While many people may not know that the Mill Creek exists or where it flows, thousands pass by it daily. Its 28 mile stretch usually goes unnoticed, winding under overpasses and along the backsides of industrial neighborhoods. It looks, smells, feels and even has the same hazardous dangers as a sewage plant. Though it was once voted by American Rivers as the country’s most endangered urban river, children still found playing in its waters and some kayak through it regularly.
Mill Creek Restoration Project Executive Director Robin Corathers, recognized this as a problem and in 1997, when she implemented the Mill Creek Greenway Trail Program, which aims to clean up the river and make use of it for local residents. Through this program, Corathers, her small group of colleagues and thousands of volunteers are making Mill Creek a sustainable resource and ultimately healthy source of transportation and activity.
The program is divided into phases. Each phase covers a certain length of the creek. Individual projects include creating a trail that goes alongside the river and fence to divide the river from the trail for safety purposes. Between the gate and river, plants help keep stormwater runoff and pollutants from entering the river.
Plants will not only be used for catching waste; Corathers wants to line the trail with fruit trees that locals can pick off and eat for free. Cincinnati doesn’t offer many fresh produce areas and the spots that do often sell their crops for more than most residents can afford on a daily basis, so this program can improve the health and budget of the people in the area.
You might be wondering how the Mill Creek Reservation Program rounds up enough volunteers? Sure, people who are affected by the Creek are going to care, but who has the time in the day to do all of that work for free? Within the past year, more than 59 schools have had the time and energy to get the Mill Creek Greenway Trail Program to its third phase. Students in fourth through 12th grades have been getting their hands dirty in the new fresh soil along the creek to help this program reach its goal.
Volunteer and teacher George Bens believes that the main goal of the Greenway Trail is to not only encourage recreational use of the stream but also to create awareness.
“The more people are aware of the issues, more areas can be set aside for natural flood control features,” Bens says. “This would eventually lead to the removal of culverts and other flow restrictions. The plan will have to be completed piecemeal but it is meant to give an overlying vision to what the possibilities could be.”
The Mill Creek Restoration website focuses on other beneficial aspects of the creek, such as the economic possibilities for local residents. “The greenway system will stimulate economic activity, increase property values, and significantly improve the quality of life in inner-city and first ring suburban neighborhoods. The greenway system supports and enhances the City’s and County’s efforts to retain and attract new residents.”
Bradford Mank, chairman of Cincinnati’s Environmental Advisory Council, has been working as an environmental lawyer for the Greenway Trail Program. His goal for the trail combines safety for the environment and those living in it and prosperity to the neighborhoods alongside the Creek.
“Hopefully, more people would want to live in the Mill Creek and commute downtown by bike once all of the bike trails are built,” Mank says. “In the long run, more bicycling would encourage planners and developers to build walkable neighborhoods where people can shop in their local neighborhoods without driving cars. That would encourage better physical fitness.”
This story is one in a series of stories and podcasts created by University of Cincinnati journalism students as part of a fall 2011 seminar titled “Communicating Sustainability,” taught by Associate Professor, Educator, Elissa Yancey.