ASHTABULA, Ohio — The Ashtabula River is no longer considered to be an “Area of Concern” in the Great Lakes region.
In the 1980s, the United States and Canada came up with a list of 43 “Areas of Concern,” essentially environmentally degraded areas along the Great Lakes.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Ashtabula River is only the sixth area in the U.S. to be taken off the list and the first of four in Ohio.
While this is certainly an environmental accomplishment, there are economic benefits as well.
Brandon Hart, and his wife, Alexa, grew up in Ashtabula and have always been avid kayakers.
“I don’t know if necessarily you couldn’t kayak. I just think you wouldn’t want to,” Brandon said. “Five years ago when we started, there were no kayaks out here whatsoever.”
The Harts would often travel to go kayaking, rather than utilize the Ashtabula River.
But as the river became healthier, the couple decided to open a kayak rental and tour business called Harbor Yak.
“Every year it’s continued to grow and we see more and more people coming from out of town which is awesome. I think that the river being delisted of course has a huge impact on that,” said Alexa.
Since the early 2000s, Ashtabula, the state of Ohio and the EPA have worked to get the river removed from the list of areas of concern feeding into the Great Lakes.
Nearly $70 million went toward removing toxic sediment, adding 2,500 feet of fish habitat and working with local plants to reduce pollution.
“Since that has been done, I do believe that the recreation has taken off and I also think the aquatic life and all the other life surrounding the river, it’s grown tremendously,” Brandon said.
“We always get comments by people going out there. They’re like, ‘wow the water’s so clear. It’s so clean. I didn’t realize the Ashtabula River and Lake Erie was this clean.’”
Now their business and their passion have taken off right at home in Ashtabula.
“Now there’s tons of people just coming here to explore and going through us to explore the river . . . and this is just the beginning,” said Brandon.
Each area of concern is graded on 14 different Beneficial Use Impairments.
Can you eat the fish? Are there birds reproducing in the area? Can you physically navigate the river by boat?
The EPA helps those in the area solve those problems.
Amy Pelka, an environmental scientist with the EPA, who worked closely on the delisting, said this is a huge accomplishment.
“It’s a great thing that stigma is removed, that it’s not one of the most degraded places in the Great Lakes. You know, it is now ready for regrowth, it’s ready for revitalization. So all those measures are now restored, so now you can eat as much fish as you would out in Lake Erie, you can now get sailboats in and out,” Pelka said.
Pelka continued: “All those uses, all those functions are now available for people to use. So, as we’ve seen with other areas that have been cleaned up on the Great Lakes. We see areas really revitalized. There’s more business, maybe there’s more recreational business. We’re seeing that in Ashtabula.”
In Ohio, there are three other areas of concern still on the list.
The Black River, The Maumee Area and the Cuyahoga River, which was so polluted at one point that it actually inspired the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water act in the 1970s.