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Students Envision Olentangy Greenway North of Lane Avenue

Brent Warren Brent Warren Students Envision Olentangy Greenway North of Lane Avenue
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With the recent removal of the Fifth Avenue dam and the planned removal of the Main Street dam downtown, Columbus has taken two very significant steps towards realizing the vision of a 16-mile long naturalized river corridor first laid out in the 2010 Downtown Strategic Plan.

A group of students in two different classes at OSU last year set their sites on the next set of challenges; five low head dams that line the Olentangy from Dodridge Street to State Route 161. Each of the dams contain sewer infrastructure, which makes their removal more complicated and costly than the two downstream dams.

Instructors Andrew Overbeck and Aron Frazier (who both work for local urban design firm MKSK), led a group of Landscape Architecture and City and Regional Planning students in a seminar class; it’s goal was to investigate the possibilities of removing the dams and gather ideas for the corridor from residents and interested stakeholders along that stretch of the river.

The end result was a plan (pdf) that focused on four main areas; habitat and water quality, educational programming at Whestone and Thomas Worthington High Schools, improved path amenities, and improved water access. The work of the seminar class laid the groundwork for a studio class, led by OSU Assistant Professor Jacob Boswell, in which students developed more specific concepts for potential projects along the river corridor.

Overbeck hopes that the students’ work can get people talking about the environmental and recreational benefits of removing the dams – and of the cost associated with leaving them in.

He notes that the sewage line that crosses back and forth over the river at the five dams dates to the 1950’s; “if we don’t have an alternate vision for what could happen, then when we have to redevelop the infrastructure, it will be replaced with more of the same.”

That alternate vision includes extending the bike path along the river under the North Broadway bridge – something that would be possible if the river reverted to its natural, smaller channel. Also, unlike the Main Street and Fifth Avenue dams, which are located in high-profile areas where the river channel is much wider, large amounts of landscaping and corridor-shaping would not be needed if the northern dams were taken out.

Both instructors hope that by bringing together students, neighbors, and advocacy groups like the Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed, the project will inspire a grassroots group of supporters to push for the removal of the dams; “it needs a champion,” Frazier says, “the way OSU championed the removal of the 5th Avenue dam and downtown groups (like the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation) are working on the removal of the Main Street Dam.” Adds Overbeck, “we need to coalesce around the fact that we want our river  back.”

More information about the project can be found www.analogsandbox.com.

Renderings via the Olentangy River Greenway Plan.

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