Former Ohio First Lady Hope Taft and Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer were among the speakers at Battelle-Darby Metro Park on June 14 for the 50th anniversary celebration of the state’s Scenic Rivers Program.
The Ohio General Assembly passed a state Scenic Rivers Act in 1968 — six months before Congress approved its national equivalent.
Both pieces of legislation stemmed from a renewed interest in conserving the country’s natural resources and a resolve to clean up blighted areas.
It aimed to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations, according to the National Park Service.
The Little Miami was Ohio’s first designated scenic river.
Big and Little Darby Creeks were named state scenic rivers in 1984 and national scenic rivers in 1994.
Only two other Ohio streams, the Little Miami and Little Beaver Creek in the eastern part of the state, have the national designation.
Currently, the Darbies are home to 98 fish species and 44 mussel species. Many of these are threatened or endangered.
Mrs. Taft, co-founder of the Little Miami Watershed Network and a conservation enthusiast, noted Ohio has accomplished much in the last half century toward restoring and preserving its ecologically important waterways, but more work remains.
“We need to re-double our efforts to protect more rivers,” she said.
She advocated more floodplain protection as part of a comprehensive effort to protect creeks, streams and rivers. She also suggested forming a statewide “friends group” that would allow scenic river supporters in all regions to work together toward common goals. Mentorships for individual rivers would spark greater citizen involvement, she added.
“We need to band together to put new life into the scenic rivers act…and increase the number of scenic rivers,” Mrs. Taft urged.
Director Zehringer said Ohio has been a leader in the movement and now has 14 designated scenic rivers, encompassing 800 miles of waterways.
“Fifty years ago we recognized the importance of preserving our scenic rivers,” Zehringer said. “They are the best places to fish, hunt, paddle and watch nature.”
Zehringer said his agency works to improve access to all the state’s designated rivers — especially for paddlesport enthusiasts.
This year is designated “Year of The Trail” in Ohio.
Zehringer emphasized that “trail” means not only hiking paths, but also bikeways, equestrian paths and water trails for boating.
Information on all types of Ohio recreational trails is available at a new website — trails.ohiodnr.gov.
Jane Beathard is a contributing writer for The Advocate.