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Mad River could get state status

Proposal would make 22-mile stretch in Clark County a Recreational River.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will host open houses on Thursday and Saturday to gather public input on whether Clark County’s 22-mile section of the Mad River should be designated a Recreational River under the Ohio Scenic Rivers Program.

The events are scheduled from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday and 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Room 105A of Shouvlin Hall at Wittenberg University, 737 N. Fountain Ave.

There will be no formal presentations, said Deb Green, regulatory coordinator for the ODNR’s Division of Watercraft, “we’ll just be there to answer questions and take comments.”

Not required by law, the open houses are an attempt by the ODNR to head off the kind of controversy than in 2010 led it to withdraw the Vermilion River from consideration as an Ohio Scenic River.

Green said the opposition developed as the result of “a good deal of misinformation,” adding: “We just want to make sure everybody understands that we’re not impacting private property rights at all.”

For nearly nine years, local supporters of the Mad River who formed the Scenic Mad River Committee (SMRC) have been working toward a Scenic Rivers designation.

The SMRC has canvassed township trustees, held open houses and called land owners in an effort to build support for the Mad to become a Recreational River.

At a time when the ODNR lacks funds to do a study required by the process, the local committee also has worked with the Miami Conservancy District, the Dayton Foundation, the Springfield Foundation, Five Rivers MetroParks others to raise $7,000 toward the $10,000 needed for a study to establish that the river meets the program’s criteria.

The study has been done by John Ritter, a professor of geology at Wittenberg University. If the designation is approved, it will be the first done with documentation from a privately funded study.

“We care about the river,” said the SMRC’s Bob Jurick, and support the proposal because “it will improve the respect and health and care of the river.”

Green said that if Clark County’s stretch of the Mad River gets recreational status, it will automatically become part of the division’s water quality monitoring program, which surveys the river for its biological diversity, a key indicator of water quality.

She said that although the designation also will require public projects close to the river to “minimize the impact” of the work on the river’s water quality, “we aren’t looking to stop those projects.”

Tom Martin, a Springfielder who has voluntarily mapped the Mad River for the ODNR, said the designation could help to highlight the river’s importance at a time when whitewater kayaking in Buck Creek, rock climbing in Veterans Park and a mountain biking trail in Springfield are making the area a recreational destination.

Green said the process is “still in the information phase”; that Ritter’s study likely will be published in early March; and that the Division of Watercraft then will let 30 days pass before preparing a recommendation for ODNR Director Jim Zehringer.

If the Division recommends the designation and Zehringer approves it, “he will need to publish a notice in the paper for 30 days” before it takes effect, she said.

Supporters are hopeful that after their years of work that will happen.

Said Jurick, “I think we’re heading down the home stretch.”

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