Igniting Change at Burning River Fest

How is the Great Lakes Burning River Fest breathing new life into our most vital resource? Saul Kliorys, Sustainability Manager at GLBC, explains how one music and beer festival is igniting change in our communities (and waterways)…

It’s almost that time again. In three short days, a few thousand of our friends will come together for two nights of music, food, and GLBC brew at the 17th annual Great Lakes Burning River Fest. Held where the Cuyahoga River meets Lake Erie, Burning River Fest will light up the night at one of our region’s hidden treasures, the historic U.S. Coast Guard Station on Whiskey Island. The bands that take the stage in front of this historic landmark will certainly command the spotlight, but it’s the fabulous views and architectural beauty of the Coast Guard Station that always steal the show.
But it hasn’t always been like this. Back when we first hosted Burning River Fest at the U.S. Coast Guard Station in 2009, the building was in a rapid state of decline. Roofs had caved in, graffiti covered the walls, and debris filled the inside of the sleek architectural marvel. Constructed in 1940 and designed to look like a nautical vessel, this one-of-a-kind gem was sinking fast.

But where many saw another example of Rust Belt defeat, we saw potential.

This year you won’t see windows boarded up or doors rusted shut. Thanks to funds raised from the 2016 and 2017 Burning River Fests, the station now reflects the love and attention it rightfully deserves: a fresh coat of paint shines white, new windows gleam with the setting sun’s rays, and sailboats bob on the docks in the harbor. All around, a sense of life abounds: a place once forgotten now hums with new activity.
The $200,000 we donated to complete the first phase of renovations earlier this year was money well spent. Seeing the restoration underway, we’re gratified by the role we’ve played to raise funds and public awareness of this important site through our Burning River Fest. We’re equally pleased with the partnerships developed with Cleveland Metroparks, the City of Cleveland, and other funders which have allowed this work to move forward.

The historic U.S. Coast Guard Station deserves to be restored for its own sake, but our motivation comes from a bigger vision. Ultimately, we want Clevelanders to have a place to experience our freshwater resources and to become passionate about preserving them.

Fifty years ago, the Cuyahoga River caught fire for the last time. As a city, we’ve taken many steps to resolve pollution on the river. But today there are new threats to our most valuable resource. Algae blooms migrating from the Western Basin of Lake Erie produce harmful toxins, invasive species disrupt ecosystems, legacy pollutants linger in the Cuyahoga riverbed, and new pollutants enter our waterways.

10 years ago we put our flag in the ground at the U.S. Coast Guard Station as a declaration of intent, that one day Clevelanders of all ages will be able to meet and admire the natural and industrial beauty around them, learn of our city’s environmental history, and enjoy the waterfront for years to come. 
Our commitment to this vision still holds true. With ticket and beer sales from Burning River Fest benefiting organizations that share our goal, you too can play a critical role in making this dream a reality.

There’s still work to be done, but the future is looking bright (and the beer is still cold). We’ll see you down by the water.
The Great Lakes Burning River Fest returns to the historic U.S. Coast Guard Station on Friday, August 17 and Saturday, August 18 with headliners Low Cut Connie and the Speedbumps. Online ticket sales close Wednesday, August 15 at noon. Check out the complete lineup and get your tickets now.