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Mill Creek Enthusiasts Celebrate Progress In Effort To Restore Stream

Ann Thompson
Members of the "Mill Creek Yacht Club" (from left) self-proclaimed "Commander" Bruce Koehler and water enthusiast Chris Carr in St. Bernard on the Mill Creek.

Members of the Mill Creek Alliance and Tri-State Trails are making final preparations for Saturday's "Canoes and Conversations." A short canoe trip and bike ride with elected officials from Mitchell Avenue to Salway Park is designed to celebrate the progress made and share a vision for the future.

WVXU got a preview of the excursion with members of the Mill Creek Yacht Club. The group keeps an eye on the polluted stream and has been cleaning it up for decades. Club members and the Mill Creek Alliance are making progress with water quality improving and nine new kinds of fish in the creek, including the pollution-intolerant smallmouth bass, which can be an indicator of a healthy environment.

Chris Carr parks at the Mitchell Avenue boat ramp. "It's a beautiful river of green in the middle of the city. I mean, you can hear the I-75 expressway traffic in the background. But then you look down on the water and there are ducks and geese in the water and great blue herons."

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Looking up the Mill Creek at the Mitchell Ave. boat ramp.

From the water we can see Woody Sander Ford and the St. Bernard Kroger. It's a mix of urban life, industry and nature. Carr, retired from Procter & Gamble and now a UC professor says, "A lot of people who've lived in Cincinnati awhile will say, 'The Mill Creek, that's yuck. That's a sewer.' We'll that is true. That is correct. I'm not going to deny it."

Sewage still does flow into the Mill Creek, especially after a hard rain. But a federal consent decree mandating a reduction in the combined sewer overflows has helped and so has the new Lick Run Greenway.

Why The Mill Creek Is Getting Cleaner

According to the Metropolitian Sewer District, "Nearly 2 billion (gallons of combined sewer overflow) was eliminated in the lower Mill Creek area, primarily due to the completion of the Lick Run Greenway project in South Fairmount. Water quality is steadily improving and large portions of the Mill Creek are already meeting Ohio’s water quality standards."

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
There is no shortage of things to look at along the Mill Creek. Canoeist Bernie Moller says he envisions James Bond doing an escape from the city and changing into his wet suit to hide out along the creek.

Self-anointed yacht club leader Bruce Koehler has been cleaning up the Mill Creek since the 1980s. "I can feel the difference. When I go canoeing I can smell the difference!"

National canoe champion Bernie Moller was steering my canoe. His first time on the Mill Creek was 1984. "It was nasty. There was identifiable stuff that shouldn't have been in the creek," he says. Moller, Koehler and the others are constantly picking up trash on the 28-mile creek from Liberty Township to the Ohio River. There are plenty of tires. Memorable finds include a bison bone and a new wedding dress.

The EPA says the Mill Creek is not clean enough for swimming and so canoe paddlers shouldn't have open wounds or a compromised immune system.

But Carr has visions of cleaner days in the future. "Someday I envision this gravel bar as a beach, people with beach umbrellas and maybe a hotdog stand and people just watching the water go by and kids playing in the water."

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Carr looks at a recent Koehler find, a gourd along the Mill Creek.

It you don't want to be on the water you can bike or walk along it on the Mill Creek Greenway Trail.