Griggs Reservoir is the first reservoir built to provide drinking water to the City of Columbus. The dam was completed in 1905 at a cost of $700,000. It was named in honor of Julian Griggs, the chief engineer for the City of Columbus for many years. It is a gravity dam with a 500-foot-long curved concrete spillway. Although it is only 35 feet high, it forms a reservoir almost 6 miles long and has a capacity of 1,200,000,000 gallons.
Water was streaming over the dam the day I visited. One man and two Great blue herons were fishing in the pool below the dam. There was a funky smell here and brownish foam had collected at the shore. Beyond the pool at the base of the dam the stream bed drops in elevation creating a section of white water that was very wild looking. Beyond this rocky water course the river widens and becomes shallow once again. I noticed that, even in early August, trees are losing their leaves. Some are just brown making me think it is the drought that is responsible. But the brilliant colors of autumn were also making an appearance in the pure yellow of Cottonwood leaves littering the ground.
The reservoir is maintained and operated by the city of Columbus Division of Watershed Management primarily as a source for municipal water supply. The long, narrow lake creates 387 surface acres of fishing water that can be as deep as 20 feet near the dam. Most of the reservoir is between 10 and 15 feet deep. The Columbus Department of Parks and Recreation maintains 521 acres as a city park along the east side of the reservoir between the water and Rt. 33 from the dam north to Lane Rd. Throughout the park is a bicycle and driving trail with numerous parking and picnic areas. The park also includes an amphitheater, boat launch, playground, and shelterhouses.
Not wanting to stray too far from my bicycle, I saved further exploration of the downstream area for another day and cycled past Griggs Marina and the Richards House, which is undergoing renovation. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, Griggs Reservoir has populations of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, saugeye, hybrid striped bass, channel catfish, black and white crappie, bluegill, bullheads, and carp. The Division of Wildlife stocks fingerling saugeye and hybrid striped bass in the reservoir every spring, with yearling channel catfish stocked on a less frequent basis.
The fishing must be good because Double crested cormorants were perched on the buoys above the dam drying their wings and Belted kingfishers were trying their luck, as well. Mallards were present in great numbers, resting on docks and foraging in the shallows. When the park road ended at Lane avenue, I continued my bicycle adventure on Riverside Drive – a somewhat harrowing experience given the heavy traffic and lack of a bike lane. By now the storm clouds had given way to puffy cumulus clouds and blue sky. In spite of the narrow berm and fast moving cars, I enjoyed the ride on this road between the water on my left and the houses on my right. At a parking lot further along, I encountered fire fighters preparing for a training exercise and a couple of people with the Midwest Biodiversity Institute testing their equipment. Other than one jogger and a couple of fisherman, those were the only two groups using the park that day.
At Hayden Run I turned west in order to explore Hayden Run Falls, a place that I had heard of but never visited. The parking lot is on the south side of Hayden Road on the west side of the reservoir. It is labeled, Griggs Nature Preserve. There were a few cars in the small lot and (happily for me) a bike rack. A sign exhorts visitors to protect our watersheds, offering suggestions of ways to reduce pollution that are clearly aimed at residents. An area next to the parking lot is planted in native wildflowers and may be a basin that collects run off from the pavement. A wooden boardwalk provides access to Hayden Run.
After descending a flight of steps into the ravine through which the creek flows, the boardwalk turns right and leads you back to the falls itself. I was lucky to be there on a day when water was flowing over the falls in fairly high volume thanks to the earlier rain storm. Mist from the falls cools the area in this deeply shaded ravine making this a great place to visit on a hot summer day. The surrounding geology is interesting and the community of plants, trees and shrubs is a feast for eyes. The deep purple flowers of Ironweed contrasted with lush green foliage. I saw several damselflies with slender green bodies and pure black wings flitting between plants at the water’s edge.
I will say, though, that it is very clear from the way the boardwalk is constructed that you are not allowed to go down to the water, in spite of the fact that it is very tempting to explore the exposed gravel shore and touch the water that flows swiftly from the falls to join the reservoir. I can imagine that in times of high water flow, this could be a dangerous place. The rocks are sharp and a person could slip and get hurt. I can also imagine that too many feet, however well meaning, trampling the shoreline of the lovely creek could do a great deal of damage.
I was not alone in this spot for very long. There was a steady stream of visitors, some alone and some with children in tow, who stopped by to enjoy the falls. The boardwalk ends at the falls, so after a few moments to take in the view, there is nothing to do but retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
As I have explored these two reservoirs – Griggs and O’Shaunessey – I cannot help but confront the fact that reservoirs are not good for rivers. Damming a river turns flowing water into a lake, fundamentally altering the ecology of the place. The changes to habitats in the water and along the shore mean that some species can no longer survive, while others will move in and thrive. The dramatic change that is inevitable when a river is dammed goes against the grain for me. It seems like the ultimate manifestation of human domination of nature and shows disrespect for all the creatures that make their home along the course of river.
But... it is the availability of water made possible by the reservoirs along the Scioto River and Big Walnut that have allowed Columbus to grow into the city it is today. Innovation, foresight, and planning on the part of city government got us here and continue to ensure safe drinking water for people – including me. Today, thanks to our three reservoirs, a well field, facilities that treat drinking water before it gets to our homes and sewage treatment plants that clean the water before it goes back in the river, the Columbus Division of Water delivers 50 billion gallons of drinking water per year. That is an average of 122 million gallons each day. We would not have 1.1 million residents in the Greater Columbus area without that water.
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