Elaine Marsh

Profession/Avocation: conservation chair, Friends of the Crooked River. She is also a co-founder and past president of the organization.

Connection to the river: Marsh was a recreational canoer who, in the late 1980s, helped start Friends of the Crooked River when John Debo, then-superintendent of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, publicly asserted the river had no friends.

"During that time, water quality was very challenged, and you couldn't help but notice the problems with water quality, and so if you paddled rivers, you became interested in environment and its challenges...We got together and sat around a kitchen table in my house and talked about becoming an advocate for the Cuyahoga River interest."

Greatest accomplishment: "I believe we've made a difference. We've had some successful projects and people, many people know to contact us for information and so I think--and goodness knows, our work is not done. There's so much to be done. There always will be. Environment doesn't fit in the marketing scheme of our economy. So it will always require advocates to make its value known and its benefits communicated."

Early river memories: "When I was a kid, the water quality was as bad as it could possibly be. I mean, you didn't go near the Cuyahoga River!...It smelled bad and there was oil and grease and all kind of crap floating on it. You would go down to Lake Erie and there it was, big and beautiful and vast, and you couldn't get close to it because it was so dirty. Sort of my earliest memories are of a very polluted environment and feeling injured, personally, by the pollution. But also, I became a paddler and I paddled the rivers here and in Canada and I loved the river. I loved the movement of the river, I loved the life in the river, I loved it as a metaphor."

Why regulate the river: "People knew prior to 1972 that dumping in untreated sewage into the stream was not a good thing. They also knew that the toxins they were throwing in the streams were killing life in the streams. But it wasn't until we had regulations, laws and enforcement agencies that things actually cleaned up. The next time you hear somebody tell you about the cost of overregulation, you think about the cost of underregulation--an environment not adequately protected for future generations."

Why I do what I do related to the river: "It is important to me to do what I do because it kind of defines who I am and I've been doing it for a long time and I like doing it. I'm pretty good at doing some of the things I do. And I love working with the people...Why it's important in the community is because we have found we have a kind of a--the Cuyahoga River has a lot of voices speaking for it, but ours is kind of a unique voice and it is a voice that has been relatively sought after. We speak for the river, and that is an important role."

Favorite feature/place/section thing about the river: "In the upper watershed, it is a near wilderness. It is so protected by wetlands that you would think you were in Canada when you're up there. It's just so lovely, and it really is virtually a near wilderness. And then it comes down into the scenic river section, and that is a gorgeous, natural place along the river."