Ohio River communities to receive millions in development funds

The state of Ohio plans to invest $152 million into what Gov. Mike DeWine described as “transformational projects” throughout the Appalachian waterfront region of the Ohio River Basin, including three in Brown and Clermont counties.

However, leaders of the Ohio River Way believe the impact of the 17 river-specific projects funded through the Ohio’s Wonderful Waterfronts Initiative will flow far beyond those immediate areas.

With this funding, the state aims to increase the vitality of riverfront cities and villages by supporting a range of projects that enhance waterway access.

Paddlers enjoying the river. Photo provided by the Ohio River Way.

Money will go toward the construction of river-to-downtown connection roads and paths to business district redevelopment and streetscape enhancements. Other awards will add waterfront amenities such as new boat ramps, docks and parks.

Brown County’s village of Higginsport, for instance, won a grant worth more than $6.3 million to revitalize Sallee Park, an abandoned ballfield, into a seven-acre community space. In addition to creating new gathering areas and a thematic mural, the plan involves adding a new boat dock, launch, fishing pier and a bridge, creating public access to water recreation that currently doesn’t exist.

“Since our founding in 2003, the Ohio River Way has been championing a new vision of thriving communities that embrace the Ohio River,” explained Brewster Rhoads, the organization’s chair and founder of Ohio River Paddlefest. “This historic investment marks the biggest milestone yet in making that vision a reality.”

Ohio River injecting life into waterfront communities

The Ohio River Way is a Cincinnati-based nonprofit group that works with government agencies, riverfront cities, foundations and other nonprofits throughout Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky to promote the well-being of the 981-mile river. The river runs from the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers in Pittsburgh to Cairo, Ill., where it flows into the Mississippi River.

There are 14 Ohio counties that border the Ohio River, and they have an estimated combined population of nearly 1.66 million people.

Within these counties, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, there are 24,434 registered motorized boats and 14,976 registered canoes/kayaks. But for many of these many areas, the body of water offers more than just sunset boat rides and weekend fishing excursions.

“The river is a vital asset that deserves to be celebrated, and these investments will greatly enhance access to recreation, boost tourism and stimulate economic development, significantly improving the quality of life for our residents,” noted Mark Noll, executive director of the Ohio River Way.

Finding funding to support communities in need

Funding for Ohio’s Wonderful Waterfronts Initiative is part of the larger Appalachian Community Grant Program, which has committed $500 million to the state’s 32-county region in the eastern and southern parts of the state.

As part of the funding process, the Ohio River Way connected local leaders along the river and community planners, assisting with creating a plan for how to best leverage this funding in many of these historic but disinvested areas.

The communities receiving river project funding include Higginsport, Beverly, Portsmouth, Marietta, Gallipolis, Sardis, Ironton, South Point, Burlington, Ripley, Racine, Proctorville, New Richmond, Pomeroy, McConnelsville, Middleport and Zanesville. 

The investments in Clermont and Brown counties will total $36,162,778.

The nearly $16.4 million Ripley Riverfront East Improvements project will improve access to nearby Underground Railroad and historic sites. There will also be new amenities, including public gathering spaces.

The riverwalk in Marietta, Ohio. Photo provided by the Ohio River Way.

In New Richmond, located about 25 miles from Cincinnati, the state is investing $13.47 million to create a new marina, a waterfront trail, an amphitheater, a boat ramp, a natural landscape terrace and sidewalk, and connectors to the U.S. 52 bike trail.

Forest Clevenger, spokesperson for the Ohio River Way, compared this state funding approach to what’s taken place over the past few decades to transform the Lake Erie coastline. He noted that this process is potentially bigger than just collaborations between regional counties and could expand to all.

The Ohio River Way and partners plan to continue lobbying Congress for potentially billions of dollars in funding to restore the entire 14-state watershed that makes up the Ohio River Basin, Clevenger said. Representatives from the organization will be in Washington, D.C, on May 16 for Ohio River Basin Day on the Hill.

“Now is the time for the Ohio River,” Clevenger added.

The Ohio River Way

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