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Health, Science & Environment

Blazing Paddles uses Cuyahoga River fire anniversary to highlight recovery

photo of Blazing Paddles
KABIR BHATIA
/
WKSU
Paddlers navigate the Cuyahoga. The 2024 events take place on June 21-22.

Hundreds of colorful paddle boats, canoes and kayaks are expected to dot the Cuyahoga River on June 21 and the 22 for Blazing Paddles. The event organized by the Cleveland nonprofit Share the River, takes place ahead of the anniversary of the most infamous fire on the Cuyahoga River. Share the River founder Jim Ridge said the goal is to get more people to the river.

“We started Blazing Paddles six years ago, as an event that would help focus people on the comeback of the Cuyahoga River and be a photo-op for a city that some of us are saying is on the rebound,” Ridge said. “So, we've actually evened out in terms of our population loss. We may hit an inflection point where folks start realizing from a quality-of-life standpoint that a waterfront city in the Midwest is a good place to be.”

Ridge said that participants can choose between a nice relaxing paddle along the river or competing in one of three races.

“We have a variety of kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and these beautifully shaped vessels called surf skis, which are kind of one part kayak and one part dart that just cut through the water,” Ridge said. “So, we’ve now become an event that is 84 percent casual, relaxed recreational paddlers. Then we have 16 percent that come to race.”

According to Ridge, more than 725 people came from all over the world to take part in 2023, and he hopes to break that record this year.

“We have our Marco Polo Award, which goes to the person who has come the furthest to be part of Blazing Paddles,” Ridge said. “Like somebody was from Mozambique, and we had someone from Scotland last year.”

Ridge said that the best part of the event is seeing the same families registering to participate every year.

“It could be parents and kids, could be older parents and younger kids, you know, getting out there and enjoying the river and making it a family tradition,” Ridge said. “I love that people have embraced Blazing Paddles for whatever reason that they like it, whether it’s just them out having a good time.”

The event will take place at Cleveland Rowing Foundation at Rivergate Park, and paddlers will take off from the dock at Merwin’s Wharf. Early check-in and boat drop off will be Friday, starting at 4 p.m. Participants will start their paddle at 7 a.m. on Saturday. The event also includes live music and food trucks at the park. Registration is required for the events on the river.

Corrected: June 18, 2024 at 3:06 PM EDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the dates of the event.
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Health, Science & Environment Ohio NewsCuyahoga River
Des Torres is an intern at Ideastream Public Media.