A project years in the making to allow the Cuyahoga River to flow freely through Cuyahoga Valley National Park moved one step closer to reality Thursday.

Crews worked on the first step in removing the 8-foot-high, 163-foot-wide Brecksville Dam, which is also known as the State Route 82 Dam, Station Road Dam and Canal Diversion Dam, within CVNP.

"This is the first step in the actual deconstruction of the dam," Friends of the Crooked River co-founder Elaine Marsh said Thursday. "It is the crack heard around the watershed."

According to Friends of the Crooked River and CVNP, the original dam at the site was the Pinery Dam, constructed in 1827 to divert water from the Cuyahoga River into the newly constructed Ohio & Erie Canal.

The current concrete-and-steel dam was constructed in the early 1950s by the American Steel and Wire Company for industrial use.

Although no longer needed to cool the steel mills downstream, the dam still feeds the watered section of the Ohio & Erie Canal, part of which is designated a National Historic Landmark from Wilson’s Feed Mill to Rockside Road.

The construction of the modern dam submerged the remnants of the Pinery Dam. Its removal has been studied for more than a decade.

Officials have said the dam interrupts the natural flow and negatively affects water quality of the river. Dams also impair fish habitat, alter streamflow and water temperatures and create increased sedimentation of rivers and streams, significantly decreasing water quality, according to CVNP.

The project is part of the effort to delist the Cuyahoga River from the Great Lakes Areas of Concern, where human activities have caused significant impairment of beneficial uses.

Removing the Brecksville Dam will eliminate a barrier to fish migration and restore a more natural flow and temperature regime to the river, with natural fluctuations in water levels and improved vegetation growth, critical for fish spawning and the ecology of the river system. A free-flowing river will also improve conditions for paddlers, anglers and wildlife watchers.

The dam will be notched to allow the water within the dam pool to lower. Sediment will then slowly be released downstream. With lower water levels, cultural resources can be documented prior to the entirety of the Brecksville Dam and Pinery Dam removals, allowing water to flow freely through the park for the first time in more than 190 years.

Once the dams are removed, the canal will be watered through the use of a screw pump. The pump will allow the control of water from the river into the canal and will account for natural sources, like tributaries and storms.

Work to completely remove the dam and provide water to the Ohio & Erie Canal will continue throughout the summer.

The project is in partnership with the Friends of the Crooked River, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. The project contractor is Kokosing Industrial.

Friends of the Crooked River is the fiscal agent on the $1.3 million project. Funding includes an $800,000 U.S. EPA grant and a $900,000 contribution from the city of Akron, which is paying for part of the project in place of paying additional civil penalties associated with a 2009 consent decree.

Marsh said some of the funding was previously used for studies on the dam’s removal.

The Brecksville Dam is the latest in a series of dams to be removed from the river in an effort to improve water quality by letting the 100-mile river flow naturally. Dams in Kent, Munroe Falls and two in Cuyahoga Falls have already come down in recent years.

After the Brecksville Dam is gone, the Gorge Dam is the last dam scheduled to be removed on the Cuyahoga. The dam at Lake Rockwell, which provides drinking water for the city of Akron, will remain.

Located in Gorge Metro Park, the 420-foot-wide, 60-foot-tall Gorge Dam was built between Akron and Cuyahoga Falls in 1911 for hydroelectric power and later provided cooling water for a coal-fired power plant.

The Gorge Dam is no longer functional and is slated for removal in the early 2020s. The four-phase project, which is expected to reveal the buried waterfall for which Cuyahoga Falls is named, comes with a $70 million price tag.

A meeting on the current status of the Gorge Dam removal was scheduled for March but was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and has not yet been rescheduled.

Contact Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills at emills@thebeaconjournal.com.