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Kayaking Trek Takes Faculty and Staff Along the Cuyahoga River From Kent to Cleveland

Posted Aug. 18, 2014
enter photo description
Kent State University faculty and staff participate in the
first-ever kayaking trek along the Cuyahoga River for the
Crooked River Commute. The kayaking trek was organized
to promote the river as a shared regional asset for
education, recreation and sustainability.

Kent State University faculty and staff members embarked on the first-ever kayaking trek along the Cuyahoga River for the Crooked River Commute from July 25-26. The two-day trek began at the Kent Campus and ended at the Coast Guard Station in Cleveland with the intention of promoting the river as a shared regional asset for education, recreation and sustainability.

Seven individuals completed the trek while live tweeting using the hashtag #CrookedRiverCommute. Videographers captured footage and interviews for a documentary about the trek, which currently is in the process of being created.

“Kent State University, with campuses throughout Northeast Ohio, seems well-positioned to support this regional education process,” says David Jurca, associate director of Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC). “In order to create a memorable, river-based connection in people’s minds, a small group of faculty and staff from the College of Architecture and Environmental Design imagined a kayaking trip between the two locations. We decided to call it the ‘Crooked River Commute.’”

Charles Frederick, interim director of Kent State’s graduate landscape architecture program, says that the commute also was used as a community introduction to the new graduate landscape architecture program in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design.

“With the new MLA program based in Cleveland, we wanted people to know that the Kent Campus and our facility in Cleveland (the CUDC) are connected by the river -- thus the concept of a commute,” Frederick says. “We wanted to show how the river connects us, but also explore its complex human-natural dynamic relationships. As researchers, we will be interested to document the changing conditions of the river, and water/watershed issues will be an important part of our landscape curriculum. So, this year was a bit of an experiment to see if we could do it and to see what data could be collected and landscape/water research pursued.”

Many staff and faculty members on the trip described the commute as a great experience, but also a challenge.

“I've kayaked in Alaska around orca, in Lake Malawi in crystal clear waters, in Namibia with seals, and in Pueto Rico in bio-luminescent waters that light up when you paddle, but I've never made a trip this long or had such an interesting experience paddling in the area I am from,” says Chris Maurer, adjunct professor in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design. “It was a great experience and a nice challenge. In the park section, the scenery was beautiful, and coming into the industrial shipping channel was very exciting.”

enter photo description
Kent State University faculty and staff drag their kayaks
out of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cuyahoga Falls
during a two-day kayaking trek along the river from Kent
to Cleveland.

Kristen Zeiber, project manager/urban designer at Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, shares her experience.

“I did a lot of canoeing with my family growing up, mostly on rivers, but never kayaking – so I had a quick crash course the week before at the Kent State Outdoor Adventure Center,” Zeiber says. “I’m also relatively new to the Cleveland region – I moved here from Boston last summer to start work with the CUDC, and have been fascinated by Cleveland’s relationship with its river, mostly the coexistence of the ‘natural’ with the industrial. And as an architect and urban designer, I was most excited about the aesthetic of the industrial section – all those old rusted bridges are so beautiful, and getting to see them from the river was a completely new perspective. The trek was definitely a haul, but I would love to do more kayaking. It’s such a quiet and nimble way to get around – sneaking up on wildlife, etc.”

Frederick says that the commute is something that the staff and faculty members want to repeat each summer and he hopes to get more faculty, staff, students and community members on the river and connect more of the region back to the university.

Jurca agrees.

“While discussing the trip with friends, students and colleagues, we heard many people say they never realized that the same river running under Main Street in Kent is the same river that reaches Lake Erie in Cleveland” Jurca says. “People didn’t know it was possible to camp overnight in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Some even wondered if it was legal to paddle on the river. We hope that by sharing our experience, we can build local knowledge and pique the interest of many others to get involved in river activities. Maybe it’s a river clean-up event, a group kayaking trip or even a moment’s pause to think about how storm sewers work—any of these actions can contribute to a better region.”

For more information about the trip, visit www.cudc.kent.edu/blog/commuting-and-connecting-along-a-crooked-river.

For more information about Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, visit www.cudc.kent.edu.

For more information about Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design, visit www.kent.edu/caed.