Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks to local media on May 6 after announcing a $152 million plan for riverfront developments and downtown revitalization as part of Ohio’s Wonderful Waterfronts Initiative. He announced the program at the former Ohio River Lock and Dam 27 at Mile 301.0. (Photo by Jim Ross)
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Ohio Grants Will Help Improve Community Waterfronts

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine visited the park at the site of the former Ohio River Lock and Dam 27 on May 6 to announce the list of 19 communities that will benefit from $152 million in grants under the state’s Ohio’s Wonderful Waterfront Initiative.

DeWine stood under a tent on a rainy day to deliver the news to a group of students from nearby Fairland High School and to local officials.

“Any day that I can be along the Ohio River is a good day,” DeWine said. “I have had a great love for the Ohio River and the communities along the Ohio River.”

He told of his junior high years when his father bought a boat (more like a trailer on a floating platform) from a friend and launched it from Higginsport, Ohio, for overnight weekend trips on the Ohio.

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As it happened, both Lock and Dam 27 and Higginsport were among the 14 communities along the Ohio that will receive grants to develop riverfront recreation that in some cases will be tied to downtown redevelopment efforts. The others are New Richmond, Ripley, Portsmouth, Ironton, South Point, Burlington, Gallipolis, Middleport, Pomeroy, Racine, Marietta and Sardis.

Portsmouth will receive the largest allocation. Its $34.2 million will be to redevelop the riverfront to include outdoor parks, riverfront murals, an amphitheater, improved walking paths, a fishing pier and campsites. Ripley will receive $16.4 million to allow better access to nearby Underground Railroad and historic sites. Work will include a new public gathering space to improve public access from the scenic riverfront.

The projects in Gallipolis and Ironton will include improvements to allow large-vessel docking. Three communities along the Muskingum River—McConnelsville, Zanesville and Beverly—will receive grants totaling about $12.85 million. Two other communities—New Philadelphia and Caldwell—will get downtown redevelopment grants totaling about $6.9 million.

The park at Lock and Dam 27 will be changed to attract more recreational craft and make the area more conducive to public gatherings. The former locks there opened to river traffic in the summer of 1923 and were decommissioned in 1961 when the then-new Greenup Locks and Dam raised its pool. The powerhouse above the lock was razed and used for parking. The tent for DeWine’s announcement was pitched there. The esplanade and the old upper guide wall still exist, but they have had some deterioration over the years. The lower part of the park is frequently under water, which leaves sediment behind.

The park had been maintained by a volunteer over the years, but he is now deceased. The Rome Township trustees have tried to restore parts of the site, but they have been hampered by lack of money. When they learned that 2023 was the dam’s centennial, they organized a community celebration last fall. Trustee Bob Mayo said he believed the community support helped state officials choose the old dam site for help.

The park will receive about $5.2 million for repairs to the old guide wall and lock wall, a 100-boat marina, a boat house and lighting, among other improvements.

At the announcement, DeWine said he had the idea a few years ago to do something big for Appalachian Ohio. He wanted communities to come up with plans for local improvements, including recreation. He said he wanted those communities to “think big – something that will be transformative.”

Ohio’s Wonderful Waterways Initiative is part of the larger $500 million Appalachian Communities Grant Program approved by the Ohio General Assembly in 2022.

At Lock and Dam 27, Mayo and fellow township Trustee Mark Bailey said they hope the new marina will generate revenue that can be put back into maintaining and improving the park.

Lock and Dam 27, Ironton, South Point and Burlington are all in Lawrence County. Bill Dingus, executive director of the Lawrence County Port Authority, which will help administer the grants, said most of the planning and design work for the improvements is done.

“A big part of this is permitting. We need the support of the Corps of Engineers and the Ohio EPA,” he said.

Local officials said they have been told the state wants the projects to move soon and be done within two years.

“We’ve got a short timeframe to get everything done, and that’s a good thing,” Ironton Mayor Sam Cramblit said. “The planning’s been done. The design’s been done. We’re eager to see it come to fruition.”

Caption for photo: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks to local media on May 6 after announcing a $152 million plan for riverfront developments and downtown revitalization as part of Ohio’s Wonderful Waterfronts Initiative. He announced the program at the former Ohio River Lock and Dam 27 at Mile 301.0. (Photo by Jim Ross)