SIDNEY — Community leaders gathered at the Sidney Police Deparment, Thursday, Feb. 22, to learn how the Great Miami Riverway can help to promote Sidney and advance its economic development.
An update on the 99-mile riverway, which is a mixed-use district of river communities connected by land and water trails from Sidney to Hamilton, was presented by Elizabeth Connor, coordinator of the Great Miami Riverway.
“We have the nation’s largest paved trail network in our own backyard. It’s 330 miles. It connects you all around, and the Great Miami River Recreation Trail is a part of that network. It spiders out east and west, north and south … it is part of a larger initiative (than the 99-mile area defined as the Great Miami Riverway),” Connor said.
The National Parks Service announced in recognition of its 100th anniversary in 2016 that the Great Miami River Watershed Trail was named a National Water Trail System by the Secretary of the Interior. The national trail designation is one of 22 in the U.S. and the only one in Ohio, Connor said.
“Our National Water Trail — we are really proud of that distinction,” she said. “Places get that designation if they have super high water quality. They have public access, community support. We think that is a great designation to tout for our region.”
The Great Miami River Corridor Study of recreational assets that was completed in 2015 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in cooperation with the Miami Conservancy District pointed to a lack of identity for the riverway, Connor said. This information led to the riverway branding in 2016. Then in 2017, the Great Miami Riverway was formed and exists through a coalition of 19 cities and agencies.
“It’s not just about recreation,” she said. “When we connect our trail to our downtowns, that’s when we see quality of life; we see workforce attraction; we see economic development.”
Connor gave an example of a 150-mile trail system in Pennsylvania in which she said the overall economic impact on their downtowns was about $50 million. She said the Great Miami Riverway’s sits at about $12 to 13 million. The Pennsylvania trail had a net gain of 65 businesses and a 15 percent increase in sales in the downtown districts over a six-year period, she said.
The four main goals of the riverway, Connor said, are increased use of recreational, historical, and cultural assets, to attract more visitors, support economic development, and to strengthen river corridor neighborhoods.
Another goal is for the Great Miami Riverway to become a “household name” similar to the Great Smoky Mountains, the Outer Banks or the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, for the example.
“We are not taking over anyone’s individual identity. We are not replacing anything. We are just making sure all of those messages are combined together to hit that larger market,” she said.
The work for achieving those goals has been broken into three areas, including physical improvements, signage/way-finding and marketing.
Connor said there are three gaps of about 15 miles that are currently unconnected by land trails, such as bike paths or hiking trails, along the 99-mile corridor. Sidney contains one of these sections. A bike path connects Sidney to trails north of the city by there is no paved trail from Sidney south to Piqua. The other gaps are located between Franklin to Middletown, and Middletown to Hamilton.
After Connor’s presentation, she invited attendees to share information about the riverway, to consider sponsorship as well as joining the coalition.
Duane Gaier, Sidney parks and recreation director, provided information about Sidney’s gap in the trail.
“Sidney has traditionally turned it’s back on the river, and we don’t want to do that anymore,” Gaier said when paraphrasing Mayor Mike Barhorst’s opening remarks.
Gaier said it will cost about $5.5 million to complete the trailway from its current end point in Sidney to Lockington. However, he added, if the city can obtain $1.1 million in funding for a section from where the trail now ends in Sidney to Kuther Road, they can start the next steps. Grant funds require matched private dollars for eligibility. Gaier said even a “letter of intent” would be sufficient for beginning the grant application process.
Sponsors are needed to help complete the unfinished portions of the bike trail, for kiosk signage to be placed along the trail and for exhibit/trade show booths.
For more information, the Great Miami Riverway can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The website is set to be launched March 23 at the Great Miami Riverway Summit to be at the Dayton Art Institute.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.