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Olentangy River Greenway

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An analysis of the Olentangy River and the potential effects of the removal of several low head dams.

Text of Olentangy River Greenway

  • 1Acknowledgements ii

    Executive Summary iii

    Introduction iv

    1. Project Context 6

    Project History

    Main Street Dam Fifth Avenue Dam

    Looking North

    Precedent Projects

    River Run Project Eco Sports Corridor

    Eco Sports Corridor

    Alum Creek

    2. Planning Process 12

    Project Timeline

    Input: Lessons Learned

    Project Priorities Recreational Features

    Desired Amenities

    3. Existing Conditions 17

    Floodplains

    Sewer Infrastructure

    Connections

    Amenities

    4. Vision 22

    Focus Areas

    Habitat and Water Quality

    Aquatic Erosion

    Sediment Deposition

    Educational Programming

    Whetstone Site Worthington Site

    Connections and Trail Amenities

    Water Access

    Olentangy Park Delawanda Park

    Northmoor Park

    Ohio State University

    5. Next Steps 36

    Conclusion 41

    THE OLENTANGY RIVER GREENWAY

    Table of Contents

  • ii

    Acknowledgements

    This project would not have been possible without the active involvement of community activists and concerned citizens. We have great respect and appreciation for everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to speak with us, attend public meetings, and share their knowledge and insight. Their guidance, reflections, and informed criticisms of our work were invaluable to our process. We extend our gratitude to the following stakeholders:

    Jacob Boswell, Ohio State UniversityLaura Fay, Friends of the Lower Olentangy WatershedErin Miller, City of ColumbusLarry Peck, MetroParksRyan Pilewski, Franklin County Soil and WaterBryon Ringley, StantecDavid Rutter, Mid-Ohio Regional Planning CommissionAnthony Sasson, Nature ConservancyDavid Seslar, Columbus Outdoor PursuitsLaura Shinn, Ohio State UniversitySteve Studeman, MetroParks

    With thanks from the class:Annie BergelinAshley BettekerChristopher CannonBrian DavisZach GainesSteve MuzaLarissa NajjarDanah PalikEric PlapperFangyuan XieAron Fraizer, InstructorAndrew Overbeck, Instructor

    THE OLENTANGY RIVER GREENWAY

  • iii

    Executive Summary

    Columbus has seen substantial investment in its physical and cultural infrastructure, with an growing population and a genuine optimism in planning for the future. The excitement surrounding these efforts must be capitalized upon to ensure that due attention is paid to the regions ecological and recreational assets. The Olentangy River watershed presents the most effective, high-impact opportunity to continue a trend of success. This report envisions a transformed river corridor, making specific and proactive proposals based on public input.

    The greatest obstacle to this initiative is a series of low head dams blocking the flow of the Olentangy and Scioto rivers. Low head dam removal is not an unfamiliar concept: neighboring cities such as Pittsburgh, Dayton, and Springfield have recognized that their rivers are an invaluable asset, and enacted plans to restore them to a more naturalized state. Columbus, too, has put forth this notion in numerous planning efforts, with removal of the Fifth Avenue dam complete and the Main Street dam slated for removal in 2014.

    What began as an academic exercisea landscape architecture seminar on low head dam removal at Ohio State Universityhas become a viable visioning strategy due to active involvement from watershed stakeholders and community members. Through extensive background research, analysis of precedents and existing conditions, and a substantive feedback process involving public meetings, stakeholder interviews, and a web survey, consistent project priorities emerged. This report makes proposals for the following focus areas:

    Habitat and Water Quality;

    Educational Programming;

    Connections and Trail Amenities;

    And, Water Access.This report first presents the project context (chapter one), including relevant planning studies and regional precedent projects. Next, the planning process (chapter two), including the sources of feedback that went into priority formation, is described. This input, combined with a thorough account of existing conditions (chapter three), generated clear overarching project goals. These focus areas (chapter four) are then presented, with a toolbox of proactive strategies to attain each desired outcome. Finally, specific recommendations (chapter five) are made to strategically implement these ideas throughout the corridor.

    THE OLENTANGY RIVER GREENWAY

  • iv

    Introduction

    The City of Columbus is uniquely situated, with a growing population and a genuine optimism in planning for the future. With activity concentrated along the north-south spine created by High Street, a high level of investment has been made in both physical and cultural infrastructure along the corridor. The role of Columbus as the capital of Ohio, along with influential stakeholders such as the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, the City of Columbus, and the Ohio State University, has endowed the region with a unique vibrancy unparalleled among mid-sized midwestern cities.

    The excitement surrounding these efforts must be capitalized upon to ensure that due attention is paid to the regions ecological and recreational assets. The Olentangy River watershed presents the most effective, high-impact opportunity to continue a trend of success. Just as High Street represents the regions infrastructural spine, the Olentangy River has the potential to serve as a unifying natural corridor, connecting far northern suburbs with Downtown Columbus through a strategy of enhanced recreational features and proactive ecological restoration.

    The greatest obstacle to this initiative is a series of low head dams blocking the flow of the Olentangy and Scioto rivers. In many cases, the purpose for their installation has been rendered obsolete with time. Dam removal presents the opportunity to restore the river channel to its natural state, creating an unprecedented amount of new park space, natural habitat, citywide bike and pedestrian connections, educational programming, and water access. The Fifth Avenue dam has been removed and restoration along the banks is ongoing. Detailed planning work is taking place towards the removal of the Main Street Dam, and funding has been allocated for the project.. The momentum is strong and the time is right to consider the remaining dams in the Olentangy River. This study seeks to harness this energy and look north, envisioning removal of the low head dams situated along the University District, Clintonville, and Worthington.

    THE OLENTANGY RIVER GREENWAYTHE OLENTANGY RIVER GREENWAY

  • 1 HISTORYLOW-HEAD DAMS IN THE WATERSHEDPROJECT CONTEXT

  • H ISTO R Y ///LO W -H EAD D AMS IN TH E W A TER SH ED

    Project History

    1.1 Main Street Dam

    1.2 Fifth Avenue Dam

    1.3 Looking North

    Precedent Projects

    1.4 River Run Project

    1.5 Eco Sports Corridor

    1.6 Nine Mile Run

    1.7 Alum Creek

    6

    Project H is tory

    Low head dam removal is not an unfamiliar concept. Neighboring cities such as Pittsburgh, Dayton, and Springfield have recognized that their rivers are an invaluable asset, and en-acted plans to restore them to a more naturalized state. Columbus, too, has put forth this notion in numerous planning studies. In addition to the Main Street and Fifth Avenue dams, Central Ohio has removed dams in the cities of Bexley and Westerville along Alum Creek. Despite widespread recognition that low head dams impair rivers, there exist numerous mis-conceptions as to their purpose. The most commonly cited fear is that low head dams pre-vent flooding. However, none of the dams along the corridor were installed for this purpose, nor will their removal alter the floodplain significantly.

    Main Street - Downtown Columbus

    The original purpose for their installation varies by location. The Main Street Dam, situated prominently on the Scioto waterfront in Downtown Columbus, was originally installed to feed a canal that is no longer in use today. Currently, the only purpose it serves is to provide an artificially wide river channel for aesthetic reasons. Yet the steep retaining walls required to maintain this width renders the river inaccessible to users, and the water quality resulting from channel impoundment leaves little want for access. The City of Columbus recognizes this obstacle and is actively working towards removal of the Main Street Dam.

    The Downtown Columbus Strategic Plan (2010) envisions dam removal as essen-tial to the future of the region. This multi-stage idea started as a proposal to re-move the Main Street Dam and return the Scioto River to a flowing, functional river at its original width and depth. Doing so would lower the water level five to seven feet and narrow it to around half its current width, adding 45 acres of new open space along the banks. Over time, this plan was expanded to remove all dams between Highbanks Metropark and the Scioto Audubon Metropark to create 125 acres of new open space.1

    THE OLENTANGY RIVER GREENWAY

    Project Context

    Before

    After

    1 Columbus Underground2 Downtown Columbus Strategic Plan 78

  • 7If we are to truly embrace our rivers and take our environmental responsibilities seri-ously, we, as a community, need to do everything in our power to reverse the envi-ronmental damage that has besotted our waterways. In the context of a $2.5 billion plan to separate storm and sanitary sewers, the potential cost of removing these low head dams is far outweighed by the environmental an

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