Oh CRAP, a freighter’s coming! Cuyahoga River Ambassador Program aims to keep paddlers safe

February 12, 2019

Oh CRAP, a freighter’s coming! Cuyahoga River Ambassador Program aims to keep paddlers safe

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Oh CRAP, here comes a freighter!

The first-ever volunteer Cuyahoga River Ambassador Program will patrol the Cuyahoga River this summer in kayaks and paddleboards, to warn paddlers when freighters are coming and teach them to stay safe.

The Cleveland Metroparks, Nalu Paddle & Surf and the Foundry and Phastar Corp. are organizing the group of two dozen volunteers. They’re embracing the acronym, too, with plans for cheeky T-shirts.

Concern for safety on the Cuyahoga River has grown as the river grows more crowded. Rowing shells, paddleboards, kayaks, pleasure boats and jet skis all compete for space against 1,000-foot-long freighters navigating the twisty waterway.

Cleveland last summer painted NO DOCKING signs on 10 safety zones in the river.

Students at Davis Aerospace and Maritime High School paced the river on a boat, handing out literature with safety tips.

“Our interactions last year could have gone better if we were in a kayak,” said Drew Ferguson, founder of Phastar, the Northeast Ohio aviation non-profit that provides the aerospace and marine technology and instruction at Davis.

Phastar has applied for grants to cover volunteer training in CPR and first aid and equipment, including radios and maybe paddlecraft.

Think of the ambassadors like the Ski Patrol at Boston Mills or the Trailblazers in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. River ambassadors might give a water bottle to a thirsty kayaker or show them a safe passing zone on a map. They will work weekends and holiday shifts, entering the river from Whiskey Island or around Rivergate Park.

The ambassadors will solve one of the major issues discussed by the Cuyahoga River Safety Task Force – educating casual river users.

“From a paddling stand point, I don’t think people are doing it intentionally,” said Bill Cochrane, owner of Nalu surf shop. “They just don’t know any better.”

Tim McKenna, director of facilities and operations for the Foundry, which teaches youth rowing and sailing, said 20 rowing coaches could also help with the program.

Paddlers and boaters just need to know the dangers of the river and the freighters.

“This is not Mohican,” he said, referencing the state park. “You can’t get your cooler full of beer and float around.”

If you’re interested in volunteering, email Drew Ferguson at dferguson@phastar.org.

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