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Issue Date: July 2009

Fishing for Answers

Maybe asking a 77-year-old environmental reporter to squeeze through a fence and navigate uncut grass in the Flats was a bit much to ask, but Betty Klaric just shrugged: Lead the way. Klaric is considered the first major newspaper reporter to cover the environment exclusively. She took on the beat forThe Cleveland Press in 1965. So we set out with fishing pole and night crawlers in hand to get her thoughts on how the Cuyahoga has changed.
Andy Netzel
Cleveland Magazine: So on the off chance we actually catch something, are we going to cook it up?
Betty Klaric: From this part of the river? No way. It still doesn’t look good. From up near the headwaters? Sure. Granted, the river has always looked good up there.

CM: It has to look a little better, though, no?
BK: I certainly don’t remember irises growing on the side of the river. Or any flowers, really, so that’s a promising sign.

CM: So how nasty was the river back then?
BK: When you flew into Cleveland, you would see an orange aura.

CM: Orange?
BK: Yes. In pools along the river and just hanging over it.

CM: When the river caught fire, was anyone surprised?
BK: There were not a lot of people paying attention to the environment. It was a fringe group. Even when the fire happened, at first, nobody paid that much attention to it locally.

CM: Did your fishing rod just move?
BK: I don’t feel anything biting.
CM: Looked like it moved. If something does bite, are you prepared?
BK: I’m holding on!

CM: Obviously the fire became a big deal. Mayor Carl Stokes held press conferences. You wrote a ton about it.
BK: It became bigger than any of us imagined it would.

CM: Do you feel guilty at all, now that Cleveland is still defined by this 40 years later? I mean, the jokes aren’t going away.
BK: It doesn’t bother me, because it had such a positive effect. I became more or less a crusader. I wanted things done.

[Fish leaps from the water]

BK: Oh, my! What do you think that was? A carp?
CM: I don’t know, but it’s proof there are fish in here!

BK: Hey, come over here. We have a worm for you.
CM: Think the health of the river will ever be ignored again?

BK: Oh, no. The environmental movement has become a business, and it’s not going anywhere.
CM: I think my line is stuck on something.


[Cuts line]

CM: Well, let’s call it a morning. Too bad we didn’t catch anything but the bottom of the river.

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