Mark Silverstein doesn't want to find another human arm floating in the Cuyahoga River. That's what happened a couple of years ago, when he and his rowing buddies were paddling upstream. That does it, the director of the Western Reserve Rowing Foundation said to himself. This water needs a good cleaning.
That's why Silverstein, along with fellow environmentalist Pat Conway of the Great Lakes Brewing Company, organized the Burning River and Dragon Boat Fest, an awareness-raising day of Chinese boat racing and partying at the Great Lakes brewery. Twenty crews of 22 rowers each will participate in the races, paddling ornately carved, 44-foot-long boats with colorfully painted dragon heads and tails attached to the bow head and stern. The 500-meter race course, running through the Flats near the mouth of the Cuyahoga, takes about four minutes to complete. After the races, crews and spectators portage up to Great Lakes for the best beer in town, along with an awards ceremony, environmentalist talk, and live music by Changeling, Bolo Deluxe, and the Joe Rohan Band.
Cleveland is not alone in responding to the fest's unique appeal: Dragon boat races are already wildly popular in backwoods Canada, where as many as 250 crews have competed for national championships. (Afterward, of course, they have only Canadian beer to drink.) If it works there, Silverstein says, it can work on the industry-weathered waters of Cleveland. "I really believe we've got to take ownership of the [Cuyahoga] River," he says. "We want to be the group that says, 'Hey, look. This is a great river for rowing.' Then we have a beer afterwards."