Hundreds of people dedicated time during 2020 to cleanup efforts around the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area.
“It feels good to do good.” That sentiment was expressed by a volunteer as they pulled a plastic bottle from the edge of a riverbank along the Cuyahoga River, removing it from an ecosystem that has experienced the ebb and flow of environmental misuse and renewal.
Appreciation for the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area (OECNHA) deepened this year as walkers, runners and cyclists turned to the Towpath Trail and outdoor recreation along the historic canal to ease the mental and physical confines of the Covid Pandemic.
That appreciation was reflected in the community’s desire to give back to these public spaces by continuing an annual rite of cleaning up the area’s greenspaces and waterways. The OECNHA paired with neighborhood groups, city leaders, and civic volunteers to coordinate trash removal projects. To address health and safety concerns, the cleanup efforts were scaled down and spread out.
During two hours on a Saturday morning in Cleveland, over 300 masked volunteers turned out for RiverSweep, an event with a 30-year history. They pulled tires, trash, and construction debris from future trail sites, undeveloped parkland, creeks and the Cuyahoga River itself. In that one day, volunteers removed over 10 tons of trash and over 100 illegally dumped tires.
Clean up efforts continued throughout the season up and down the corridor through dozens of community-based initiatives. Smaller friends and family cleanups offered social pods the chance to make a difference along the Tuscarawas River and Ohio & Erie Canal. In total, around 200 volunteers participated in these events over the course of 2020.
In all, despite the smaller groups, volunteers logged over 900 hours of service to Canalway communities. That’s about one-third of the hours in a typical year but in a year when so many traditions were disrupted, giving back felt so good.