Dayton’s newest outdoor attraction, River Run on the Great Miami River, is nearly complete and headed towards a formal dedication May 5.
After two years of construction, the $4 million project will offer something no other city in Ohio has, a pair of whitewater play spaces for kayakers, surfers and stand-up paddle boarders in the heart of downtown.
Frequent rain in recent months and the resulting high water levels have kept construction crews constantly readjusting their schedules, according to Carrie Scarff, Five Rivers MetroParks chief of Planning and Projects. “The contractor has to pull off and wait. But we anticipated that and as soon as it goes back down they’ll be back out there,” Scarff said.
Some outdoor enthusiasts are not waiting for the formal opening of the project to take a crack at riding the waves created by the rock formations built in the river. One set of “drops” that channel the water into a pair of chutes for kayakers and canoeists is in front of Riverscape while the other is near the Dayton Art Institute.
The DAI location was constructed on the same site of a dangerous low dam that was built in 1978. Low dams present a potentially fatal hazard to boaters that, if they capsize, can trap them underwater until they drown. Its removal was the first step in River Run’s return to safe boating downtown.
On Friday, a surfer in a wetsuit created a stir when he entered the water to brave the cold water in search of a thrill. People enjoying the midday sun at RiverScape gathered to watch. Erin Beckman, Oakwood, was among the onlookers who could not believe someone was surfing in downtown Dayton. “I moved here from Charleston, South Carolina where we saw surfing every day. This is my first time down here and I saw a surfer when I first sat down. That’s pretty amazing,” Beckman said.
Scarff said once the project is finished entirely the effort will begin to publicize River Run and bring people to the city to use it. “The best way,” said Scarff,“ is word of mouth. Once it is open and people can use it, the paddling community starts to understand it and then that starts to spread to the general public who now can paddle from Eastwood MetroPark through downtown over by UD and Carillon. That will really be exciting and people will talk about it.”
Whitewater paddlers like Bernie Farley, owner of Whitewater Warehouse, are already spreading the word. His store sits on the Mad River downtown and sells kayaks, paddles and other accessories. He said adventurous people now have many options. “They can come out and in an hour get a full day’s worth of fun. So on lunch break come on down, jump on a wave, jump on a board, jump on a boat and you’re going to have a good time,” Farley said.
Beyond the downtown Dayton project, other communities are coming together to promote recreational activities on the water.
“The Great Miami River Way is a partnership between all of the riverfront cities from Sidney down through Dayton, all the way to Hamilton, Ohio,” said Sarah Hippensteel Hall, Miami Conservancy District manager of watershed partnerships.
That partnership was a focus of discussion at Friday’s River Summit, an annual meeting of river advocates, hosted by the University of Dayton. Hall said they will be reaching out to potential visitors whether they are interested in boating or not.
“It is not just about paddling. It is about those 330 miles of bike trails you can jump on. It is about the fun shops and all of the great restaurants and so you might not be a paddler but you might come to just enjoy the river or all of the things that are next to the river in those great riverfront cities,” Hall said.
Funding for the River Run project came entirely from private sources, including a $1 million challenge grant from the James M. Cox Foundation. The formal opening for River Run is being organized by the Downtown Dayton Partnership and is scheduled for at 4:30 p.m. May 5 at RiverScape.