One project that Jim Bowling didn’t have time to mention in his Capital Projects wrap up for 2011 was the river access work that Kent Parks and Recreation have been busy overseeing this year.
You may recall that 4 years ago the City hired the premier whitewater park engineering firm in the country to work with Kent residents, businesses and staff to come up with a long term water access and recreation plan for the stretches of the Cuyahoga River that runs thru downtown Kent.
The idea was to build on the great success of the dam restoration project — which significantly improved water quality in the river — and continue to expand passive and active enjoyment of the river resource in Kent.
The first step of enjoying the river is getting to it, and following up on the recommendations of the engineering firm, the City obtained $250,000 in State waterway funds to improve access to the river. That grant included building a new canoe/kayak put-in up in Riverbend, new portage areas along the river’s edge near the dam, and new stairs and rails to slide a canoe/kayak from street level up above the river down to the river.
Kent Parks and Rec has been working with a contractor to use the State grant funds to build these river access improvements and by spring of 2012 river enthusiasts will be able to enjoy them.
Kent Parks and Rec has also been working with the City Engineer to continue to plan for the next (and just about last) segments of the Portage Hike and Bike Trail which will run parallel to the river thru downtown Kent. These last segments will connect the trail section from the new Fairchild Avenue Bridge to the great new sections behind Fred Full Park that go out to Middlebury Road.
The access improvements were the easy part of the long term whitewater park plan — the hard part is finding the roughly $500,000 to $750,000 needed to build the in-river improvements to convert the section of the river in downtown Kent into a whitewater park training and recreation area.
I haven’t posted about the whitewater park concept in some time but my enthusiasm for the idea is no less diminished. I’ve seen too many other cities go thru this same process and come out with a great new environmental amenity that is viewed as a quality of life and economic development asset.
The popularity of river recreation in Kent was evident with the early success of the Crooked River rental and livery services and there’s a sense that they’ve only just begun to tap into that market.
So where do we find the cash for the in-stream improvements? That’s the million dollar question.
It turns out that Dayton Ohio got funds from a local foundation to do the same thing that we’re talking about. I have to admit I felt pangs of jealousy over Dayton’s funding but at least it validated the idea that we’re on the right track with our river plans in Kent. Now we’ve just got to find an equally minded foundation for Kent.
Here’s the details on the Dayton plans from an article in the Dayton Daily News.
$1 million grant spurs Great Miami River project
By Steve Bennish, Staff Writer
Updated 3:18 PM Wednesday, July 27, 2011
DAYTON — Imagine the scene a year after the hazardous Monument Avenue low dam is removed and replaced with two dam-like structures that offer safe passageways for recreational paddlers on the Great Miami River.
Downtown, many more people will be in the river piloting canoes and kayak play boats that dart and dance on engineered whitewater. Some will be pros executing elaborate moves and others will be newbies gliding down some fast water.
Crowds of people will be on shore watching, especially on weekends, predicts Carrie Scarff, the Five Rivers MetroParks point person for the dam removal and river restoration project.
That project, the better part of a decade in the making, got a boost Tuesday when executives with Cox Enterprises announced that the James M. Cox Foundation will provide a $1 million challenge grant toward the estimated $4 million construction effort.
It’s a top priority for the Downtown Dayton Plan, which includes among its goals attracting thousands of more people to live in a revitalized downtown. The river features would be under the management of Five Rivers Metro Parks.
The project is designed to hit several goals including river safety, water sport recreation and making downtown a draw for more residential and business development.
“This is great for the region, fantastic for the city,” said Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell.
The Monument Avenue low dam, built in 1978 to provide a patch of still water and a deep pool for power boating, was the site of a fatal drowning in 2003. The dam has no flood control purpose and would not pose a flooding issue if removed.
Scarff has been studying the potential of the project for the better part of a decade. Similar waterway improvements have been completed in Reno, Nev.; Pueblo, Colo.; Missoula, Mont.; and nearby in Springfield on Buck Creek.
Scarff expects the river will be a regional draw with tourists coming from Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus. For example, in Missoula, Mont., a whitewater project created a dynamic draw that includes contests every Thursday that pulls in an audience of a couple hundred, Scarff said.
The grant was announced by Cox Enterprises Chairman Jim Kennedy who appeared with other executives at the Cox Arboretum.
“The James M. Cox Foundation and Cox Enterprises are strong believers in doing what we can to make a lasting impact on our natural resources. This project is a great example of that,” Kennedy said. “We all need to do our part, and my hope is that this gift will inspire others to make a difference and get this critical project done.”
Key to the decision was Alex Taylor, Executive Vice President of Cox Media Group and great-grandson of the late Gov. James M. Cox. In 2010 while working in Dayton, he committed to resolving the low dam safety issue and led the company in its first participation at Clean Sweep of The Great Miami River. Taylor, a recreational paddler and fly fisher who wrote a book about fishing, is on the board of directors of the nonprofit American Rivers, an organization dedicated to restoring natural river flows. He pursued the grant with the family foundation.
When the project completes, Taylor said, “I hope (the river) is a more accessible and safe place for kids and families. We should all be able to enjoy this.”
Bernie Farley, co-owner of watercraft dealer Whitewater Warehouse, 104 Valley St., hosts a Wednesday evening river trip for 75 boaters who travel from Eastwood MetroPark to his business along the river not far from RiverScape.
“I’ve been to these places around the country and it’s amazing the amount of return for the investment,” he said. “We’ll bring a new breed of consumer to the Dayton area. We have so many enthusiastic outdoors people here. It will have a dramatic effect. The economic effect will be huge.”
Brian Linnean, owner of the Wine Gallery and Cafe at the corner of Main Street and Monument Avenue along the river, now partners with the Whitewater Warehouse on river tours. He said he’d expand his business and install bike racks and kayak racks when the project completes.
“It will be a great deal for downtown,” he said. “Right now, the low dam scares off a lot of people.”
Mike Ervin, co-chair of the Downtown Dayton Partnership and chairman of the board of managed care company CareSource, which built a new headquarters downtown near the river, said: “We are thrilled with the leadership role Cox has taken in moving this project forward. They are strong supporters of strengthening our community. This project is critical to a vibrant downtown, but is it much more. It will contribute to the economic development of our entire region, whether you live in Tipp City or Centerville.”
The project should work well with the 285 miles of regional bike trails and Dayton Dragon’s at Fifth Third Field, Scarff said, to build excitement for downtown. By next year, two major bike trail connection projects should link downtown Dayton to Troy and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Fairborn.
In the plan, the low dam would be removed along with its dangerous five-foot drop and deadly downstream boil. Two stretches of engineered limestone blocks or boulders would be built to reach across the river east and west of the North Main Street bridge.
One stretch would be at the RiverScape MetroPark. The second would be near the YMCA building at the riverside amphitheater and concrete platform stage shaped like a boat.
The rock formations across the river will look something like dams, but will have engineered passages through them for watercraft. Each stretch would give paddlers a ride through a safe two-foot drop.
The 30- to 40-foot-wide passages would be arranged so that experienced paddlers could take a more challenging ride and the less experienced could use a gentler drop.
Each rock used in the river structures would be about 2 tons and each structure will be from 390 to 400 feet across. From 800 to 1,000 boulders would make up each structure.
Water quality will also improve and new habitats for fish will be created, said Dusty Hall, program development manager with the Miami Conservancy District. “It’s a win on recreation and on attraction and retention of the workforce,” Hall said.
The Cox grant should provide a strong kickoff for the project.
“The idea is to use this money to get the project going,” said Julia Wallace, Vice President for Cox Media Group, which includes the Dayton Daily News.
“Cox is concerned about good stewardship of natural resources. This project fits right in with that. Our rivers are beautiful and a great resource for the area. The more we can make them a prime attraction for residents and tourists, the better. The river can and should be a focal point for the community.”
Wallace said fundraising will be aimed at securing large corporate donations to get the project underway according to an aggressive construction schedule that could begin next year.
By September, MetroParks hopes to have final engineering construction plans that can be put out for bid. Permit approvals are needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the city and county.
According to an early schedule, a bid could be awarded by Jan. 2, 2012, and construction could begin in February.
A preliminary completion date is February 2013 — the 100th anniversary year of the Great Flood — allowing for a year of construction, Scarff said.
Ervin said he’s confident that the remaining funding can be raised. “Times are tough. But we have to reach deep and do something special,” he said. “I’m very optimistic.”
The James M. Cox Foundation is named in honor of the Cox Enterprises’ founder who purchased the Dayton Daily News in 1898 and was Ohio’s first three-term governor.
Cox Media Group Ohio includes the Dayton Daily News, WHIO-TV, WHIO-AM/FM, Springfield News-Sun, Hamilton JournalNews and the Middletown Journal, as well as other publications and broadcast outlets in southwest Ohio.