Gorge Dam removal draws near

Summit Metro Parks
6 min readApr 27


Stephanie Walton, Chief of Marketing & Communications

Did you know that Akron was once the fastest-growing city in the United States? As the city’s electrical needs grew to support local rubber companies and a booming population, a massive dam was constructed on the Cuyahoga River to generate hydropower in what is now Gorge Metro Park.

Unfortunately, the dam was never effective at generating electricity. But with its construction in 1911 came the submersion of an incredible natural area — including rock caves, hiking trails and even the “Big Falls” for which Cuyahoga Falls is named. Even more destructive was the effect the dam had on the river itself. In addition to preventing fish passage, dams negatively affect dissolved oxygen, flow and temperature in a river. They also reduce habitat, trap and concentrate sediments and toxins, and alter the food web.

The dam will be deconstructed using a barge-mounted excavator. The water level of the reservoir will slowly drop as the dam is dismantled.

The good news is, once a dam is removed, natural aquatic river communities can be restored. In fact, under the leadership of Ohio EPA, five other obsolete dams on the Cuyahoga have recently been removed or modified, resulting in full achievement of aquatic life standards over a total of 10 miles of the Cuyahoga River. These rivers also provide increased recreational opportunities, land and water trail connections and small business growth. In other words, these projects opened the door for quality-of-life improvements and economic development along the riverfront.

So, what does this mean for the Gorge Dam? In a project of national significance, Summit Metro Parks and a large coalition of community partners are working together with the State of Ohio and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make it the next (and biggest) dam removal on the Cuyahoga. This project is more complex than previous Cuyahoga River dam removals, due in part to the sheer size of the Gorge Dam, but also because of the 100-plus years of sediment that has accumulated behind it. This sediment bears the markers of our industrial heritage, and while it is contaminated, it is not hazardous — meaning it can be safely removed and placed in an offsite containment area.

Sediment Removal Process: A mechanical dredge system consisting of a clamshell bucket, crane and a scow barge will troll the reservoir, slowly removing sediment scoop by scoop. Each full scow barge will then be unloaded at the staging area, where it will be screened to remove any large debris.

Momentum for the project is building rapidly. In December 2022, Governor Mike DeWine announced $25 million in state funding, saying the project “will return the Cuyahoga River to a free-flowing river from Kent to the mouth of Lake Erie, will vastly improve water quality in the Cuyahoga River and will pave the way for recreation, tourism and economic development opportunities in this area.” At the same time, project partners are nearing finalization of several key steps, including engineering and design of the sediment removal process. Tree clearing for the sediment disposal site is already underway at Cascade Valley Metro Park, and the tentative project schedule calls for additional work to begin in 2024 and continue for three to four years.

The Free the Falls stakeholder group is committed to creating an open and transparent process, including providing opportunities for public feedback via public meetings, social media, community presentations and more. Members of the public are encouraged to visit the project website to sign up for the e-newsletter and view a helpful project video. Be sure to follow Summit Metro Parks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for periodic project updates.

Free the Falls Partners include: City of Akron, County of Summit
Cuyahoga Falls, First Energy, Great Lakes Restoration, Summit County Council, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Lake Erie Commission, Summit Metro Parks, and The University of Akron.

The area that is now Gorge Metro Park has long drawn outdoor enthusiasts and was once one of the top tourism locations in Ohio. Here, the Big Falls of the Cuyahoga are shown prior to construction of the Gorge Dam, circa late 1800s.

Do you have questions about this once-in-a-generation undertaking? We’ve got answers!

Is the Gorge Dam helping with flood control or some other important function?

The Gorge Dam no longer serves any useful purpose. A detailed hydrologic study demonstrated no meaningful upstream or downstream changes in river flow as a result of the dam removal.

What’s in the sediment behind the dam and where will it be placed?

U.S. EPA sediment scientists found that contaminants in the sediment reflect our area’s industrial past, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, oil and grease, and pesticides. This sediment will be removed and pumped through a temporary pipeline alongside Highbridge Trail to a sediment disposal area at the Chuckery Area of Cascade Valley Metro Park, about two miles away. It will then be mixed with cement for stabilization.

How can we be sure the sediment will be stored safely?

Placement of the stabilized sediment will be overseen by state and federal agencies and will include measures to prevent leaching. The area will be covered with soil to avoid impacts to human health, wildlife or water quality, and final use of the site could include trails and other forms of active and passive recreation. This area formerly served as an unregulated dump.

How much will the project cost and how will it be funded?

Construction costs are still being finalized and funding is being planned from multiple sources from federal, state and local entities, including U.S. EPA through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). Property taxes related to the Summit Metro Parks levy will not be affected.

Visitors explore Old Maid’s Kitchen at Gorge Metro Park. Photo by JJ Prekop Jr.

Is there a better use for these resources?

While the costs of removing the accumulated sediment and dam are significant, they are far outweighed by the benefits. The primary funding source (the Great Lakes Legacy Act Program) was created specifically to help pay the costs of addressing contaminated sediments. Funding provided by the State of Ohio will be awarded from settlement money received as part of the state’s PCB enforcement case against Monsanto.

What types of closures will be required for this project?

Dam removal will have some impacts on the public in the form of temporary park and road closures, construction activities and changes to the design and layout of Gorge and Cascade Valley Metro Parks. Project partners are working diligently to communicate closures and to complete this project in coordination with the City of Akron’s federally mandated sewer project in order to minimize disruptions to the area.

What will the parks look like when they reopen?

At Cascade Valley Metro Park, the sediment disposal area will be seeded with grasses to control erosion and will later be fully restored with trees. Within about 10 years, the site will look much like the rest of the park. At Gorge Metro Park, the Cuyahoga River will look much as it does downstream — a free-flowing river with some rapids. The river will return to its historical flow patterns and the natural river habitat will be restored fairly quickly, making way for mink, bald eagles and river otters. Park planners will engage the public in a master planning effort to reimagine the design and layout of the park.

For more stories like this, check out Green Islands Magazine, a bi-monthly publication from Summit Metro Parks. Summit County residents can sign up to receive the publication at home free of charge.



Summit Metro Parks

Summit Metro Parks manages 15,000 acres, 16 parks, three nature centers and more than 150 miles of trails. Find more at www.summitmetroparks.org.