Construction is nearly complete on the fourth phase of work on the Mill Creek Greenway. As part of that work, a new 0.7-mile trail stretches along the border of South Cumminsville and Milvale, from the Millcreek Road Bridge to the intersection of Fricke Road and Beekman Street near Ethel Taylor Academy.
Once this work is complete, project planners say, the stretch will include additional accommodations for the trail to safely cross the creek on the existing roadway bridge, along with traffic calming measures for a safe crossing at Beekman Street near the school.
This latest phase of work is part of the much larger Mill Creek Greenway project that is being spearheaded by Groundwork Cincinnati – Mill Creek. The non-profit organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and is hoping that the planned 15-mile green corridor, which starts at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds in Carthage and will eventually reach the Ohio River Trail in Lower Price Hill, will help clean up one of the region’s most notoriously polluted corridors.
“We have done 33 ecological restoration projects as part of the greenway program,” Robin Corathers, Executive Director of Groundwork Cincinnati – Mill Creek, told UrbanCincy. “That includes bank stabilization, stream bed stabilization, wetland restoration, wildlife habitat restoration.”
In addition to that, Corathers says that edible forest gardens have been planted along the trail, with seven layers of vegetation that mimic a natural forest ecosystem. Improving the health of the ecosystem is a key component of Groundwork’s strategy, and more work is planned to help revitalize and heal damage to the natural resources within the Mill Creek Valley – one of the city’s oldest industrial corridors.
This latest phase of work was funded through a $245,000 grant from the Clean Ohio Trail Fund, $80,000 grant from the Interact for Health Foundation, $30,000 grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and $191,000 from the City of Cincinnati that was provided through its annual capital budget. Corathers also notes that the C.W. Wood Company donated a strip of land along Fricke Street for the trail.
The project, however, is not just about new trails and habitat restoration. Groundwork leadership also says that they are focused on capacity building, community involvement, and environmental education programming for 4,000 fourth through twelfth grade students each year.
“Phase four is really important to us for several reasons” explained Corathers. “As a ground work trust we are committed to working in economically distressed and historically under-served communities and neighborhoods; and in this case it’s the neighborhoods in the lower Mill Creek watershed.”
To this end, Corathers says that community leaders and neighborhood residents have been excited about the project and the process by which it is being implemented. She says that neighborhood councils become involved in the planning and design work of each phase of the trail, which leads to moments like this past November 12 when they celebrated the groundbreaking for the latest phase of work with about 85 area residents and business owners.
While there has been a good deal of neighborhood support, there are still challenges that exist for project leaders. One of those challenges is the Millcreek Road Bridge, which is envisioned as a crossing for the trail, but is currently only one lane in each direction for automobile traffic.
To tackle this issue, Groundwork Cincinnati has been working closely with Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) to address safety issues with the narrow bridge. City officials say that the aging Mill Creek crossing is not considered a priority bridge and is not scheduled for replacement.
As a result, transportation engineers have come up with a solution that will retrofit the lightly used span to have one lane for shared two-way traffic flow, and one lane dedicated to the trail. The DOTE says that new signals will be installed, in February, at either end of the bridge to control alternating movements of vehicles across the Mill Creek Bridge.
“It’s a great investment. The bridge will be so much safer for people, for bikes, and also for vehicles,” Corathers said when emphasizing the importance of the trails connection. “The trail provides opportunities for outdoor exercise and recreation, active living, and active transportation for people in the Mill Creek corridor and nearby.”
Crossing the Mill Creek at this location is critical in the project’s overall goal of eventually reaching the Ohio River to the south. Once getting past this location, project planners say that a former CSX rail corridor can be used to take the trail all the way to its envisioned terminus.
The former freight rail right-of-way is considered to be wide enough to accommodate the Mill Creek Greenway Trail, as well as tracks for a future transit line. The use of this corridor, Corathers says, will also allow the Mill Creek Greenway Trail to tap into the planned $192 million Lick Run project, which will include another corridor of green space and trails.
Ultimately, the ongoing efforts could produce what would become a large network of interconnected trails through the heart of the city, including the Ohio River Trail, Little Miami Scenic Trail, Mill Creek Greenway, Lick Run, and West Fork Mill Creek Trail in Carthage.
The next 2.9-mile phase of work on the Mill Creek Greenway is estimated to cost $860,000, and project officials say they have already secured $500,000 of that from the State of Ohio, $50,000 from Interact for Health, and $10,000 from Duke Energy. The hope is that the remaining funds can come from City Hall. Should the final funding fall into place, Groundwork Cincinnati believes phase five work could be completed next year – creating a continuous eight-mile stretch of trails.
An attempt has been made all along to keep the trail close to the Mill Creek, but in some places, such as along Este Avenue, project planners say that it has not possible. But in locations where restoration and stabilization work has been performed along the creek, recovery of the ecosystems is easily visible.
“We now have great blue heron that fish in Mill Creek. We’ve got turtles, lizards, salamanders, beavers, birds, and all kinds of wildlife” Corathers exclaimed. “What we’re doing is breathing life back into this corridor. The trail allows users and visitors to experience an urban river that is coming back.”
In addition to Groundwork Cincinnati and the DOTE, Queen City Bike, Human Nature, IBI Group, Kolar Design, and Prus Construction have contributed to the development of the Mill Creek Greenway over the past six years.