It was a banner year for the Ohio Scenic Rivers Program.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) celebrated 50 years of protecting and promoting the highest quality rivers and streams in the Buckeye State.
A half-century of conservation began Feb. 28, 1968 when the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation enacting the Ohio Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act. This was the first legislation of its kind passed in the country, and predated the passage of the national Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act in October 1968.
Since 1968, Ohio has designated and worked to protect 14 rivers, comprised of more than 800 river miles. Three waterways encompassing roughly 200 of these miles are located right here in southwest Ohio. The Little Miami River and the Stillwater River/Greenville Creek systems are two of Ohio’s most natural river corridors, consistently rating excellent for water quality and high levels of biodiversity. The Little Miami River holds the special honor of being the first river in the state to be designated as an Ohio Scenic River April 23, 1969, followed by designation as a National Scenic River in 1970.
The designation of a river as wild, scenic or recreational depends on several criteria focusing on how much of the river retains its natural character. These include free flowing from man-made modifications such as dams, levees and channelization, good water quality and high biological diversity and how much of the riparian forest corridor adjacent to the river remains intact.
The designation of a river under the Ohio Scenic Rivers Act is a cooperative effort between the public and private sectors, before and after the designation. Initially, local support for the designation must be expressed through resolutions of support from a majority of the political subdivisions through which the river flows.
Once a river is designated, staff from ODNR’s Ohio Scenic Rivers Program work diligently with local governments, conservation organizations, landowners, and other private sector groups and individuals to monitor and maintain the health of the river and its corridor through public education, advocacy, and local conservation initiatives. The Ohio Scenic Rivers Program coordinates the volunteer-driven Stream Quality Monitoring (SQM) program to provide annual data on biological diversity and water quality at designated reference stations along all designated rivers.
ODNR spent 2018 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Ohio Scenic Rivers Act. Many of the program’s conservation partners hosted events statewide. The celebration began with a legislative reception at the Ohio Statehouse Febr. 28, which featured a special address by former State Representative Charles Kurfess, who was Speaker of the House in 1968 when the Ohio Scenic Rivers Act was passed.
Local events showcased the program through public showings of the film “Call of the Scenic River: an Ohio Journey,” paddling events, scenic river streamside hikes, electrofishing demonstrations, SQM workshops, and river clean-ups including the Little Miami Watershed Network River Kleeners annual event.
The Little Miami Watershed Network River Kleeners is one of many local conservation groups who work cooperatively to protect these special rivers at the local and watershed levels. The group also hosted the Little Miami River Fest in June and first Trailblazer adventure race along the river in September.
As 2018 ends, the Ohio Scenic Rivers program is excited about the designation of our 15th river, the Pymatuning Creek in Ashtabula and Trumbull counties. A locally driven partnership effort culminated in a designation study and a recommendation to designate 27.9 miles of the Pymatuning as a wild river and 2.76 miles as a scenic river. Pymatuning Creek is expected to join the Ohio Scenic Rivers system in late December.
In 2019, we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Little Miami River as an Ohio Scenic River, with many public events being planned by the Ohio Scenic River Program and local conservation partners to showcase 50 years of conservation success on the Little Miami.
For more information on events, programs, volunteering for SQM, or Southwest Ohio’s scenic rivers, visit watercraft.ohiodnr.gov/scenicrivers.
Rebecca Parry is the stream quality monitoring coordinator for the Ohio Scenic Rivers Program of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Watercraft. She can be reached at 937-382-1096.