Take Me To the River

Take Me To the River

Columbus’ 2010 strategic plan called for riverine parks to help manage and improve public space.
Courtesy CDDC and Capitol South

Columbus, Ohio, is currently undergoing a substantial riverfront transformation, reclaiming 33 acres of parkland area along the Scioto River. “Green space is a catalyst for development,” said Amy Taylor, chief operating officer of the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. As such, the Scioto River is an important part of the state capital’s aesthetics and community functions. A multi-layered and sequenced project, the dredging and tunneling of the river is nearing an end that caps off the “worse” until it gets to the “better” part of the project.

The banks of the Scioto as they exist today.

The Scioto River’s natural course changed after the flood of 1913. Floodwaters of 17 feet roared down the Scioto River destroying 4,000 homes, taking out four bridges and taking 93 lives. A year after the worst flood in Ohio’s history, the Army Corps of Engineers built reservoirs, floodwalls, and later low head dams. “These engineering feats were the best technology they had during this era. We understand, now, that these measures caused the river to change its course, to become a sedimentation basin, and to lose a great deal of natural aquatic life,” said Taylor. In 2010, Columbus citizens voted for a new strategic plan to reform the river.”

Before (left) and after (right) site plans show the extent of the new parks.

Once the 2010 Downtown Strategic Plan went through lines of hydrological and feasibility studies, two century-old low head dams were removed. The river is now half as wide, deeper, and faster moving than before. Additionally, it is returning to a warm water habitat.

“What would take nature 20-25 years to do with water erosion, we are accomplishing over the course of two years,” said Taylor. They are tunneling out the river to put pools (12–15 feet deep) and riffles (4–6 feet deep) back into the riverbed.

Before (top) and after (bottom) views along the Scioto River.

After the removal of the dams, volunteers rescued approximately 4,500 mussels and moved them to another healthy riverbed in Columbus. River-dredged and imported soils totaling 43,000 cubic yards are infilling the edges of the river. A scouring wall downtown will span the east bend of the river to protect the land from erosion, and 179 caissons at 20 feet deep will support the river walk on the east side near the scouring wall.

Columbus is near to the beginning of the beautification phase. Within the 33 acres of new green space downtown, there will be an additional 1.5 miles of bike pathways and 100 new trees interwoven through the parkland areas. The residents of Columbus expect this $33.5 million dollar river restoration project to increase property values, encourage investments, and secure vibrant communities.