A watershed moment, a watershed movement

T housands of years ago, Ohio was covered by massive glaciers that, over time, caused the Little Miami River to switch its course and flow in a southerly direction, creating the geology of Clifton Gorge and emptying into the Ohio River east of Cincinnati. The Little Miami River Watershed, the bridge of land that separates […]

50 years as America’s first protected waterway, the Little Miami River flows on


Since 2010, hundreds of Little Miami River Kleeners volunteers have taken part in Clean Sweeps to remove trash and other debris from the Little Miami River and tributaries.

By Tammy Newsom

Thousands of years ago, Ohio was covered by massive glaciers that, over time, caused the Little Miami River to switch its course and flow in a southerly direction, creating the geology of Clifton Gorge and emptying into the Ohio River east of Cincinnati. The Little Miami River Watershed, the bridge of land that separates the Little Miami and its tributaries, is approximately 107 miles long with a basin of 1,757 square miles. The watershed incorporates 11 counties: Clark, Greene, Warren, Clinton, Montgomery, Hamilton, Brown, Clermont, Butler, Highland, and Madison. The Beavercreek tributary alone discharges a vast 100-acre wetland, and it’s been said that waters from two mineral-rich communities of the Little Miami Watershed near the gorge, Yellow Springs and Spring Valley, potentially have healing powers.

In 1967, former Dayton Journal-Herald editor Glenn Thompson fought for inclusion of the Little Miami River and the Little Miami River Watershed on a list of rivers for a proposed National Scenic Rivers Bill. He, along with civil engineer Arthur Morgan, Corwin Fred, and Charles Sawyer, formed the Little Miami River, Inc. On Feb. 28, 1968, a few months ahead of the federal law, the Ohio legislature passed the Scenic Rivers Act, making Ohio the first state in the union to enact a river protection law to preserve not only our state’s water supply, but the watershed—river banks, forests, and wildlife. Additionally, the Little Miami River became the first river in Ohio to be named a State Scenic River.

“Most of the honor goes to Thompson, who loved to canoe the Little Miami River,” says Hope Taft, former First Lady of Ohio and co-founder of the Little Miami Watershed Network (LMWN). “He was tired of seeing it become clogged with visible and sunken trash from cars and tires, to concrete slabs and appliances and wastewater dumping.” The citizen-based LMWN was formed in 2015, and the Little Miami River Kleeners (LMRK) debuted in 2010. 

“You name it, it was in the river, causing harm to the wildlife and water quality and definitely disturbing his sense of calm and restorative peace,” she says.

Thompson initiated the founding of the Five Rivers MetroParks, the Ohio Conservation League, now known as the Ohio Environmental Council, and Little Miami Inc., now called the Little Miami Conservancy.

“The Little Miami River is a real asset to Greene County,” Taft says. “It is called the backbone of the county. It is a tributary to the water and watershed, one of those attractions that we don’t realize is so valuable. People who come from out of state want to visit our attraction and enjoy a real asset. We don’t always appreciate our hometown bike trail, or a ride on the river. Three million people live within 30 minutes of the river—which leads to great potential, but not if it gets polluted and filled with trash.”

Since 2010, volunteers have met annually for the sponsored LMRK Clean Sweep, which is followed by a River Festival volunteer picnic, held at Bellbrock Park in Bellbrook. 

Several canoe liveries line the river’s edge, which serves as launch points for the canoe-paddled cleanup. “The cleanup begins at River’s Edge Canoe Livery, north of Waynesville,” Taft says. “Some meet at John Bryan State Park removing debris, up through all the sections between there and Waynesville, and others like to begin at the Glenn Thompson Reserve and move through Greene County and Warren County Parks, as well as through Bellbrook’s Sugarcreek Park.” 

“We have cleaned visible trash and invisible trash from the water with the help of 35 other non-profit groups from the watershed network,” says Taft. “The goal is simple—remove the sediment and things coughed up from the water like fertilizers and pesticides, oil, pet waste, grass clippings, and dirt. And make sure it doesn’t get into the water system.”

The Kleeners meet at different launch sites. Starting at John Bryan State Park, they move down Route 68 through Greene County to Xenia, and then on to Glenn Thompson Reserve. From Glenn Thompson, they make their way down to the Narrows, then the Bellbrook Canoe Livery, Constitution Park, and River’s Edge Canoe Livery, and eventually end up at Corwin Dam in Warren County.

“There are road guards and bridge guards overseeing the cleanup,” says Taft. “The fire department is on alert for rescues, and we have lots of community resources, from all the park districts and conservation groups, to do a section of the river. Canoe livery people are just very excited taking care of the river and offer their help in a wide
variety of ways.”

“The river cleanup is divided into two-and-a-half mile sections per team,” she says. “Team leaders are given a bin with t-shirts, shovels, a special designed tire puller made by US Aeroteam, and grabbers to pick up trash on the ground. The grabbers have rubber suction on the end to pull plastic bottles out of trees and off the bank. They let water run right out, and we can put a lot of stuff in them without becoming too heavy to carry. We have first aid kits that hopefully won’t get used, instructions, and a list of safety numbers. If they need some help, we have Bellbrook ham radio operators at each station to make sure canoers get on and off the river for a successful and safe cleanup.”

This year, summer storms cut short the river cleanup party due to sudden flash flooding, with river swells rising as high as 9 feet the night before. Three hundred and twenty volunteers had registered for the river and river bank clean up with 18 sponsors. “Safety was the number one concern,” says Mike Schumacher, cofounder of the LMWN. “Since the Bellbrook Canoe Livery closed due to thunderstorms and river swells, we canceled the cleanup on the river and chose to focus on the riverbank instead. We had as many as 200 volunteers wandering along the riparian (river’s edge). They used their trash removal packs to clean up visible debris for the same duration as the entire river cleanup would have taken. Kettering, Beavercreek, Yellow Springs, Sugarcreek Township, Bellbrook, Oakwood, and Waynesville were all involved in the cleanup. It went from South Charleston in Clark County to the Ohio River, covering Greene County, Warren County, and Hamilton County. We would not be able to reschedule the cleanup again due to varied schedule conflicts among the volunteers until June 2019.”

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Ohio Scenic Rivers Act, lobbied by Thompson and LMRK, in addition to the annual River Festival cleanup and picnic, the LMRK has scheduled a variety of events. A 1960s-themed paddle and flight costumed parade was held on the river in honor of the year the Ohio Scenic Rivers Act was ratified. The Paddles and Flight joint event was presented by the LMRK, Bellbrook Sugarcreek Park District, Bellbrook Sugarcreek Chamber of Commerce, and Greene County Parks & Trails.

Upcoming events include Call of the Little Miami movie night on July 13 at the Clifton Opera House and the Watershed Hoopla basketball tournament on July 26. “This is a basketball tournament to raise money to place medallions on our storm drains in Bellbrook and Sugarcreek Township,” Taft says. “This will be lots of fun. The medallions are to remind people that only water goes down a drain.”

September 23rd is the Little Miami Trailblazer Adventure. This starts as a hike from Bellbrook Canoe Rental to Spring Valley, followed by biking from Spring Valley to Bellbrook, and then on to a scavenger hunt.

“Teachers participate in the 23rd Trailblazer Adventure,” Taft says. “At each stop, they’ll receive information about watersheds and how we can protect our wildlife, soil, and water supply. The Trailblazer sponsored games are for investment research. An award will be presented to two people who have made an impact and done an outstanding job teaching people about the river and keeping it clean. We will honor them and continue to teach other people to pay attention to the river.”

“The river has improved in many ways since those early attempts at restoration,” Taft adds. “Thanks to (Glenn) Thompson’s effort to bring attention to this asset in our midst, it’s hard to find the amount of trash that Thompson saw, but it’s not hard to see that vigilance is still required.”

“The river cleanup is 100 percent volunteer and we do it year after year,” she says. “We have found more than 10 tons of trash and removed 700 tires from the river since 2000. Volunteers have developed a tire removal tool as part of the ongoing process to remove pollution that is coming off the land. We are hoping to educate people so they can do their part in reducing the development of roofs, parking lots, and driveways that do not absorb water.”

The LMWN, which was founded to educate people on soil and water conservation and to network with other conservation groups, has made a list of several recommendations. Besides participating in the 50th anniversary celebration this summer, homeowners can make a few simple changes to their home maintenance to protect and preserve soil and water all year long on our land. LMWN encourages limiting the area of impenetrable surfaces like driveways, sheds, and roofing, which reduces water absorption, compacts the soil, and causes water tables to rise, potentially resulting in flash flooding.

LMRK home maintenance tips: replace invasive plants with native or indigenous trees and flowers; clean up pet waste and remove de-icers from driveways; and keep direct downspouts away from foundations or store in rain barrels. The Kleeners discourage the use of culverts and recommend routine maintenance of retention ponds. Lastly, seed or mulch bare soil and repair soil erosion where visible.

“This is all public land,” Taft says. “We all live on a watershed, and we all benefit as neighbors helping to take
away the trash.”

The LMWN has incorporated a teaching tool, the Enviroscape Watershed Model, to educate kids and adults on the effects of pollution in the Watershed.

“We have performed a demo to over 3,500 kids over the past two years at the schools and at public festivals such as the River Festival, Honey Fest, WPAFB Pollinator Festival, and many others,” Schumacher says.

To find out more about Little Miami River Kleeners’ 50th anniversary celebration summer, their annual cleanup, or for more information about water and soil preservation tips, visit www.mylittlemiami.org or www.lmriverkleeners.org.

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