Commentary: A River Runs Through It, Part 2

By Edward Noga

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In July 2019, I submitted my first column for The Business Journal that I titled “A River Runs through It.” It referenced an early 1990s movie that featured a pristine, beautiful and captivating river as the backdrop for the unfolding plot of the movie.

I recapped growing up in Youngstown when the Mahoning River was the basis of our economy, a partner with the steel mills that used the river for cooling and waste discharge.

I further commented on the several dams that punctuated the river to retain water for industrial use.

As in so much of history, we learn from our mistakes, and learn we did as we were warned not to swim, fish or recreate on or near the river because of its contamination.

History also has the potential to regenerate our lives as we learn from our mistakes and two years ago I mentioned the dreams for the Mahoning River that started to surface after the mills closed.

Dreams and possibilities became focal points of discussion in many circles. Often met with skepticism, the discussions have continued. A few weeks ago, the Eastgate Council of Governments and others released a video that looked at the ailing river as a river of opportunity.

The video, “Mahoning River Corridor Revitalization,” shared wonderful aerial footage of the river weaving its way through our Valley. The commentary talked about its history but focused more on renewing our covenant with the river.

Think about it: We are the keepers and caretakers of this waterway and need to look at its future in conjunction with the future of our Valley as a place to live, work, pray and play. How often we hear of “quality of life” issues being so important in our lives.

Since the river connects us, it is incumbent on us to protect its place in our daily lives.

Interestingly enough, the video coincided with the announcement that one of the dams, in Struthers, will be removed in the coming months and that other dams are slated for demolition in the coming years. This is so the river can run free and begin to cleanse itself with the help of caring people and community governments.

As I watched the video, which dreams of the importance of this process, my mind immediately started to review things that complement pieces of this huge puzzle.

I thought of the development of the Warren Community Amphitheater, initiated years ago.

I thought of the similar development in Youngstown at the Covelli Centre/Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre/Huntington Bank Community Alley site. I thought of discussions about new housing in Lowellville, Struthers and other communities.

I thought of a new winery in downtown Warren and the Youngstown Flea in an abandoned steel plant. I thought of canoe liveries in Leavittsburg.

All of these things happened – or are happening – in close proximity to a river that was almost forgotten.

The dreams are coming true. The challenge of cleaning up a huge part of who we are that runs through many of our communities does not seem so far-fetched.

When John Young and others made their way down the Mahoning River in the later years of the 18th century, they saw firsthand the possibility of communities springing up and welcoming families and a way of life that could make the Valley home to many people.

Now, as we cross the many bridges that span the river, we are crossing over to dreams of the future because of people who see what can happen when we put our minds to it.

In these years of change, and especially after the months of lockdown that we have endured, thankfully we have seen progress on the re-use and restoration of theaters, bikeways, libraries, parks, museums, historic homes and other buildings that contribute to the personality of our valley.

Now the river that runs through it all is getting the attention it needs and deserves. A generation ago, such attention would have raised some eyebrows and led the cynics to utter their constant refrain: “Not gonna happen.”

Thank goodness there are dreamers and doers who will not let us slide into that category.

Thank goodness we have visionary folks who keep telling us on many fronts, “It’s gonna happen.”

Looking forward to it.