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Interview: Guy Worley on the Grand Opening of the Scioto Greenways

Brent Warren Brent Warren Interview: Guy Worley on the Grand Opening of the Scioto GreenwaysPhoto by Walker Evans.
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In April of 2010, Guy Worley, President and CEO of the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation, sat down with Columbus Underground to discuss the future of downtown Columbus. At that time, the Scioto Mile was under construction and the first public meetings to gather ideas for the 2010 Downtown Columbus Strategic Plan were just getting underway.

Over five years later, Worley again spoke with Columbus Underground, this time while giving a tour of 33 acres of parkland along the Scioto River Downtown, one of ten big ideas to emerge from that planning project. Worley spoke with enthusiasm for the $35.5 million project, which has its grand opening today at 4pm. We started our tour at the southern end of the project, just south of the Main Street Bridge, and continued along the east bank of the river to North Bank Park.

Worley gave an outline of the history of the project, some context as to its size, more than a few examples of surprises found along the way, and some thoughts about how the city’s relationship with the river will change now that it’s completed. Below are excerpts from our conversation.

CU: Can you talk about how this project came to be?

GW: It started with the 2010 downtown master planning effort. We received 1,100 ideas, and the number one project, by far, was this – people said that the river is not an amenity, make it one.

CU: And the dam came out when?

GW: November 12, 2013 – two years ago. We were supposed to finish in two years, so we’ll be two days early.

This is 33 acres of new green space, there’s 75,000 new plants, 800 new trees, 20 acres of sod, a mile and half of bike paths. All of this is new, reclaimed land. What we did, we removed the lowhead dam and then we dug the channel. It had basically been a sedimentation pond, and we wanted the river to flow again. The river’s banks now, we built them with 500,000 cubic yards of fill – a big number. Half of it came from the river itself – we used that sediment, then we brought in 250,000 cubic yards of fill from other construction sites.

Just to give you a reference point, a dump truck contains about 8 cubic yards, so that’s 39,300 dump trucks – you line them up back to back, that’s a 140-mile line of trucks.

We restored it basically to a natural river, and a natural river would have what’s called pools and riffles. Riffles are four to six feet deep, and pools are 12 to 16 feet deep.

We went through 15 regulatory bodies, worked with two different railroad companies, for the two different bridges.

What you see here is the riparian edge – you see the soil lifts, which along with sediment blankets and vegetation, is the sedimentation erosion prevention method. However, along the main curvature of the whole river – if it was just plants, it would simply erode the riverbank away, so that needed to be a concrete structure – that’s called the lower river walk.

The lower river walk is 700 feet long, sits on 179 caissons that are five feet in diameter and 24 feet deep, so there’s like 6,000 cubic yards of concrete, that’s like 750 concrete trucks.

CU: So it seems like it’s designed to flow right down from the Scioto Mile.

GW: Yeah, right from the Scioto Mile, you can simply walk right in.

This is gonna flood, this is now in a flood plain. Over the two year period when we’ve been building this, over on the COSI side we saw it flood once and it was up for two days, then it came back down.

The lower river walk is in about the ten year flood plain. These plants were all selected because they like it wet, they don’t mind if it floods, as are the trees, they’re used to being in the water as well.

There are 27 species of trees, 11 species of plants along the riparian edge. The grass was green about three weeks ago, and now as fall turns, it’s turned brown, and the trees were beautiful, red and orange.

I think this belvedere would be a place where there’d be weddings and receptions, parties. I think the lower river walk would be a great place for Red, White and Boom. And for the Arts Festival.

CU: Any plans for the Santa Maria to make a comeback?

GW: I don’t think so.

CU: Any major surprises as the project unfolded?

GW: We learned a lot during this project. We learned there were a lot of bridges in Columbus over the years. So when we lowered the water, we found a Mound Street bridge, a couple Main Street bridges, a couple Town Street bridges, five Broad Street bridges.

All of a sudden, when the water went down, 16 of those bridge piers appeared in the middle of the river, so you would see all these bridge piers out here. When they rebuilt a bridge in the old days, when they tore one down, they’d basically just cut the bridge piers off right below the water.

We expected that there’d be lots of tires and shopping carts, things like that, what we didn’t expect to see was all those bridge piers, and the other thing is the remnants of Columbus’ first power plant.

Remember, there used to be a bunch of factories along the river. When they dammed the river up, they artificially took it from 300 feet wide to 600 feet wide. So on the west bank, we found the foundations of the first power plant. We found pictures of what the plant looked like.

Also, before we had cars, we had buggies, and apparently Columbus was a big buggy manufacturing town, and we had a big buggy factory, right there, also across the river, so there was a power plant and a buggy factory.

columbus-riverfront-2015-05

For more photos of the new Scioto Greenways, CLICK HERE.

CU: What kind of access is there for kayaks or canoes?

GW: There are a number of launch spots. There’s one at Main Street, there’s a canoe launch, there’s one on the west bank, and right here on the other side of Broad (east), and then we’ve got a dock at North Bank Park, so you can load them in there, too.

CU: Any plans or interest from a private company to set up a canoe rental business here?

GW: We’re going to hand this over to the City of Columbus Recreation and Parks, but I think there’s been a lot of interest from concessionaires who want to do just that. We want to activate the river.

This is where the Santa Maria was, it’s all now parkland. We’ve saved the animals from the small park with the children’s fountain (off of Civic Center Drive).

The water’s at a low point now, because it’s the fall. What you see right here is a point bar, which is a natural thing that occurs on rivers at curves. So when the river’s up, it’s flowing much higher, rocks are flowing with it, the rocks don’t curve, they hit the first thing they run into, they run into the curve. So that’s a point bar, and we kind of dressed it up several times, over the past two years, but it’s a living, moving thing, so it just goes where it wants to go… there are two of them along the west bank.

CU: So on Tuesday you’ll be having a grand opening. 

GW: One of the things that we’re trying to do is educate the community — we’ve not used this river before, from a recreational point of view. So we’re encouraging kayakers and folks to bring their canoes, we’re gonna have paddle boarders out here doing paddle board yoga. OSU is hoping to have one of their crew teams doing an expedition.

We want to activate this river – it’s ok to get back in the river, it’s cleaning itself, and we’re encouraging folks to use it. There were a bunch of people out yesterday kayaking… we’re hoping to be seeing a lot of those.

So Tuesday, the only thing that won’t be finished is probably the west bank south of the railroad bridge, the railroad was working on the bridge until yesterday, so we’ve just taken possession of the land, and we’ll finish that up in the next few weeks.

CU: So now, traveling on the river, you could start south of Dodridge…

GW: Yeah, and go all the way to Greenlawn Dam.

CU: Any interest in getting grid of the other dams? I know that was part of the original vision from the 2010 plan.

GW: There are a lot of utilities in the upstream ones, and especially in Greenlawn, which from my understanding is the last dam between here and the Ohio River. So if we didn’t have that, we could actually canoe and kayak all the way to the Ohio, and then I guess you could follow it to the Mississippi, and go on to the Gulf of Mexico.

But, my understanding, is that every utility known to man goes through the Greenlawn Dam, but it’d be nice to see some of the upstream ones taken out – there are five – but there are no plans for it. You could actually kayak from Highbanks Metro Park all the way down, but we’re only Downtown, so, that’s not our project.

CU: Are you excited to see what people end up doing on this space? After all this time?

GW: We are, we’re real excited to open it. You know, there’s been about 300 construction workers working on this every day for two years, they didn’t stop in the winter, they were out here in sub-zero weather.

CU: What’s next for the CDDC?

GW: Next project is to redevelop the Scioto Peninsula, and the first project as part of that is the Ohio Veterans Memorial Museum. So, as we went through the permit process on this project, it took 20 months to get the permit. So now we’re going through the Army Corps of Engineer process to get the permit to build the museum, which is next to the flood wall.

The county did the demolition, we’ve taken possession, and our application is in before the Army Corps of Engineers. So we’re working with them, and it’s an appropriate step to take, in the post-Katrina world, flood walls are very important, so it’s taking some time, and we respect that. So we’ll go through that process, and when that process is over, we’ll start building.

CU: And what about the other plans, like the underground parking garage and park next to COSI?

GW: In the next month or so, we’ll be working with the city to start that up… more to come on that soon.

For more photos of the new Scioto Greenways, CLICK HERE.

For ongoing discussion of the Scioto Greenways project, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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