receives over 1.5 million visits annually.  Approximately 500 people were reached through one-on-one conversations with NPS ranger Danae Wolfe.  The focus of each conversation was water quality and public health concerns regarding the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie recreational usage. 

The water quality information on the park’s website was reviewed and updated.  Approximately 40 hours were spent researching and updating information to give park visitors access to the most accurate information. 

Lessons learned (what worked, what didn’t work)

Throughout the course of the summer, several different approaches were taken in educating park visitors about water quality.  Some approaches worked better than others.  For example, most visitors found information regarding fish consumption advisories the most beneficial because it directly affected them and their family.  Although some people were interested in water recreation information, the majority of the people spoken to did not use the Cuyahoga River or Lake Erie for recreation and therefore, did not find the information as useful as fish consumption information. 

Many park visitors enjoyed the use of props and demonstrations when talking about water quality.  Colorful test tubes and a turbidity tube were used to talk about elevated levels of particular pollutants in the water.  People were drawn to the turbidity tube because of its odd appearance, and they enjoyed comparing the test tubes of river water to bottled drinking water.  These props helped draw people in and helped with starting conversations.  Macro invertebrate sampling was also very popular with park visitors, especially the children.  People loved seeing squirmy aquatic insects and many children would linger by the table for several minutes just to watch the bugs.  Macro invertebrate sampling was the best way to draw children into learning about water quality because it was very entertaining for them.

How did this project impact the park, the participants?

Overall, there was a great response from park visitors about water quality education.  Many visitors knew about the pollution problems that the Cuyahoga River faces, but very few people realized how much it can affect individuals living in northeast Ohio.  For example, most visitors were shocked to learn about combined sewer overflow and how, in periods of heavy rainfall, local sewer systems may release untreated sewage directly into the river.  One woman said, “Shouldn’t that be illegal?” after hearing this information, while other visitors showed shock and disgust.  Many visitors were surprised to hear that people use the river for recreation despite pollution and sewage in the water.  Even more people were surprised when a connection to Lake Erie and drinking water was made.

Other visitors were shocked to learn that certain fish should be eaten in very limited quantities.  Most of the visitors reached said that they eat fish on a regular basis, but very few of those people knew about fish consumption advisories.  While some people knew that advisories existed, others knew nothing of the precautions.  EPA fish consumption advisory brochures were handed out to park visitors throughout the summer.  Many people were grateful for the information.  One visitor suggested that the park place fish consumption advisory bulletins at every fishing location throughout the park.  Another visitor suggested that the park make this information more readily available on the park’s website.

It seemed that many visitors came to park with a negative attitude towards the Cuyahoga River.  Most people knew about the Cuyahoga River’s history of industrial fires and thick, polluted waters.  Even people from out of state (Florida, Pennsylvania, etc,) knew of the once heavily polluted waterway.  This project helped park visitors realize that the Cuyahoga River has come a long way over the last 40 years in terms of pollution and degradation.  For example, when macro invertebrate sampling was done, people were shocked to see that the river supported so much aquatic life. 
The water quality education program in Cuyahoga Valley National Park provided an informal learning opportunity for park visitors to gain insight on a very important issue in the park.  This program guided visitors in gaining new perspective on the environmental, cultural, and historic importance of the Cuyahoga River and helped emphasize the importance of environmental health in our community.

Will this project continue after this year?

This project will continue after this year because we focused on developing and testing rove kit materials that can then be used by existing staff and volunteer who rove the trail. Whether or not special funding is received, water quality roving will remain an emphasis topic.

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