This would not be news anywhere but Columbus, Ohio, but yesterday when I walked down to the Columbus Arts Festival after work I saw people in canoes and kayaks out on the Scioto River as it passes downtown. They were paddling around, enjoying the blazing sunshine and their water view of the downtown skyline.
I know, I know — rivers are supposed to host canoes, kayaks, and even (gasp) boats. But that hasn’t been the case with the poor old Scioto. Ever since the government built dams that converted the river into a wide, incredibly shallow morass as it crept past the downtown area, the Scioto has been a de facto no man’s land for any kind of waterborne craft. You’d see ugly, twisted branches thrusting from the ankle-deep water, often catching various bits of debris that were floating by, but that’s about it. No rational canoeist or kayaker would venture out onto the river’s snaggle-toothed waters.
Then Columbus decided to do something to try to make the riverfront a little bit better. The dams that made the Scioto a sluggish, muddy stream were torn down, and the river was allowed to return to a narrower, deeper, more natural channel. This not only uncovered lots of additional parkland on the river’s new banks, but also was supposed to allow some recreational activity on the river itself. So when I saw canoes and kayaks out on the water yesterday, I thought: “Hallelujah! The plan worked!”
We can argue about why the stupid dams were built in the first place — you could write volumes about the unfortunate, unanticipated consequences of government dam projects, actually — but at least we’ve gotten to the point where a couple in a canoe can paddle past downtown Columbus. It actually makes the Scioto seem like a real river, and the Scioto Mile seem like a real riverfront.