Boost for Butler County: More biking, paddling, tourism likely with extended Great Miami Riverway

The addition of Great Parks of Hamilton County to the Great Miami Riverway partnership of cities, parks and other organizations suddenly puts Hamilton, Middletown and Franklin in the middle of adventure possibilities along the Great Miami River.

Upriver, in Dayton, the city is marketing itself as the “Outdoor Capital of the Midwest,” noted Brewster Rhoads, chairman of Paddlefest on the Ohio River and founder of the Great Ohio River Swim. Downriver, the Hamilton County parks are looking to increase recreation possibilities, including paddling and biking, along the river.

Several years ago, when Dayton received money to take out low-head dams in its downtown on the river, “that created those whitewater features, right in the middle of downtown,” Rhoads said.

“In fact, that’s the No. 1 surfing spot in Ohio,” he said. “They took that low-head dam out, but they configured it — it was designed intentionally to create a whitewater sluice, where the water is concentrated, and at different river levels, you get nice standing waves, right in the middle of downtown Dayton.

“So the new sort-of picture of Dayton that promotes the notion that it’s an outdoor recreation mecca is a shot with people kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and surfing, literally, in the river, right in front of the skyline, with the bike trail on the levee, with dozens of bicycles cruising by.”

There has been talk of making changes to a low-level dam in the northern part of Hamilton on the Great Miami.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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“And they have that 300-some-mile network of interconnected bike trail — the largest interconnected bike trail in the country,” Rhoads said. “That’s something that’s really distinguishing Dayton.”

The Great Miami Riverway is a 99-mile segment along the river from Sidney to Hamilton. Downriver from Hamilton there are 33 more miles of river to the Ohio River. Great Parks has parks along eight of those miles. Until Great Parks joined, Hamilton was the southernmost member of the riverway.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati has the Ohio River, the Great Miami, the Little Miami, the Licking River and the Mill Creek, Rhoads said, “so we have more rivers that you can paddle year-round than any other city in the country.”

Dayton’s metroparks are more aggressive now than Great Parks of Hamilton County “is at this point, but Great Parks is trying to catch up, at really promoting outdoor recreation — not just passive park use, like go and have a picnic and throw Frisbees around, but get out there and do a 40-mile bike ride, paddle 10 miles.”

Great Parks of Hamilton County plans to add more biking/hiking trails along the Great Miami River — connecting them to Ohio River trails —and wants to add places where people can put canoes and kayaks in the Great Miami and take them out.

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Mallory Greenham, a small-business development specialist for Hamilton, said the addition of Great Parks “is going to make the Great Miami Riverway that much stronger.”

“We’re not asking someone to come to just Hamilton, Ohio, the river town,” Greenham said. “We’re asking them to come to the riverway and stop by Hamilton, and stop by Piqua, and really explore the whole region. I think that makes a better pitch — there’s more to see than just a day trip. People are staying longer: They’re staying a weekend, they’re staying a week."

And with the opening of the gigantic Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill scheduled for December of 2021, "we in Hamilton are expecting perhaps an additional million visitors a year,” Greenham said. “It’s great that we’re going to be able to direct them out, if they’re here a couple of days, to go visit the other riverway communities.”

When families visit Spooky Nook, “they might have a kid who’s playing basketball, but they’re bringing their whole family. So what is a family going to do? Do you want to sit in a gymnasium and have a concession-stand hot dog, or do you want to come to a unique venue where there’s an arcade, and there’s restaurants, and there’s a downtown that you can walk to, there’s amenities around, and it’s a really great destination for those tournaments, because there’s more to do,” Greenham said.

“So I think the riverway is just another amenity that we’re going to be able to offer the tourists who are going to be visiting us,” she said.

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Great Parks has several parks along the Great Miami: Shawnee Lookout, Mitchell Memorial Forest, Miami Whitewater Forest, Oak Glen Nature Preserve and Richardson Forest Preserve.

“Why just take a chunk of the river and make something out of it when you have the ability, at no penalty to the others that already are participating, make it all the way to the Ohio, where the river itself ends?” Rhoads said.

“It’s really, I think, a benefit to everybody,” he said.

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