Too much water for Dayton’s new $4M water attraction

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Great Miami River overruns River Run in Dayton

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

It’s kind of been a cruel, cruel summer for the RiverScape River Run, and Mother Nature is to blame.

High water levels caused by stormy weather have resulted in less paddling activity at the River Run than would be anticipated for downtown’s newest and splashiest river attraction.

The $4 million River Run officially opened in the Great Miami River on May 5 to great acclaim, and certainly many eager paddlers have hit the waters to try out the new whitewater passageways.

But the weather has not been cooperative this summer, making the river unsafe for novice paddlers.

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In the three months since the attraction opened, the Dayton area has had a dozen flood events, said Carrie Scarff, chief of planning and projects with Five Rivers MetroParks.

Water levels have been at or below normal levels only about 10 days out of the nearly 100 since the River Run opened.

“It’s been a remarkable summer in terms of how frequently the river has been up,” Scarff said. “It’s just been a lot of rain and a lot of flooding this summer.”

The River Run consists of a couple of rocky structures at RiverScape and the Dayton Art Institute that span the Great Miami River and have two passageways.

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The structure at RiverScape has 8,000 square feet of sheet piling, 8,600 cubic yards of rock and 340 cubic yards of concrete.

One passage is for novice paddlers. The other, a faster whitewater channel, is for more experienced paddlers.

The River Run project is intended to open up more of the river to recreational activities and bring larger crowds of paddlers and spectators to downtown. Dangerous low-head dams were removed by the art institute.

But from opening day, wet weather has been the norm.

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Dayton has had nearly 12.4 inches of rain since June 1. The average, in the last 30 years for this time period, has been 9.2 inches.

From the start of the year through Thursday, Dayton has been soaked with 34.2 inches of rainfall, which compares to the normal precipitation of 26.3 inches.

Paddlers frequently can be seen riding or floating down the river. But undoubtedly the river would draw more people, especially beginner and novice paddlers, if it was not so high, said Scarff.

“If the river is behaving the way it should — if the water levels are right — I see people in there pretty consistently,” Scarff said.

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Safety is always the top priority, and kudos to inexperienced kayakers, canoeists and other paddle boaters who decide against hitting the water when it is higher and moving faster than normal, Scarff said.

When the river gets higher, it can get into and dislodge the vegetation on the banks, which can put hazards in the path of paddlers, she said.

Experts urge people to understand their paddling skill levels before deciding what river conditions are right for them.

“We’ve had some flow events that for novice paddlers would be dangerous,” said Mike Ekberg, manager of water monitoring and analysis with the Miami Valley Conservancy District.

Wet weather may have dampened river recreation so far this year, but there’s hope things could change.

The river has had above-normal flows since the end of April, but August to early October tends to be dryer months, and river may return to normal levels before the summer ends, Ekberg said.

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The River Run is already a draw and will be a larger one when the weather improves. Mother Nature will be kinder in the future.

“When you are talking about outdoor recreation, you are going to have this: You’re going to have wet years, you’re going to have dry years,” Ekberg said.

The River Run effort received a big fundraising boost when the James M. Cox Foundation issued a $1 million grant in July 2011. The foundation is an entity of Cox Media Group, this newspaper’s parent company.

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