Habitat Restoration in Great Lakes Areas of Concern: Cuyahoga River

NOAA-GLC Regional Habitat Restoration Partnership

The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are leading efforts to restore several critical Great Lakes Areas of Concerns (AOCs)— the worst “toxic hotspots” in the region. In 1987, the Cuyahoga River was designated an AOC due to environmental degradation and pollution. Funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) was distributed by the Environmental Protection Agency to a Regional Partnership between NOAA and GLC and was allocated to the restoration of the Cuyahoga River. A 200-acre golf course (Valley View Golf Club) along a two-thirds mile stretch of the Cuyahoga River has been acquired to restore the river shoreline back to a more natural state, within the AOC boundary. The GLC is working with local partner Summit Metroparks to complete restoration along the Cuyahoga River shoreline, and anticipates the project to be completed in 2021 with post-restoration monitoring taking place in 2022.

Environmental Benefits:

  • Restore approximately 5,000 linear feet of the Cuyahoga River and approximately 60 acres of floodplain habitat
  • Enhanced fish and wildlife habitat, primarily shallow water fish spawning locations

Community Benefits:

  • Increased water-based recreation (kayaking, paddling, wildlife viewing) on Cuyahoga River
  • Improved water quality and ecosystem health
  • Improved fishing and fish spawning habitats

Economic Benefits:

  • Increased recreation, tourism, and sport-fishing opportunities

Cuyahoga River Habitat Restoration Project

Photo of Cuyahoga River project site before restoration (Photo by Jill Estrada/GLC)

Located in northeast Ohio, the Cuyahoga River Area of Concern (AOC) is comprised of the lower 46.5 miles of the Cuyahoga River, including all the tributaries that drain to that section of river, and the adjacent Lake Erie shoreline and its tributaries. The Cuyahoga River has a history of heavy industrial use, unmanaged pollution, and notable periodic pollution fires.  As recently as the middle of the last century, the lower Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was used for waste disposal and was choked with debris, oils, sludge, industrial wastes, and sewage, leading to the designation as a Great Lakes Area of Concern (AOC) in 1987. 

To address this designation, the 2016 NOAA-GLC partnership funded the engineering and design phase of this restoration project. A new 2019 NOAA-GLC partnership is providing additional funding for the implementation phase which aims to restore 5,000 linear feet of the Cuyahoga River and approximately 60 acres of floodplain habitat with reforestation efforts. Restoration will include the removal of berms and excavation of a new floodplain along the entire 5,000 feet stretch of the Cuyahoga River mainstem. Additionally, in-stream habitat features including rootwads, undercut banks, and rock-riffle structures will be installed to improve habitat and spawning conditions for fish.


Close to $4 million has been awarded to this project by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) from both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Great Lakes Commission Regional Partnership. The GLRI is a federal program designed to protect and restore that largest system of fresh surface water in the world—the Great Lakes.

For More Information

Eric Ellis
Coastal Conservation and Habitat Restoration
Project Manager, Great Lakes Commission
[email protected]

Mike Johnson
Chief of Conservation 
Summit Metroparks
330-865-8057 (Ext. 221)
[email protected]

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