Turtles Tale

I took a walk along the Scioto Mile this afternoon and was pleased to see a row of painted turtles sunning themselves atop some cutoff stumps along the river’s eastern shoreline. There originally were turtles on virtually every one of the small outcroppings in the water, but by the time I got into a position to take the photograph above a number of the terrapins had slid off their perches into the water, and only three of the turtles remained.

I don’t believe I’ve seen turtles in the Scioto River before, and I took it as a good sign that the river’s overall health continues to improve. Studies indicate that freshwater turtles can play an important role in maintaining and improving the health of rivers, because turtles are scavengers and help to remove fish carcasses and other edible debris that might otherwise harm the quality of river water.

I like turtles, and I look forward to seeing more of them in my walks along the Scioto. I hope the presence of turtles means the fish population in the river is growing as well.

A River, Wasted

There’s a significant highway construction project underway in downtown Columbus, just south of downtown. The project has eliminated the path that you formerly could follow south along the Scioto River from the Scioto Mile riverside park area to Audubon Park. Now, instead of the river and some surrounding greenery, there will be towering highway overpasses right next to the river–with the shadows, road noise, truck engine sounds, and graffiti that inevitably accompany highway bridges. You can get a sense of the height of the overpass from the photo above and its location adjacent to the river from the photo below.

I can’t help but see this as a missed opportunity and a waste of riverfront. On nice spring days, like this past weekend, the Scioto Mile area was full of people walking, jogging, cycling, and skateboarding along the river–but when you reach this construction scene at the south end, you either turn around or make a hard left turn and walk through and under the construction zone. When the project is finished, visitors to the Scioto Mile will have to make a similar choice, and go under loud and dystopian underpasses if they want to continue their walks, jogs, or rides. My guess is that most people will turn around, because towering bridges, road noise, and bucolic river settings really don’t mix.

The Scioto River, as it winds through downtown, isn’t the most scenic river in the world– although it may be one of the muddiest. Still, the Scioto Mile project has brought about a vast improvement over the river as it once was, making it narrower, with a faster current and fewer tree limbs and other debris clogging its flow. The green space developed along the river banks has brought people down to the riverfront for the first time in decades. The shallow Scioto River will never be as interesting as the Ohio River or Lake Erie, with their boat traffic, but this decision to shroud the river in shadow from an interstate highway really isn’t giving it a fair chance.

On The Scioto Mile

2011 has been the year of downtown parks in Columbus.  Earlier this year, the Columbus Commons opened on the site of the old Columbus City Center.  Now the Scioto Mile has joined the Columbus parks parade.

The Scioto Mile is a thin strip of brick and stone walkways, flower beds and flower pots, fountains, and seating areas that runs along the Scioto River as it arcs through downtown Columbus.  The area sits atop the Scioto River flood wall, well above the water itself, and is an effort to try to reintegrate the river into the downtown area by making the riverfront a more attractive destination.

In Columbus and other cities, city planners long ago made it difficult to get to the body of water that was a big part of the reason the for the city’s location in the first place, by putting heavily trafficked roads or walls or sports arenas or fences in the way.  The Scioto Mile is an effort to reverse that approach.  Planners apparently realized what the rest of us have known all along — people like water and are drawn to it.  (Read the first few pages of Moby Dick if you don’t believe me.)  The muddy Scioto is not as striking a body of water as, say, one of the Great Lakes or the Ohio River, but it is nevertheless pleasant to sit nearby and watch as the water meanders past.

I appreciate the effort and thought that went into the development of the Scioto Mile.  I particularly like the inclusion of table areas for the brown bag lunch crowd and the swinging benches, which would be a pleasant way to spend a few minutes on lunch hour.  The tables have checkerboard imprints and are just waiting for some serious chess players to show up.  The fountains and planters also are attractive additions.  From the signs appearing at various points along the Scioto Mile, it looks like the project has had significant corporate and foundational support.

Although the park is nice, the jury is still out on how much it will be used.  The closest buildings to the Scioto Mile are government buildings and office buildings, without any restaurants, bars, or food areas in sight.  If the hope is to make the Scioto Mile a bustling place, some kind of food and drink options will have to be part of the mix.

An American Scene

Paddle-wheel boats were a huge part of water-borne commerce in the United States in the 19th century and early 20th century, as they ferried passengers and cargo up and down American rivers and lakes.  Now they are seldom-seen relics that have become too slow for most people and too expensive to maintain.  Those that still operate cater mostly to passengers who want to experience a living piece of the past and ponder the days when the paddle-wheelers ruled the inland waterways.

It is always a treat to see one of these great ships that look like wedding cakes on water, as it churns the water and steams toward its destination.  The Minne-ha-ha pictured above plies its trade on the waters of Lake George, New York.

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

At The Water’s Edge

Paris started as a city on an island in the middle of the Seine River, and the river has always been important part of the city and its charms.

Our view from the tip of the Ile St. Louis

Richard and I have taken several walks along the river banks.  You get a wonderful perspective on the city from the water’s edge.  In those areas where there are quays along the water, you find many people sitting, picknicking, and lounging, dangling their feet over the edge and enjoying a sunny spring day.  (Surprisingly to us Americans, where prospective tort liability has caused the landscape to be littered with fences, barricades, and warning signs, there are no railings at the water’s edge.)

Although there are some working boats on the river, the water traffic is mostly tourist boats that make several stops on the journey from the Ile St. Louis to the Eiffel Tower.

The quays also are a good way to get from point A to point B quickly and pleasantly.  Richard and I made very good time walking from the Ile de la Cite to the Musee d’Orsay along the waterfront.  If you walk along the quays, you avoid the traffic light at crossing streets and you don’t encounter nearly as many fellow walkers.  You also see things that other might miss — like the classic carved heads that line the underside of one of the older bridges crossing the Seine.