PHASTAR is looking for kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders interested in becoming River Ambassadors

Our July 11 post Open Water Swim Set One Month Before USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships Return to Cleveland discussed some of the challenges swimmers faced at last year’s USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. Ahead of the return of the USATAGNC to Cleveland August 9-10, our Blazing Paddles Paddlefest Safety Partner, PHASTAR Corp, is organizing both a River Ambassador program and a safety plan for the swim leg of both the USATAGNC’s Olympic distance (1500m) and Sprint distance (750m). The below is from PHASTAR’s press release:

PHASTAR is currently looking for kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders interested in becoming River Ambassadors.  If you are experienced in these watersports, want to spend more time doing what you love, and want to help keep our local Northeast Ohio rivers safe, then this is the perfect opportunity.  PHASTAR’s new River Ambassador pilot program is designed to utilize volunteer American Canoe Association accredited paddleboarders and kayakers in concert with the River Communications Office and PHASTAR 2543 safety boat to promote safety, education, and goodwill on our rivers and tributaries during the recreational boating season here in Northeast Ohio.

The River Ambassador program is an extension of our current Marine Safety program and will launch a knowledgeable volunteer paddle corps on the river and waterfront during the busiest times; weekends and holidays, during adaptive paddling and similar program functions and other special events.  These River Ambassadors are a part of the larger Cuyahoga River Safety Task Force plan, and work directly with PHASTAR Marine Safety and other public safety resources.

To become a River Ambassador, you must become certified by the ACA for paddleboarding or kayaking. These certification courses will provide participants with instruction on basic and advanced paddling techniques.  The kayak and SUP courses will meet on July 24th and 25th, and are available for a nominal $50 fee.  Sign up for the kayak course here: and the SUP class here:

First Aid, CPR, and AED Certification is also required. PHASTAR is offering a *FREE* First Aid/CPR/AED certification course on July 23rd at our 1776 Columbus Rd. Facility, which will run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. You can sign up for this class here:

If you have already obtained this certification, you will be asked to provide proof. Lastly, all River Ambassadors are required to attend the River Ambassador Indoctrination Training, which will cover rules of the road, a basic navigation refresher and proper radio technique.  This will be held on July 27th from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 1776 Columbus Rd.  Registration for the First Aid/CPR/AED and Indoctrination Training is here (select one or both):

Please note: paddlers who already have ACA Instructor Level 1 or 2 need only attend the First Aid/CPR/AED and Indoctrination Training.

PHASTAR is also putting together a Paddle Safety Team for the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships to be held in Cleveland next month.  We will need about 25 experienced paddlers from Thursday, August 8th to Sunday, August 11th.  This is a really fun event to be a part of. Register to be on the Paddle Safety Team here:

 All the registration links (in case you missed them the first time):

Registration for SUP (7/24-25):

Registration for Kayaks (7/24-25):

Registration for First Aid/CPR/AED Course (7/23) and/or River Ambassador Indoctrination Training (7/27): 

Registration for USA Triathlon Paddle Safety Team (8/8-11):


Otters on the Cuyahoga River?!

Back in September local environmental, sport-fishing and naturalist circles went deservedly bonkers over a Plain Dealer article about a Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District water monitoring survey team finding a walleye fingerling 10 miles from the mouth of Lake Erie, a rarity on the heavily industrialized Cuyahoga River. Cuyahoga River Restoration's Executive Director, Jane Goodman, said "Fish are our benchmark, our canary in the coal mine".

But a couple of months later we had our own canary moment when we learned a pair of river otters had set up shop in the 33,000 acre Cuyahoga Valley National Park where the Cuyahoga River winds its way between Akron and Cleveland. How could we just be learning this top of the river food chain mammal and key indicator of a freshwater ecosystem's health can be viewed just a short hike from Cleveland or Akron? So a few weeks ago we headed down to Peninsula's Riverview Rd. between Bolanz and Ira roads. Check out what we saw just off the marsh's boardwalk:

image by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

image by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Turns out river otters used to be plentiful across the nation but water pollution from industrial runoff pretty much wiped out the aquatic food chain, leading to a 75% spiral in river otter populations in the mid-to-late 1800's. By the late 1960's U.S. cities and their citizens realized they had to protect their waterways and, with the help of the 1972 Clean Water Act, ecosystems and habitats eventually rebounded to a point where 21 states felt conditions were right to implement river otter restoration projects.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife reintroduced river otters in 1986, releasing 123 otters relocated from Louisiana and Arkansas into 4 river systems. The project went so well that by 2012, river otter populations had swelled to over 8,000. Earliest reports had river otters finding their way into the Cuyahoga National Valley Park in August 2010 and subsequent park surveys confirmed their arrival in 2011.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Biologist, Meg Plona, says five young (and 2 adults) were first observed in the Beaver Marsh in 2013. Beavers created the marsh after the Portage Trail Group of the Sierra Club helped clean up an auto junk yard formerly located at that site in 1984. "We don't know exactly where the adult pair at Beaver Marsh came from" says Plona "Having made a great comeback they were de-listed as a state endangered species in 2002 and presently occur throughout eastern Ohio, including their return to CVNP." 

When asked about the status of the adult pair's offspring Plona added "We don't know where the offspring are or what they are up to, as they are not marked animals - young otters are self-sufficient by the time they are 5 to 6 months old, but the family group remains intact for at least 7 or 8 months or until just prior to a new litter. Yearling otters can disperse up to 20 miles or more from where they were reared." Plona says the river otters are protected like all native mammals in the park, 'however there are no "special" protections or management strategies in place for the otters at this time."

Plona notes there are optimal times to see the otters "River otter sightings at the Beaver Marsh usually occur in the very early morning when there is minimal human disturbance. In general, these mammals are also very active at dusk and throughout the night feeding on fish."

Want to marvel at the Cuyahoga River Valley's comeback? Take a trip to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and go see the river otters for yourself! Once you do, perhaps you'll consider sponsoring a Beaver Marsh acre via the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park!