Five Rivers MetroParks welcomed about 3.3 million visitors last year, and this year could be even busier as people flock to the River Run attraction coming downtown.
Excitement has been building about the $4 million River Run project, especially since the first of two rock structures in the Great Miami River should be completed in the next couple of months, park officials said.
“It’ll bring more people to the river, bring more people downtown: This will be a destination recreation feature,” said Carrie Scarff, deputy director of MetroParks.
MetroParks has 18 parks that offer a wide range of outdoor activities including backpacking, hiking, skating, fishing and cycling. The Dayton region boasts the nation’s largest network of paved, off-street bike trails.
MetroParks boasts more than 330 miles of bikeways and 270 miles of river corridor.
Last year, the parks logged about 3.3 million visits. Attendance remained unchanged from 2014.
But officials predict River Run will be a gamechanger for outdoor recreation downtown and will attract new visitors from across the region and other states.
The project involves removing a dangerous low dam and constructing two limestone structures that offer white water passages for paddlers.
River Run will boost paddling activities, such as kayaking, that will put more people in the river. Fishers will benefit from a more natural habitat for aquatic animals.
Whitewater activities also are expected to draw sizable crowds of spectators. The limestone structures are expected to be popular hangout spots, where people can congregate to enjoy the river and the great outdoors.
“These are the type of things that create a sense of place and have the coolness factor,” Scarff said.
Construction work on the first drop at the site of the low dam is nearly complete. Work on the second structure at RiverScape is expected to begin around July, Scarff said.
Completion of the second structure will depend on weather, but the hope is for work to wrap up by the end of the year.
The riverfront will be more vibrant starting this year, because whitewater play spots tend to pull people from a multi-state region, Scarff said.
Paddlers have already braved frigid weather to try out the reconstructed parts of the river. Fishers are expected to line the river banks when the weather warms up.
The whitewater features will create opportunities to bring competitive paddle sporting events to the community, said Jacquelyn Powell, president and CEO of the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Outdoor recreation is featured prominently in convention and visitor bureau’s promotional materials, because they are a big draw and River Run will add to the diverse mix of activities already offered, Powell said.
“It’s not something you can find in every community,” she said.