There is no doubt that there has been a change in the perception of and attitude toward these four historically burning rivers. The perception of and attitude toward these four rivers have changed from ones of merely being working rivers that support of commerce and industry, and being polluted rivers in the Rust Belt, to ones of ecological and community assets that provide many beneficial uses that enhance quality of life.
With the environmental improvements seen to date in these four rivers and the evidence of ecological revival, watershed stakeholders gradually began to envision more natural, restored rivers with recreational use. Simply put, watershed stakeholders began to envision these rivers as quality of life assets and recognized that they personally were part of these ecosystems and what they did to these ecosystems they did to themselves. In the case of the Chicago River, citizens and organizations created an innovative initiative called Chicago Wilderness that brought people together to celebrate and protect their unique natural capital and make it a source of community pride.
Chicago Wilderness is an alliance of over 230 public and private organizations that promotes the integration of nature and wildlife into the places where people live, and makes natural experiences part of everyday life. In the case of the Cuyahoga River, citizens and organizations lobbied to become one of 14 American Heritage Rivers that provided national recognition and enhanced community pride. American Heritage Rivers promote environmental stewardship, encourage environmentally-sustainable economic development, and celebrate history. In the case of the Rouge River, the lower river was designated part of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge – North America’s only International Wildlife Refuge. This helped raise public awareness of the environmental improvements and subsequent ecological recovery, and helped enhance community pride throughout the region. It also helped support additional restoration work needed to meet long-term goals.
|Oil pollution on the Buffalo River in 1967 (photo credit: Buffalo State College Courier-Express Collection)|
|Current public use along the Buffalo River (photo credit: Bill Jedlicka)|