When I was a kid, my grandparents lived just above Cascade Park on Bath Street, and one of the biggest thrills of my kid life was getting to play in the park. This was before anything in our world was scary or dangerous, so it was ok for parents to let their kids climb all over a rusted out fire truck with jagged chrome edges and steel springs sticking up through the seats. On a Saturday afternoon the park was full of long-haired guys hanging out at their jacked-up vans with carpeted interiors and loud music, but they weren’t as scarey as they would be today. They were just there to talk to the girls lying out on blankets in the field, ask them if they wanted to play Frisbee and smoke funny-smelling cigarettes.
The slides in the playground were another matter. They were at least twenty feet tall, or so it seemed, and kids would pack their way onto the iron-stepped ladder waiting for the thrill of barreling down a sheet of wavy, shiny steel that was so hot you could fry an egg on it. At the bottom of the slide you flew off the end and landed with a thud in a hard dusty divot and nobody broke their coccyx, sued the city, or even shed a tear. We were tough kids, and that’s the way things were. If we were lucky we could scare up a quarter and get an orange pop or one of those little plastic barrels of grape drink at the concession stand and we’d sit in the cool shade of the sandstone rocks beneath “the clam shell” and life just didn’t get any better.
For a while there was a pool still open in the park when I was young, but it closed and they quickly filled it in. After that there was only the river, and you had to be crazy to swim in the river. Of course, some kids did it anyway, or at least waded out into the water. We just stood on the banks and shook our heads; how could you swim in the Black River?
Some rivers have pebble bottoms, some have sandy bottoms, and I’m pretty sure the bottom of the Black River was creosote and tires. It smelled, I mean bad, and the surface had this disgusting colorful sheen and where frothy bubbles collected in the backwaters we were pretty sure they could find Jimmy Hoffa. In fact, there was an official advisory that people should avoid skin contact with the Black River water, and if you were like one of the old men who fished all day off the bridge, under no circumstances should you eat that fish, which had to be the John Wayne of all carp that ever swam. Of course we all remember the day we made the national news because our fish had two heads and open sores. At the end of World War Two there were nearly a hundred factories in Elyria alone and industry routinely used the river as its dump. From the steel mill to the chemical works, to the foundries to GM and everyone in between, Lorain County was bustling in its front door and polluting the river out the back. City sewers emptied freely into the river and the lake. A citizen from Lorian County in that day couldn’t even dream that the River might come back, it was as dead as its Black name implied.
So, if there’s one great accomplishment of conservationists in Northern Ohio, it’s the resurrection of the Black River . Today you can see Steelhead trout rising in the waters before the ford in Cascade Park. Tom Mahl took these shots of a Heron chowing down on a good-sized Smallmouth Bass and Sunfish in front of the falls beneath East Bridge Street. You can stand on the banks a few feet off of Harrison Street and watch Beaver and Muskrat go about their busy work, and believe it or not, there’s even concerts and tourism and sight-seeing boats at Lorain Harbor. I’m making it official, the jokes and the (literal) trash talking ends right now! Be proud Lorain County, we live on the banks of nature’s true wonderland, THE BLACK RIVER IS BACK!
Although the Earth has miraculous healing self-powers, we have to chalk up this herculean accomplishment to mankind and diligent efforts of many different government agencies and volunteer entities. I could go on for ten pages about all the great people of Lorain County who have chipped in to make this happen, but I don’t have the space. If you’re interested, there’s a terrific half-hour video the folks at LCCC put together on the effort at http://youtu.be/1Fx8Lk2iw60 but better yet, get down to the river and see for yourself. GET OUTDOORS!