Burning River Ramble Wrap and Thank You

One week ago today something magical happened along the banks of the Cuyahoga River and we feel compelled to provide a wrap that's one part thank you and one part Greater Cleveland pep-talk. And in some respects, it's also a tale of our organization finding its reason for being. We're of course talking about the Burning River Ramble, our free, pop-up running/walking tour of Cleveland's evolving riverfront that started at the south end of the Columbus Road Bridge, traversed the Scranton Flats towpath, the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link rail, the Red Line Greenway/RTA Viaduct, Irishtown Bend and finished between Cleveland Rowing Foundation and Cleveland Metroparks Merwin's Wharf.

The tale of the Ramble first began In late February when we pitched our idea for Ignite, an arts & music celebration of the June 22 anniversary of the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire at Cleveland Leadership Center's Accelerate 2017 (think Shark Tank meets TED Talk) in the "Transformative Arts and Culture" category. We could have done a much better job with our presentation and afterwards, we felt we had blown a wonderful opportunity. But as entrepreneurs remind themselves early and often, FAIL is an acronym for First Attempt in Learning.

We percolated on our failure and on May 27th we decided to organize the Burning River Ramble, a stripped down "proof of concept" variation of our original vision. We had recently participated in several pop-up runs and activities and noticed the DIY energy and relaxed vibe of the participants. So we created a Facebook event and reached out to potential partners to gain as much PR altitude as we could in 3 1/2 weeks for a first-time, no-budget, grass-roots, participatory event. Run Wild CLE and 2nd Sole were immediately on-board, as were Brick and Barrel Brewing, Cleveland Rotary/Red Line Greenway and Cleveland Rowing Foundation. And we were humbled that a FAB design professional like Jeffrey Balazs was willing to create a logo for the Burning River Ramble that elegantly branded our promotional materials and commemorative tee. Sensing we were totally in the weeds, North Coast Multisports, a stakeholder involved with the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships coming to Cleveland in 2018/19, came from nowhere to wrap a professional event veneer around our grass roots, DIY gig. Cleveland Water was kind enough to provide their water buggy which created a cool watery oasis at the finish line on what turned out to be a hot and muggy day. And the City of Cleveland's Division of Fire was on tap (training schedule permitting) to have the Anthony J Celebrezze, (yes THE boat that extinguished the 1969 fire) out on the Cuyahoga River during the Ramble.

We were on our Ramble planning ascent when sadly, 9 days later, life got in the way as a personal family matter required our full attention. When we arrived back in Cleveland, we had 5 just days before the Burning River Ramble went off the line at 7 p.m. on June 22. What happened during that time-frame was nothing short of miraculous - and served as exhibit A of Cleveland's status as a "two degrees of separation" city. On June 19, the Plain Dealer's Steve Litt called to ask us about our "connect the dots" initiative and the resulting article ran on-line June 20 and in the PD's June 21 print edition. On June 22 (the morning of the Ramble), WCPN's The Sound of Ideas invited us to close out the show with a 6 minute in-studio interview with uber host Mike McIntyre. While mass media has been splintered by digital trends, we saw first-hand how traditional analog channels like the local newspaper and public radio station, coupled with experienced and talented pros like Steve and Mike, still matter as we were able to engage an audience completely separate from our known tribes. It was a BIG difference maker. Click on the below images to go to Steve's story & Mike's interview.

On the eve of the Ramble we enjoyed a history lesson from Prof. David Stradling who spoke at Great Lakes Brewing Co's Brewing Good forum about his book "Where the River Burned: Carl Stokes and the Struggle to Save Cleveland". His talk reminded us how Carl Stokes, the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city, actively engaged the press to build the public support necessary to combat pollution, improve housing, provide recreational opportunities, and spark downtown development in Cleveland. Yes, the forum was a big pep-talk for us!

David Stradling, author of "Where the River Burned: Carl Stokes and the Struggle to Save Cleveland"

As we left the forum we wondered whether the Burning River Ramble had the potential to be a vehicle that connected citizens to public recreational spaces that enhanced Cleveland's quality of life. Or as Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative's David Jurca talked about "Serendipity" at a recent Creative Mornings Cleveland, whether the Ramble could engage people to enjoy public physical spaces that fostered serendipitous chance encounters. Or as Stradling called Mayor Stokes' PR efforts, "a travelling press conference". In retrospect, that was another pep-talk for us.

One hour before the 7 p.m. start of the Ramble we had an inkling we might have a small success on our hands when we saw 6 millennials doing dynamic warm-ups at Hart Crane Memorial Park. When we arrived at the start line we were amazed at the variety of ages and fitness levels that were assembled. The Ramble was truly a people powered event. We'll let Cleveland.com photojournalist Joshua Gunter and the Plain Dealer's Stretching Out columnist Zach Lewis tell their stories of what the Burning River Ramble looked and felt like to participants. Click on the below images to go to their webpages.

As we stood at the 4 points intersection of: 

  • Columbus Road
  • the start and end of the southern loop of the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail
  • the short climb up Franklin to the path behind Hoopples that Ramble participants navigated to get up to the Red Line Greenway/RTA Viaduct overlook
  • the entryway to Irishtown Bend

we couldn't help but feel the incredible sense of spirit and community Ramble participants were experiencing. If there is such a thing as a spiritual vortex for Cleveland's history, the place where we stood for 45 minutes that day is certainly one of them. And with good reason - that turf has history!

We'd like to thank the volunteers and organizations who worked behind the scenes to help make the Burning River Ramble such an enjoyable experience for the runners and walkers. Based on what happened last Thursday, there will be a bigger and better 2nd Annual Burning River Ramble on Friday, June 22, 2018. Thank you Greater Cleveland for your support and the HUGE pep talk you gave us and your city last week!

Shameless plug - If you participated in the FREE Burning River Ramble, consider purchasing our commemorative tee! You were part of history and the tee will be a great conversation starter about your wandering journey along Cleveland's historic riverfront!

Burning River Ramble Photos by Dan Sater

Burning River Ramble Photographs by Ron Skinner (click image for website)

Race Day pics from Columbus Road/Irishtown Bend Entrance