George and I put in just below the Greenlawn dam, which is easily accessible from Greenlawn Avenue on the west side of the river. George had canoed this stretch of the river some years ago and was interested in seeing if it had changed. The showy pink flowers of Halberd-leaved Rose-mallow were blooming on this August day. Puffy white clouds were drifting across a blue sky, keeping the heat from becoming oppressive.
The river stretched broad and shallow before us and we shoved off eager to see what we could see. We paddled past old stonework around culverts. We could not really tell if they are still in use or not. Several great egrets were perched in a downed tree, their white plumage in sharp contrast to the green foliage. Around a bend we heard the rush of water and spotted a white plume that indicated a vast amount of water entering the river. This seemed odd given how low water levels were this summer. As we got closer, we detected a chemical odor. It was a discharge from a local cement materials plant. Chances are they have a permit for this discharge, but the amount being discharged was truly alarming, as was the gray scum that persisted downstream.
George recalled seeing large fish in this stretch of the river on his last trip. Sure enough, we spotted Shortnose gar hanging out in deeper sections of the stream. They are easy to spot, with their long snout spotted tails. This is actually quite a rare fish only found in the Ohio River and a few of its major tributaries.
We saw several shopping carts abandoned in the river. These are common in the Olentangy River, too, and over time they tend to trap debris creating small islands of soil and rock that can actually support plants and even trees. I am not sure how this product of human life makes its way into the river, but it seems an unnecessary waste of resources.
Further on the river became shallower as it flowed around an island. Our canoe was beached on gravel and we took the opportunity to get out and shoot some pictures. Suddenly a pair of dirt bikers zoomed out of the woods and right into the shallow water of the river. They stopped to ask us how deep the water was on the other side of the island. We did what any good citizen would do - we lied. We told them the river was about two feet deep. It kept them from going any further and they roared off in the direction they came from. We felt that protecting at least that portion of the stream from abuse justified our fabrication.
For most of this stretch of the river, the riparian corridor is forested. But all of a sudden the trees gave way to piles of rock. These looked very man-made – far too regular and consistent in size to be natural. We could not see over the bank at what lay beyond, but it is a pretty safe guess that it is some kind of human enterprise. We passed some magnificent houses along the river. Unfortunately, far too many homeowners plant grass and mow right up to the river’s edge. This no doubt preserves their view of the water, but it is not good for the river itself.
We had the river to ourselves most of the time until we encountered a group of young adults out for an aquatic adventure. They were on the water in every conceivable floating device, from kayaks to inner tubes. My first thought was that it is great to see people enjoying the river and valuing it was a place to get out and recreate. But as we passed them, I saw their cast off pop cans floating by and, from the way they greeted us, it was obvious that alcohol figured prominently in their excursion. It reminds of what it is like on Mohican River on a busy weekend – lots of people getting rowdy on the river but not really paying much attention to the nature they are immersed in.
We ended our trip at Shadeville, a convenient spot to take out. A profusion of mussel shells littered the banks here and crayfish were darting among the rocks on the river bottom. It was a great spot to wait for George to return with his car – shady and secluded. It would have been great to continue on down the river. The paddling is easier as the river gets bigger and the delightful weather makes a person want to keep the adventure going. We talked about doing just that – going all the way from the Greenlawn Dam to Portsmouth where the Scioto meets the Ohio. Other people have done that and I talked with them about it. They carried all their camping gear with them. Since there are no campgrounds along the Scioto, they chose isolated spots to pitch their tents where they were not in view of any homes or close to any industry. It takes about a week to make the trip. This was not really an option for our little crew, however, so it will have to wait for another summer. The fact that other people have done this, though, in spite of the lack of support in the form of campground amenities makes me think it is something worth exploring. A water trail on the Scioto could be a great recreational draw that would create business opportunities and protect our river.
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