Rollin’ on the river

Paddle Miami Valley

Kristen Wicker

Photo: Young adventurers try canoeing at a recent Try Paddlesports program at Eastwood MetroPark

Southeast Ohio is home to a bountiful network of rivers and streams, including nearly 300 miles along three state-designated water trails: the Mad, Stillwater and Great Miami rivers. Mid-summer can be a great time to get out and paddle, even if you don’t know your portage from your potage.

You can start small, without making a big investment, and the Dayton region has many opportunities to learn about and try paddle sports, says Erik Dahlstrom, outdoor recreation coordinator for Five Rivers MetroParks, which offers a variety of paddling programs. (Visit for details.) Such local businesses as Whitewater Warehouse and Great Miami Outfitters also offer classes.

“If possible, take a class to get started,” Dahlstrom says. “Even if you’ve paddled before, don’t overestimate your skill level.”

Other paddling safety and starter tips include:

·Always wear your lifejacket. Always. “The No. 1 cause of drownings is not wearing a lifejacket,” Dahlstrom says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a good swimmer.”

·Always carry sun protection, including a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses—water and snacks, too.

·Wear layers and clothes appropriate for the conditions that day.

·Speaking of what to wear, make that closed-toe shoes, such as water shoes or a pair of old sneakers. “Please, no flip-flops or Crocs,” Dahlstrom says. “You probably won’t have them by the end of the trip and will have littered in the river. We want to be responsible on the rivers, and part of that is not contaminating the waterways with trash.”

·Speaking of losing it to the river, secure all your stuff to your boat.

·Create a float plan that includes who’s going on your paddling adventure, when and where you’re going, when you’re coming back, and emergency contact info for everyone on the trip and for the area where you’re paddling. “Leave the float plan with someone who cares,” Dahlstrom advises.

·Research your destination. “Check the weather forecast. Learn about local regulations: For example, in Ohio, every boat needs to be registered. Check online for river levels to help plan your trip.” Dahlstrom suggests using water gauges available online, such as the U.S. Geologic Survey’s National Water Information System.

If you’re new to paddling, consider starting on a calm, sheltered body of water—such as Blue Lake or the lagoon at Eastwood MetroPark.

Down along the river run

Also at Eastwood MetroPark, more experienced or adventurous paddlers will find the whitewater feature Mad River Run. Construction recently began on RiverScape River Run on the Great Miami River in downtown Dayton, a project that includes the removal of a dangerous low dam and the construction of two structures spanning the river, each with a slower-water passageway for beginning paddlers and those who are fishing and a whitewater passageway for advanced paddlers.

These River Run features have numerous recreational benefits. In addition to the new play areas for paddlers, spectators are drawn to the riverbank to view the action. The features serve as swiftwater rescue training classrooms offer opportunities for advanced paddling and maneuvering training.

The River Runs have numerous conservation benefits as well. They restore key sections of local rivers to their natural functionality and improve public access, aquatic habitat and safety characteristics of the rivers.

Those interested in fishing also benefit from deep water holes formed by the water flow around the River Run rock structures, where fish tend to concentrate to stay out of the river current. Indeed, fishing is a popular activity while paddling—or just relaxing—along area waterways and in several of your MetroParks. Visit for more info.

“Each waterway has its own beauties and challenges,” says Dahlstrom, whose own love affair with paddling began during a six-day canoe trip in Canada when he was a 14-year-old Boy Scout.

“I loved the shared experience in nature: the highs and lows, the good food and bad, the bugs and beautiful mornings,” he says.

“Some people talk about the peace and serenity of being on the river, and others talk about the adventure,” Dahlstrom adds. “Water is the great equalizer.”
Mark your calendars for Oct. 2-3, when you can try a variety of paddlesports at this year’s Midwest Outdoor Experience at Eastwood MetroPark. More info at


Day trippin’ on the river 

Want to make a day of it? Below are suggestions for exploring some of our local waterways in one day of paddling fun.

Great Miami River

Put-in: Taylorsville MetroPark

Take out: Island MetroPark

Approx. length: 9 miles

Hours of paddling: 6

Notes: There is a low dam downstream of Needmore Road at the City of Dayton wellfield; portage this on the left.

Mad River

Put-in: Eastwood MetroPark, Harshman Rd.

Take out: RiverScape MetroPark

Approx. length: 4 miles

Hours of paddling: 2

Notes: This stretch of river includes the Class II whitewater feature Mad River Run.

Stillwater River

Put-in: Aullwood Gardens MetroPark

Take out: Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark

Approx. length: 5.5 Miles

Hours of paddling: 3-4

Notes: Portage on the right around an in-river navigable feature. An elevation drop causes a small whitewater effect.

Twin Creek

Put-in: Germantown MetroPark

Take out: Chamberlain Rd.

Approx. length: 7 miles

Hours of paddling: 4

Notes: For the take-out, park on the north side of Chamberlain Road near the bridge over Twin Creek. There is a long path down to the creek.



Reach DCP freelance writer Kristen Wicker at

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