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The Great Miami River could be the next big destination in Hamilton. Here’s why.

With frigid temperatures, activity on the Great Miami River is at a minimum, but a key advocate of the waterway predicts this will be the first year of something big for the river.

The Great Miami Riverway, extending from Sidney and Piqua through Dayton, Miamisburg, Middletown and Hamilton, can be seen “as our Napa Valley, or our Outer Banks, some large destination that you know of around the United States,” Elizabeth Connor, new coordinator of the Great Miami Riverway organization, recently told community leaders in Hamilton.

Connor’s vision: “Twenty years from now, people should just come in and say, ‘I’m going to the Great Miami Riverway.’ We should be a household name for people on the East Coast, for people in the Midwest, certainly within our five-state region.”

Two early steps toward that goal will happen this year. On March 23, the riverway organization will launch a website promoting the river, its network of hiking and biking trails, and attractions along the waterway. Also this year, 12 to 20 nine-foot-tall kiosks will be installed along the river.

RELATED: $2 million over five years to be spent to market river corridor

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The first two kiosks in Hamilton will be located in the city’s new downtown Marcum Park and in Joyce Park, while Middletown may place its first in Smith Park this year. Eventually, signs will appear along Interstates 71 and 75, Connor said.

“We have actually started implementation … finally with a logo and some branding, we are also implementing a website this year, but also some physical signage,” Connor said.

Communities creating master plans along that 99-mile stretch are Piqua, Troy, Dayton, West Carrollton, Miamisburg, Middletown and Hamilton.

The cities aren’t as far apart in river miles as they seem to be while driving along highways between them, Connor said. The river’s origin is the Indian Lake reservoir in Logan County, about 15 miles southeast of Lima.

River Needs More Love

The river could use the marketing and public relations help, officials said. A couple of years ago, proponents surveyed people about the river.

“Some people said, ‘Oh, we love the river,’ and there were some that said, ‘Oh, we hate the river, we heard it’s dirty, we heard it’s dangerous,’” Connor said.

“But the thing that stuck out the most was that the vast majority of people said they didn’t care one way or the other.”

So a key goal is “really to convert those indifferent people — the people that just drove over the river as something they had to do on their way to work,” she said.

“Over 80 percent of the people living along that corridor are in that indifferent category, and so your key success with this campaign is really going to be converting those people into believers and supporters of the river and the riverway,” Connor said.

There are four goals:

  • Increasing use of cultural and historic sites, and recreation areas;
  • Attracting tourists;
  • Supporting economic development; and
  • Strengthening river-corridor neighborhoods.

“We are a 99-mile destination marketing campaign, and place-making initiative,” Connor said. “We focus on tourists and also residents.”

The Effort

Some 19 organizations are part of the effort. One goal of the program is to link recreation along the river with other attractions in the city, such as Hamilton’s Fitton Center for Creative Arts.

MORE: Here’s what Hamilton residents want, don’t want, along the Great Miami River

Jacob Stone, who represents Hamilton on the coalition, said the Ohio Great Corridors Association formed as a group of cities and organizations along the river to improve it.

The riverway organization was created after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended a group be charged with championing the entire river and bring all the communities along it together to celebrate the asset.

MORE: Hamilton creates 6-month moratorium on riverfront development

“Those communities got together, and we committed to a five-year pilot program and test, and we hired Elizabeth Connor as our director,” Stone said.

To introduce people to the river, the riverway will offer free kayaking events for companies. The organization can be reached at 937-223-1271.

“Throughout the entire 99-mile corridor, for the past 5-10 years, we’ve seen $500 million-plus in economic development, just for riverfront developments,” Connor said.

“When we talk about the riverway, we really want to make everyone super-excited about living an active lifestyle, and that can mean whatever you want that to mean. That can mean walking, that can mean whitewater kayaking. That can be mountain-biking like a crazy person, or that can be taking out your cruiser bicycle with the wicker basket in the front.”

There are 65 access points along the river’s recreation trail. There are 40 boat ramps and 25 kayak launch points.

The ultimate aim is not only to attract tourists, but also to lure some of them to move here and start businesses, Connor said.

“No one ever built a company without being a visitor first,” she said.

STORY FROM 2013: Ohio’s Great Corridor plan afloat

The riverway area will extend one mile from either shore of the river, she said.

Hamilton in recent months has been creating a riverfront master plan, and with Marcum Park and new eateries on High and Main streets, plus the proposed Spooky Nook Sports at Champion Mill, officials hope to elevate those areas into a robust entertainment district centered on the river.

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