The Cuyahoga River Becomes a Racetrack This Saturday

This Saturday the Cuyahoga River becomes a competitive arena as the Head of the Cuyahoga Regatta (HOTC) and Cleveland Dragonboat Festival bring thousands of participants and spectators to Cleveland's waterfront. It's a unique day on the river as it's the one day the U.S. Coast Guard establishes a temporary safety zone (from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.) on the Federal Navigation Channel, restricting vessels from an area below Nautica Entertainment Complex up to the turning basin by ArcelorMittal. It's even part of the Federal Register!

Cleveland Rowing Foundation's HOTC is an annual tradition dating back to 1996 that's grown into a well respected competition attracting over 2,000 rowers from 51 clubs in 11 states and Canada competing on a challenging course that rivals the biggest head race in the world, the Head of the Charles Regatta

Some consider the 2013 Head of the Cuyahoga a cornerstone moment for the shared use of the Cuyahoga River by commercial and recreational interests. A series of miscommunications between two Canadian flagged freighters resulted in them mooring on either side of the river near the W. 3rd St. Bridge, effectively cutting the HOTC's 4,800 meter course in half. While the tight squeeze created challenges for regatta organizers (they ended up shortening the race course), the kerfuffle also created unexpected visibility for the race and recreational use of the river. As a distant observer in Boston, said "That incident is unfortunate, but it's the best thing that could have ever happened to your regatta - just you watch".

That comment was prophetic as local media picked up on the story, resulting in two substantive and timely Plain Dealer articles: Mike McIntyre's on the industrial vs. recreational use of the river and Robert L Smith's "Cleaner greener Cuyahoga has a new problem: Popularity". The incident served as a case study for the Cuyahoga River Safety Task Force, a group of Cuyahoga River stakeholders organized by the US Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Cleveland.

Subsequent dialogue has greatly improved communications, understanding and cooperation between maritime and recreational users of the river. "Lake Carriers' Association and the Cleveland Rowing Foundation have worked very closely to ensure these events go smoothly and have the least possible impact on commercial navigation" says Glen Nekvasil, Vice President of the Lake Carriers Association. "The Cuyahoga is a shared waterway and recreational activities are of course important, but so are the millions of tons of cargo and thousands of jobs that those cargos support".

Here's a quick look at how racing on the Cuyahoga River provides spectators and racers a unique view of Cleveland's evolving (and working) waterfront. Local organizations racing in the HOTC include Western Reserve Rowing Association, Saint Ignatius High School, Shaker High SchoolSaint Joseph Academy, St. Edward High School, Cleveland Youth Rowing Association, Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve University, and John Carroll University.

While the HOTC is happening upriver, down in the Flats, the Cleveland Dragonboat Festival will host 450 paddlers and spectators at Nautica Entertainment Complex. The festival runs from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. and promotes the people and unique cultures of Cleveland's Asian community. Proceeds from the festival benefit The Gathering Place, a community that supports individuals and families touched by cancer through programs and services provided free of charge.

Here's your invite from Cleveland Dragonboat's Mike Ciccarello!

Still on the fence? Check out Mark Horning's photographs of the 2015 Cleveland Dragonboat festival! Check out both events on the Cuyahoga River this Saturday to see how recreation is helping to brand Cleveland as a vibrant waterfront city!