Completing the River – Downtown Dayton Game Changer

Riverscape Phase IV Proposal (click for larger view)

Over the past ten years, Dayton has been bringing people back to the shores of our rivers (Great Miami River, Mad River, Stillwater River, Wolf Creek and Twin Creek) with the ongoing development of Riverscape.  Phase I/II was completed in 2001/2003 and Phase III was completed last summer with the addition of a permanent covered pavilion, new ice skating rink and bike hub.  It would be easy to assume that the project is now complete but Five Rivers MetroParks is still not done, and they now have their sights set IN the river itself.

On any given summer day, one can see a paddler or two in our downtown river.  There is actually a nice river run that begins at Eastwood Lake MetroPark with Mad River and takes you to Riverscape and into the Great Miami River, but because of a treacherous low dam you really can’t go any further than the I-75 bridge.  This low dam is one of six that were installed in our various rivers after the Dayton Flood of 1913 to prevent further disasters, and along with the earthen levies they have done the job for the past 98 years (correction – the dams were added to create a pooling effect for recreational purposes).  In fact, the “hydraulic jump” dam was invented in Dayton by Arthur Morgan (is there anything that wasn’t invented here?) but decades later they are now being replaced in other cities because of their reputation as death traps.  Get stuck in the undertow at the bottom of one of these things and you’re not getting out without some major help – not exactly conducive to paddling.
In cooperation with the Miami Conservancy District, City of Dayton and Montgomery County (and as part of the ‘Rivers, Cycling & Active Lifestyle committee of the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan), Five Rivers MetroParks has just announced its proposal to remove the downtown low dam and install two grade-control whitewater/bypass “canoe” channels that will make the river navigable through downtown and past Carillon Park.  A similar effort is being implemented in nearby Springfield’s Buck Creek, with two of four low dams having been converted last year.

In addition to making the river safer and navigable, the project would improve the health of the river and increase fish stock – an outcome experienced relatively quickly in other locations where low dams were similarly removed.  A pair of jetties would be constructed with rocks and boulders at each channel (see proposal above), giving visitors and spectators ways to sit and enjoy the river up-close, and planners anticipate the project would draw even more people downtown and to the river.  Recreation Engineering and Planning has completed a preliminary design, and sediment testing has been conducted and passed.  Next steps include regulatory permitting, memorandum understanding between the various stakeholder groups, fund raising and then final engineering and implementation.  The project is estimated to cost $2.9 million for the low dam removal and in-river work, with an additional $1.1 million for river bank modifications and enhancements – totaling $4 million.

A similar project was completed in Pueblo, CO – converting a larger low dam into five consecutive drops like the two proposed for Dayton.  The Pueblo Whitewater Park now attracts thousands of paddlers and spectators each year – check out the video and imagine this scene in front of our own Riverscape.  Yes this could be the next game changer for Downtown Dayton.

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