The City of Columbus has not one, but two, reservoirs on the Scioto River created by the construction of gravity dams that impound water and impede the flow of the river. The next leg of my journey was along the stretch of river between these two reservoirs.
South of the O’Shaughnessy dam the Scioto River runs through the city of Dublin. I visited several Dublin parks with Mime Migliore, Nature Educator with Dublin Recreation and Parks. Providing access to the river and encouraging people to visit has been a goal of hers for the past several years. Most of the land along the river is privately owned, but Dublin does have some holdings and the Parks Department has made the most of these access points in recent years. We did a driving tour to see several of the sites where Dublin residents can get close to the river that runs through their town.
We started at Amberleigh Neighborhood Park where we descend a flight of stairs through a densely forested slope down to the water. We met two young fishermen coming up who had some luck catching catfish. A trail from the bottom of the steps led to the gravel shore. There are some nice riffles here and the trees that arch over the stream keep the water nicely shaded. The water is surprisingly clear, too. That is due mainly to the presence of the dam upstream, which causes the sediment from the upper Scioto to settle out. Mime does regular water quality testing here. The river consistently gets a high score for macroinvertebrate life, which is good, but phosphate and nitrate levels are often high.
It was a bright, sunny day that promised to be hot, but at streamside we were well shaded. We left all sounds of civilization behind us when we descended into this green valley. Little clouds of flying insects hovered above the water in places. They were hatch outs of insects that spend part of their life cycle in the water. The secluded spot had a magical quality that day that invited exploration and Mime and I were happy to accept! We found lots of mussel shells on the shore along with the cast off exoskeleton of a flying insect. Birds were flitting through the trees and ducks paddled nearby. We saw Raccoon tracks in a muddy spot. Like many other stretches of the Scioto, the place was teeming with life.
We moved on to Donegal Cliffs, an older park. A dirt road led to an old quarry that was active as recently as the 1960’s. Limestone from this quarry was used in many local buildings and contractors had to blast through the limestone in order to build new homes here. Mime and I spent a happy hour exploring this area. The birds were active and we spotted flycatchers, Cedar waxwings, Hummingbirds, Catbirds, and Robins, as well as a Mallard duck and ducklings.
Our next stop was Bridge Street in old Dublin. Steps provided access to a park just south of Route 161. Swallows have built nests under the bridge and were swooping overhead in search of insects. We spotted a Double crested cormorant and even an Osprey. Both are birds that eat primarily fish. How amazing to see them so close to an urban center. A spring bubbles up and feeds into the Scioto at this spot where some of the oldest houses in Dublin are located. One of the Riverboxes that Dublin Arts Council commissioned is located here. This is yet another way to encourage people to get out and explore local parks and visual art.
Dublin Kiwanis Riverway Park was our last stop of the day. We traveled the boardwalk through a dense undergrowth of water loving plants. A female deer was picking her way carefully along the water’s edge. Green corridors like this help deer and other wildlife travel from one area to another without crossing roads. The doe paused to give us a good look before bounding away. Wildflowers were in great abundance here and I made a note to come back to see the ever changing flower show that nature puts on every season.
Later in the summer, George Anderson, David Rutter and I decided to canoe this stretch of the Scioto. We put in just below the O’Shaughnessy dam. It was a challenging put-in due to the steep bank. The weather was a cool and cloudy that morning, and although water was pouring over the dam, it was clear that the water level in the river was quite low. We knew we would probably be doing some walking through rocky stretches.
Our predictions about the water level turned out to be dead on. We encountered lots of riffles that we had to walk the canoes through. George calls these “rock gardens,” which sounds much nicer than the reality. The theme of the day became, “this would be fun with a couple inches more water.” Still, getting out and walking did keep our feet cool!
From the water you can see how people who live along the shore orient themselves to the river. Nearly every property had a dock, deck, barbeque pit, or patio. We saw lots of fishermen after the Smallmouth bass. Non-human fishermen were also present. Belted kingfishers accompanied us on our journey. These distinctive blue, black and white birds dove into the water after fish and raised a racket as we passed by. A small sandpiper type of bird was combing the exposed gravel bars. They dipped their tails when they walk and scattered when we got too close.
David spotted a large black and white bird along one shore and we maneuvered the canoes closer to get a look. At first I thought it must be a duck or goose, but it turned out to be a baby Turkey vulture. It had probably fallen from the nest. It attempted to hide from us by turning its face toward the bank. We all hoped it was old enough to survive.
Although the stream is largely gravel and cobble (rocks less than 4” across) there were lots of these big boulders in the stream. They were most likely carried down to this region from Canada by glaciers and left here when the glaciers receded. They make the job of the person in the bow interesting since the last thing you want to do is ram into one of these monsters. Our passage startled the big carp that feed along the river bottom. You could spot them by the V shaped ripples on the surface as they sped away from our canoes. It felt a bit like the horror movie “Anaconda.” I kept expecting a big snake head to rear up from below the surface.
We stopped at Scioto Park, one of the jewels of the Dublin Park system, for a break. This park is on the east side of the river and can be accessed from Riverside Drive. It used to be the site of a swimming pool that was spring fed. One of my colleagues grew up in this area and told me that the pool did not really warm up until August. Today there are picnic shelters, a playground and a monument to Chief Leatherlips, a chief of the Wyandot people. If you have not heard the story, it is worth checking into.
We ended our journey at I-270, a very easy place to take out the canoes and load them on the cars. As I waited for George and David to get back with the vehicles, cars were rushing by above me on 1-270 and next to me on Emerald Parkway. It amazes me to think that this stretch of fairly wild river exists between the dam on the reservoir and this heavily trafficked spot.
It is with a mixture of fear and relief that I reflect on my travels on this stretch of the Scioto. I am glad to know about Mime’s work to build awareness and appreciation for the river in Dublin. But I wonder if the riparian corridor is really wide enough to protect the water quality. It is great to see that property owners have a connection to the Scioto, but far too many mow their lawns right down to the water’s edge.
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