Akron, OH

This Toxic Dump Became a National Park

Eric Sentell

A $50 million,16-year reclamation effort transformed a corner of Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio from a toxic dump riddled with rusting, oozing chemical barrels into a beautiful marshland filled with trees, flowers, and wildlife.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located between Cleveland and Akron, arguably the "buckle" of the Rust Belt. The Cuyahoga River made national news in 1969 after its polluted waters caught on fire for the 13th time.

The National Park Service cleaned up a former salvage yard nestled against the center of the park, adding the 200 acres to the 33,000-acre park. It was the most expensive clean-up and reclamation by the National Parks Service to date.

The salvage yard contained several toxic chemicals that destroyed the local ecosystem. That stretch of the Cuyahoga River had zero fish due to low oxygen levels, literally. The soil contained lead and other toxic metals.

The National Parks Service removed the rusting cars, scrap metal, and barrels of toxic waste. They even dug up and removed the contaminated soil. Then they began rehabilitating the land to return it to its native, natural state.

This project is just one of many examples of the NPS acquiring polluted land near a National Park and then rehabilitating it into a place you can't imagine ever containing anything but wild nature.

Projects like these show that we can clean up pollution and heal the earth's worst wounds. It takes money, time, and will. But it can, and should, be done for the good of the planet, our current enjoyment of nature, and our children and grandchildren.

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