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This area used to be full of toxic waste and rusting cars. Now, it's a national park.

Before municipal waste management, big polluters used Ohio's Cuyahoga National Recreation Area as a dumping ground. Today, it is home to some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the region.

This area used to be full of toxic waste and rusting cars. Now, it's a national park.
Image Source: EPAland / Twitter

United States President Gerald Ford signed a bill in 1974 that created Cuyahoga National Recreation Area in Ohio. At the time, the boundaries of the park included a garbage dump. Although the assumption was that it could easily be cleaned out, the National Park Service (NPS) discovered the dump was a nearly unmanageable chemical wasteland where even the water and soil were flammable. Now, after several decades of clean-up efforts, the area has finally been transformed into a national park—as intended. The Cuyahoga National Recreation Area is presently a vibrant marsh ecosystem with some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the region, Good News Network reports.


Previously, the area was strewn with thousands of rusted barrels that contained congealed industrial slime; a soup of pesticides, arsenic and paint; discarded tires; and heavy metals. Today, it is home to tranquil forested ponds full of fish, insects and amphibians. Visitors to the park can spot black-eyed susans, New England asters, swamp milkweed and foxglove, as well as several species of birds, bees and butterflies. "This was a toxic wasteland only a few decades ago," noted Ecologist for Cuyahoga Valley National Park Chris Davis. "To find this diversity of species there today is remarkable."


The land was originally made into a dump by the Krejci family. The dump was located along a river between Akron and Cleveland in 1940. As this was a period prior to municipal waste management, neighborhoods simply used the area as a dumping ground. As the years went by, the 200-acre site began accepting heavier and heavier waste. Many of the Rust Belt’s biggest manufacturers relied on the dumping ground to dispose of their most harmful chemicals. When the Cuyahoga region became a National Recreation Area, NPS officials began noticing visitors were getting sick. Thus, a clean-up effort lasting 25 years began.


Instead of having citizens shoulder the cost, the NPS nominated Shawn Mulligan, a former assistant attorney general for Colorado, as an attorney to represent their demands. Mulligan pursued companies such as Chevron, Ford, Federal Metal Co. and Chrysler for almost $50 million in damages to pay for the clean-up. He explained, "It was unfair to the American public to bear all these costs. The NPS should not contain sacrifice zones. Every parcel of property is held in the public trust, and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect and preserve that resource."


The clean-up efforts were led by Veronica Dickerson, the environmental protection and safety manager for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. "To get assigned to it, you are like a little kid getting a Christmas present," said Dickerson. "It was amazing to start to work on this project and see it through completion." Now that the clean-up has been completed, indigenous plants have been restored, as have the region's natural wetlands. Most notably, all the animal species that the wetlands support are thriving. Dickerson affirmed, "[The Krejci site] is now as clean as any natural area in the park. That is something remarkable, considering what it was in 1985. You can categorize wetlands and these are right up there with a three and a four (the top rating for wetlands). They can sustain high levels of benthic communities and critters and turtles. They can sustain life here. It is a vibrant resource for them."


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