The death and rebirth of our once burning rivers

Devastating June 25, 1952 fire on the Cuyahoga River – Source:

If you were of child of the 1960s like me, you probably remember the news accounts about the Cuyahoga River catching fire in Cleveland. Amazingly, that was one of more than a dozen fires that erupted on the Cuyahoga due to pollution since 1868. Furthermore, it wasn’t even the only river in the USA to catch fire in 1969, as the River Rouge in Detroit did several months later. It was not uncommon to refer to certain highly polluted rivers as dead or dying.

March 2014 river fire in China – Source:

As can be seen from the list below and image above, the United States was not and is not the only nation to suffer the embarrassment of a river catching fire from pollution. Thankfully, 1969 was the last year that a river in the United States caught fire due to river pollution (other than from fuel spills), thanks in part to the Clean Water Act and establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in the early 1970s. Perhaps, that is one reason so many of us who witnessed the scars of pollution are so adamantly against any efforts to weaken of our environmental protection laws and organizations.

While there are many rivers throughout the world and here in the United States that remain in serious need of restoration, there are ongoing “river rebirth” success stories to celebrate. Those rivers listed below whose name is shown in green/bold/italics have seen improvements worth noting. Does this mean they are fully healed? Absolutely not. But, there are remarkable successes to tout, particularly for the once infamous Cuyahoga River in Ohio:

Weblinks are also provided for these improving streams along with some photos of the ongoing efforts and plans to continue their rebirth. Peace!



  • Bellandur Lake – Bengaluru, India: 2015 and January 19, 2018
  • Buffalo River – Buffalo, New York: January 24, 1968

Buffalo River restoration areas – Source:

Chicago River Kayak Park – Source:

  • Cuyahoga River – Cleveland Ohio: 1868; 1883; 1887; 1912; 1922; 1948; June 25, 1952 (largest fire); and June 22, 1969


Cuyahoga River trails – Source:

  • Flint River – Flint, Michigan: twice in the 1930s – riverfront improvements underway, though cleanup still necessary
  • Iset River – Yekaterinburg, Russia: 1965
  • Lincoln Creek – Milwaukee, Wisconsin: October 14, 1951
  • Meiyu River – Wenzhou, China: March 2014
  • Passaic River – Essex/Hudson Counties, New Jersey: June 1918 – cleanup just getting underway
  • River Rouge – Detroit, Michigan: October 9, 1969
  • Newly installed art in Fort Street Bridge Park along the River Rouge in Southwest Detroit – Source:

Lower River Rouge Water Trail – Source:

  • Schuylkill River – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 1892
  • Volga River – Russia: 1970



This entry was posted in Active transportation, art, Biking, China, cities, downtown, economic development, environment, geography, Great Lakes, health, historic preservation, history, India, infrastructure, land use, Maps, nature, placemaking, planning, pollution, revitalization, rivers/watersheds, Russia, shipping, sustainability, third places, topography, tourism, trails, transportation, Travel, urban planning, walking, water trails, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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