RiverScape MetroPark reclaiming the Dayton waterfront

Photo: Outdoor recreation and adventure on the river

By Carrie Scarff

Remember downtown Dayton before RiverScape MetroPark? Think back to 1999—the Backstreet Boys, “Saving Private Ryan,” Y2K. Along Monument Avenue, meager trees and ratty grass overlooked the river from a near cliff across from the Engineer’s Club; a lonely bikeway lay below.  But a plan was in the works, a riverfront master plan with the ambition to transform old Van Cleve Park into a fountain for kids to play in, a music pavilion, and a world of beautiful flowers. The plan stretched up Patterson Boulevard with echoes of the Miami to Erie Canal, and across the river to Deeds Point and the north shore. In the river, the plan proposed that canoes and kayaks have a safe way through the low dam. Dayton was dreaming of reclaiming its river in a way that it hadn’t since before 1913.

And so RiverScape MetroPark was built. Despite dismissals, over and over, that people wouldn’t come downtown for a concert, a festival, or an ice cream cone (much less Pokémon), the park has been a success since the day it opened. In the nearly 20 years since opening, RiverScape MetroPark has become Dayton’s front porch. It’s where the community comes to gather: to let the kids play, listen to music, eat lunch, and ice skate. Starting this year with the opening of the River Run, it’s where people come to paddle through downtown or to lean back on the limestone to watch those crazy, fearless kayakers turn cartwheels and flips in the waves near the shore.

With the opening of the River Run, the RiverScape Master Plan, rolled out in 1999, is complete. If the goal was to revitalize downtown—and it was—then RiverScape MetroPark is a success. Things started slowly, but lately it seems that development in downtown Dayton is pouring from the sky—Water Street, more office buildings, apartments, shops, condos, food, drink, Proto Build Bar (what’s that?). Housing, retail, and offices are sprouting all over downtown. And while we could stand in the rich, thick grass of RiverScape MetroPark and cheer the bounty of success spread in front of us, we really don’t have time.

Hundreds—no, thousands—of new residents, workers, and students are making their way to greater downtown. Whether they’re cocky, energetic millennials or cocky, energetic boomers or the rest of us in between, they demand things to do. They all need places to exercise, to relax, and to listen to a band. They need fun, creative things to do and beautiful places to hang out. They need to be able to walk and bike there. To provide all this, the three blocks that make up RiverScape MetroPark are starting to look small. Fortunately, Dayton is a virtual octopus of rivers, and the opportunity to create wonderful places along them stretches into every quadrant of the city. With the RiverScape Master Plan complete and downtown thriving, it’s time to plan again.

Five Rivers MetroParks, the City of Dayton, and the Miami Conservancy District have partnered with Montgomery County, the Downtown Dayton Partnership, Greater Dayton RTA, and Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission to begin work on the next generation of riverfront master planning for greater downtown Dayton. To lead the effort, they have hired Sasaki Associates, an award-winning planning and landscape architecture firm with decades of national and international waterfront planning experience, including Indianapolis and Cincinnati.  The ultimate goal is to bring community economic development to all the riverways throughout the city through vibrant placemaking and connecting the communities to the rivers and us to each other.

The plan, like our rivers, will reach all four points of the compass—north along the Stillwater River to Wegerzyn MetroPark, east along the Mad River to Eastwood MetroPark, west along the Wolf Creek to Wesleyan MetroPark, and south down the Great Miami to Carillon Historic Park. Taking advantage of the many public parks and open spaces, the plan will propose ideas and opportunities to provide outdoor recreation destinations and beautiful corridors to live a healthy, outdoor lifestyle. Likewise, the plan will look along the corridors to suggest where, over the next 20 years, the community might invest in more dynamic restaurants, condominiums, or offices.

The rivers in Dayton reach us all, and each of these river corridors has a distinct character that reflects the neighborhoods and the natural spaces they wander. These corridors are ripe with potential to create dynamic places and make deep connections into neighborhoods. We need these great places to continue to attract new jobs, residents, and students. We also need them to lift up the people who have been here all along. Imagine our rivers, not as what divides us, but as where we are united.

Such an ambitious plan will require understanding the many dimensions of Dayton. Visit DaytonRiverFrontPlan.org to give the planning team your perspective on the rivers and their potential.   Also, plan to attend one of the open houses that will be held at the new Main Library Community Room on Thursday, Aug. 17 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and again from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The planning team will be there to take input from the public on their vision for the greater Dayton river corridors. They need your help to guide the next 20 years of Dayton’s growth.

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