Tomorrow (6/6) morning at 7 o’clock through Sunday at about 2pm, I will be joining dozens of other paddlers on a 133-mile canoe trip from Cincinnati to Louisville to support designation by the National Parks Service of the Ohio River Recreational Trail as part of the National Water Trails System and to raise awareness of the importance of the Ohio River and Beargrass Creek to the future of Louisville and the Highlands.
Two of the three main branches of Beargrass Creek run through District 8. The South Fork enters and quickly exits the Tyler Park neighborhood at Eastern Parkway (near Castlevale Dr), then snakes between Newburg and Poplar Level Roads before crossing back under Newburg and through the Hayfield Dundee (Upper Highlands) neighborhood, past Gardiner Lane and out (near Sunny Ln) to Bashford Manor. The Middle Fork flows through Cherokee Park between Pee Wee Reese and Lexington Roads, then parallels Lexington and meets the South Fork in Irish Hill.
When it comes to the river and its tributaries, what’s past is prologue: the founding of the city at the Falls of the Ohio; its rise during the steamboat era; its destruction in the Great Flood of 1937 – similar opportunities and threats exist today. Last week, MSD ruffled a few feathers when it raised sewer rates 6.9% (effective Aug. 1), which is the most permitted without Metro Council’s approval. I don’t like to pay taxes any more than you do; however, we need $4.3 billion over the next 20 years to protect ourselves against the next 100-year flood, which appears to be running right on time. Say what you want about the current budget crisis and raising the insurance premium tax versus closing libraries and swimming pools; there is no way to cut and save our way to new levees and pump stations. (Forget about building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Mitch; we got 29 miles of trouble, my friend, right here I say, trouble right here in River City.)
The same goes for new inland drainage systems, as Upper Highlands neighbors can attest. Despite the construction of eight regional basins along the South Fork to help alleviate flooding in the mid-2000s, many homes in the area continue to experience frequent flooding. Over the next two to four weeks, MSD will complete a series of regrades on six flood-prone properties on Sutherland Drive and Calder Court that have been purchased and the homes demolished to become open space – and two additional homes have also been purchased and are scheduled for demolition, all eight paid for by FEMA in 2017 – but federal grants are few and far between, dozens of other Upper Highlands homes were built in the floodplain prior to the existence of stronger development controls and thousands of properties are competing for buyouts citywide. (The eight properties have had the sewers capped, utilities disconnected, will be seeded and strawed and then I am committed to supporting a new pocket park there, if neighbors want.)
On the bright side, (while acknowledging financial limitations,) the economic, environmental and recreational potential of the Ohio River and Beargrass Creek is virtually unlimited. That’s part of the big idea behind the Ohio River Recreational Trail. It is also the inspiration behind the Congress for the New Urbanism, which is hosting its 27th annual Congress in Louisville next week, designating Beargrass Creek as one of its Legacy Projects. In March, special CNU-led teams worked with local partners to create improvement strategies along the creek and on Saturday, June 15th at 11:15am the teams will review the recommendations and discuss implementation efforts that have already begun. The work product is an amazing vision that aligns with our strategic objective to expand land trail connectivity from District 8 along the Middle Fork to Waterfront Park/the Louisville Loop and along the South Fork to Germantown, Audubon Park and beyond. The session will be held at the Seelbach Hotel and it is free and open to the public.
The timing is perfect because the same morning from 9:00am - noon MSD is sponsoring the 30th annual Ohio River Sweep for volunteers to pick up trash along the shoreline at half a dozen sites from Riverview to Hays Kennedy Parks. You will find me at Shawnee Park and then the Seelbach on the 15th; in the meantime, you can live-track my whereabouts between Cincinnati and Louisville, follow our Ohio River Voyageur Canoe Trip on Instagram and like us on Facebook. We hope you’ll share the adventure with us!
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