Take Me to the River 13

The Little Miami Conservancy: Keeping the Dream—and the River—Alive and Well

THE LM WHO?

You’ve been on the trail. Likely dipped your hands in the river, your paddle in its depths. Canoed, kayaked, communed with the quiet nature that marks the Little Miami. But beneath every surface, down every path, the Little Miami Conservancy has been there first, doing critical, behind-the-scenes work to preserve this national treasure.

At its heart: Executive Director Eric Partee. Gregarious and charismatic, the man is a font of knowledge and expertise when it comes to all things river, whether talking history, conservation, education or science. His sheer enthusiasm for the river’s storied past and its future preservation is nothing short of contagious.

“It’s a special place,” Eric beams. “We get so much accomplished, you pinch yourself every once in a while … when you think of the Little Miami, there’s a lot to smile about. The dream is definitely still alive.”

That dream began in 1967 with newspaperman Glenn Thompson and his vision of creating an organization that would take charge of safeguarding the Little Miami for future generations. Today, that initiative is still working hard, caring for 107 miles of river and all that surrounds it.

“Floating down the river, ridgetop to ridgetop, we’re there in spades. We’re big into protecting what’s there—but we’re also focused on restoration. Our basic approach is to find a win/win for everyone involved.”

And that means working with farmers, developers, local government and property owners to plant trees, secure setbacks and buy land.

“We’re not anti-development or anti-growth. We’re just pro-river.”

WHAT THEY ACHIEVED

THE WOODS

·      55 percent of riverfront formally protected

·      50,000 trees planted along the river to date

·      1 million people on the bike trail every year

THE WILDLIFE

·      Improved habitat = return of the bald eagle

·      Safe phosphorus levels = healthy mussels and fish

·      Constant, careful monitoring and surveys

THE WATER

·      Yearly cleanups since 1971

·      Ongoing monitoring = water quality at its best in 40 years

·      1,000-plus paddlers on the river every year

THEIR PAST

Their first big project was the bike trail. Back in the ’70s, a new initiative called Rails-to-Trails was gaining momentum; a nationwide fund had already been established. Rumors of train systems leaving the Miami Valley prompted the LMC to act. Congress awarded them $1 million, and Columbus matched it—so was born Ohio’s first Rails-to-Trails route.

“Even if it didn’t work, everyone thought the bike trail was a great idea because it created this automatic setback to protect the river,” Eric laughs out loud. “Of course, it’s become just a little popular.”

Next, they tackled the river itself. With so many new developments in the ’80s, the river’s water quality was in serious peril—and that meant grave repercussions for its fish and wildlife. The problem? Phosphorus discharge from local treatment plants. Three years and multiple studies later, a solution to reduce the discharge limits was put in play. Best of all? It worked.

“The biology turned around on a dime. It surprised everyone. Now it’s some of the best water in the state … we’ve locked that in.”

The feats continued. Just a few years after the LMC was formed, they hosted their first river cleanup—hoping to make a dent in the volume of trash and detritus polluting the water and its banks. Nearly 8,000 volunteered, launching what is now the backbone of a healthy river—every year, cleanup teams still pull out hundreds of tires.

More recent endeavors involve demolishing condemned buildings along the banks—LMC buys the property, invests thousands to tear down structures, cap wells, remove septic tanks, then replace it all with new trees and native prairie grass.

“The protection of the wildlife corridor, the trees that provide bank stability, the river itself … we just keep working, slow and steady—and it adds up. We’re in it for the long haul.”

OUR FUTURE

“The challenge isn’t attracting more visitors … the challenge is turning all the recreational enthusiasts who are already here into conservation enthusiasts. Making sure that people enjoy it and appreciate it—and then support it.”

To that end, the LMC works tirelessly to launch new programs and plans in order to further its mission of exposure, appreciation and action. They host 20 cleanups a year, supplying canoes and pizza for a built-in day of diversion and difference-making.

Innovative water-quality monitoring programs, over and above what’s been done before, are constantly in the works, both at the local high school level and in partnership with advanced technology companies. A notable mussel survey, electrofishing to study live fish, support for new and existing nature preserves, raptor events, eagle nest webcams—all dual-purpose affairs for both attracting interest and inspiring involvement.

“We’re educating the next generation … showing them the beauty that’s out here. The wildlife, the quiet recreation, the clean drinking water—are they important?” Eric grins. “Oh, yeah.”

So what can you do? Volunteer. Donate. Become a member and get your Wild Card—which gives back with discounts at local liveries and adventure retailers.

“You can go out there and enjoy it, then walk away and go home. Somebody else will take care of it. But it takes everybody to make it happen.”

Little Miami Conservancy, 209 Railroad Ave., Loveland, 513.965.9344, LittleMiami.org