Excerpt from OPRA Connection, a publication of Ohio Parks and Recreation Association (OPRA) Spring 2019 written by Cincinnati Parks Team Members
Cincinnati’s riverfront parks are known for their year-round beauty and popular events. Unfortunately, one annual event seems to include the flooding of the Ohio River. Like all the events they host, the Cincinnati Parks team utilizes detailed plans to be prepared for flood emergencies.
“We are fortunate to have a beautiful string of parks winding along the riverbank and serving as the ‘front door’ to the city,” said Cincinnati Parks Director Wade Walcutt. “They include Smale Riverfront Park, Sawyer Point, Yeatman’s Cove and Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park.”
These acclaimed parks connect the downtown area to the Ohio River, and connect people. “They are a space where memories are made, and experiences are created, providing a catalyst for recreation. The riverfront parks are at the heart of the city, always vibrant, helping to build better lives and better communities,” he continued. Despite the urban surroundings, Smale Riverfront Park is also a designated level two arboretum and features a conservation-focused landscape design.
As these parks are located along the city’s riverfront, they are also within a floodplain. Two floods within two weeks struck the Ohio River in Cincinnati this February. Normally the river is at 24.5 feet, but on February 11, the waters of the Ohio reached flood stage, cresting at 56.5 feet and remaining there until February 17. After receding below flood stage for a few days, the river rose again, cresting at 53.4 feet on February 26. Last year, in February 2018, the Ohio crested at 60.53 feet. That was the highest the Ohio had been since I 997, when the river crested at 64. 7 feet. The map pictured shows the respective flood levels and where different features of the riverfront parks are affected.
Thanks to smart planning and design by the Cincinnati Board of Park Commissioners, the riverfront parks were built to accommodate rising waters. A detailed Flood Response Plan was created to deal with rising waters and is actuated based upon specific flood levels. When the river is predicted to reach 50 feet, pre-flood steps are taken, such as blocking sidewalks, placing signage and disconnecting electrical services to specific facilities. As the predicted river levels rise, more intensive steps are taken, such as sand bagging areas and removing certain park features. As part of strategic park planning and design, many features within the riverfront parks have been designed to be easily removable, in the event of flooding.
When flood warnings were issued prior to February 11, Cincinnati Parks staff immediately mobilized, taking proactive safety and cost-saving measures to protect their riverfront parks. Staff worked to remove electrical panels, sound equipment, restrooms under the Roebling Suspension Bridge and the popular interactive P&G go Vibrant foot piano feature.
After a flooding event, the Cincinnati Parks team follows post-flood action steps, spending weeks power washing mud-soaked structures and cleaning up debris left behind. With the help of volunteers, the parks are repaired back to working order and, finally, re-inspected for safety.
Director Walcutt summed up the effort, “I am grateful for our staff and so many volunteers who stepped forward to immediately help with the cleanup efforts, including the Cincinnati Parks Foundation, several corporations and our citizens. While we hope this type of effort is not needed again any time soon, I know that plans are in place and our crews are ready to answer the call.”
Fast Facts: Smale Riverfront Park
- Smale Riverfront Park was built as a series of terraces accommodating seasonal flooding along the river edge, including areas lifted out of the floodplain.
- The P&G go Vibrant interactive piano keyboard at Smale is designed to be removed, if needed.
- The restrooms under the Roebling Bridge are mobile units, bringing a whole new meaning to portable potties.
- Smale Riverfront Park’s great lawn is an expansive area for programs and events and was intentionally left open to prevent park features from being destroyed during a flood.