People surf the River Run at RiverScape MetroPark earlier this year. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

River bank at RiverScape MetroPark to get a face-lift

RiverScape River Run has changed the way people interact with the river in downtown Dayton.

Now, Five Rivers MetroParks wants to change the experience along the banks, and is working with a couple of partners to explore creating a new park and an ambitious bridge park that connects opposite sides of the river.

“Something beautiful is going to happen there, and what it is will depend on the public’s imagination and our will to get it done,” said Carrie Scarff, chief of planning and projects for Five Rivers MetroParks.

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Five Rivers MetroParks is seeking a contractor to make improvements to the river bank at RiverScape MetroPark.

The proposal, with an estimated $200,000 budget, is the last phase of the $4.2 million River Run project, which removed a dangerous low dam and added a pair of rocky structures with passages for paddlers on the Great Miami River.

The bank improvements will create limestone block seating by the walkway leading out to the rocky structure at RiverScape, said Scarff.

The new seating will be about 200 linear feet, offering enough space for about 100 people.

The project also will create spaces for trucks to load and unload kayaks and paddle boats by the river, which will support paddling classes and instructional programs, Scarff said.

Five Rivers MetroParks started renting kayaks last summer, and they were a hit, with customers taking out 449 kayaks over eight days, including 109 vessels on the final day they were available.

Bank improvements also will provide new spaces along the river where food trucks can park and tents can be set up for special events.

MORE: Your guide to making the most of RiverScape River Run

Activity has grown every year at River Run since it opened a couple of years ago, and MetroParks wants to enhance the ways people can comfortably experience the river, Scarff said.

MetroParks hopes to select a contractor for the river banks project early next year, and construction will get underway when the weather and river levels allow.

Other riverfront improvements are being considered that officials say could be transformative, similar to the RiverScape project.

Today, Five Rivers MetroParks, the city of Dayton and the Miami Conservancy District will host a public meeting to share a community plan to expand and improve Sunrise MetroPark, establish a new Sunset park and potentially build a new bridge park that spans the Great Miami River, connecting the sister parks.

Sunrise park is located at 50 Edwin C. Moses Blvd. on the west side of the river between the Interstate 75 bridge and the top of the levee where Wolf Creek feeds into the Great Miami River.

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Sunset park is proposed for the downtown side of the river, roughly from Monument Avenue to West Third Street.

The 20-year Dayton Riverfront Plan featured many proposals for new projects and improvements, but the Sunrise-Sunset parks concept generated the most interest and excitement and has become a top priority, said Scarff.

Historically, Scarff said, the river has divided the community east and west, black and white.

But she said the sister parks and a new bridge park could unite opposite sides of the river. The proposed structure would be both a green space and pedestrian bridge.

“We call it the park over the river,” Scarff said. “The big idea for Sunrise and Sunset parks is that they mirror each other across the river, they talk to each other.”

The Dayton Riverfront Plan and the design for Sunrise and Sunset parks are part of the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan.

The hope is to help make the river even more of a gathering place, and phase one of the project seeks to enhance Sunrise MetroPark’s pedestrian and bike infrastructure and strengthen the park’s connections to surrounding neighborhoods, said Sarah Hippensteel Hall, Miami Conservancy District’s manager of watershed programs.

Hall said the partners will look at adding new amenities that will increase usage of the parks like walkways, art, landscaping, swings, benches and other things that create a sense of place.

“Phase 1, which we’re working on right now, is about developing Sunrise and what amenities will go into those two parks,” Hall said. “The proposed bridge is a future phase.”

Citizens are drawn to the river and value amenities that increase access and offer a diverse set of options and experiences, Hall said.

MORE: A traveling beer garden, new pedestrian bridges and other ideas for Dayton’s riverfront

The lead consultant on the plan is a group called Human Nature, which is working OJB Landscape Architecture and Stantec.

OJB president and bridge park designer James Burnett is helping develop the Sunrise-Sunset parks plan, officials say, and his past projects include the celebrated Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Texas, and the Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City.

“We’ve got a nationally-known bridge-park designer on the team to help us with this,” Scarff said.

The Sunrise-Sunset parks and a new park over the river is a large undertaking that could have a hefty price tag.

But officials say the community was able to raise millions of dollars for the RiverScape project, which cost about $31 million, not counting the River Run work and additions.

Tonight’s public meeting is at 4 p.m. at the Dayton Masonic Center at 525 W. Riverview Ave.

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