Thursday, March 1, 2018

Heading in to Hamilton

Just south of Downtown Hamilton, trail users can access the Great Miami River Recreation Trail from a small parking area off Neilan Boulevard. This triangle between the road and the river is called Lodder Park and is adjacent to Miami University’s Hamilton regional campus. An observation platform at the nearby low-head dam often hosts fishermen and birdwatchers.

The trail north from here drops off the top of the levee and follows along the floodplain bench on the east side of the river. Thanks to the Miami Conservancy District’s century-old flood precautions, there is a wide grassy corridor for the river, now slowed to a long pool by the low dam. In the summer and fall, you may see rowers practicing on the water; year-round, this section nearly always hosts a number of birds, from Canada geese and mallards to grebes, cormorants, and herons. In recent years, immature and adult Bald Eagles have often been spotted soaring up and down the river corridor.

The river valley begins to get more urbanized here, with noticeable housing and commercial development on the west bank. Traffic on the trail—both cyclists and runners—picks up as you get closer to downtown Hamilton.

A little more than a half mile north of the dam, a staircase rises to the top of the levee at Knightsbridge Drive. Crossing Neilan Boulevard at the light here provides access to the Booker T. Washington Center, Foundation Field, and Vora Technology Park. Streetside sidewalks also connect into the residential neighborhoods along Front Street and surrounding Riverview Elementary School.

As it continues northward, the Great Miami Trail ducks underneath the Columbia Bridge, the first river crossing (heading upstream) since US 27 in Ross eight miles to the south. The trail divides here: the right fork heads uphill into downtown Hamilton, while the left fork declines to the river’s lowest bench and continues along the water’s edge.

The upper path brings you to the crest of the levee, where a sidewalk exits the trail to the right. This sidewalk leads south to the intersection of Neilan Boulevard and Pershing Avenue (SR 128). Turning left here (across Neilan Boulevard) leads you into the sidewalks of the Second Ward neighborhood of Hamilton. A sidewalk to your right crosses the Columbia Bridge and connects to a paved trail on the west side of the river. Alternatively, after crossing the bridge, you can continue across B Street and up New London Road to Veterans Park. This medium-sized city park includes a reservable meeting lodge, dog park, and commanding views of Downtown Hamilton.

Following the upper branch of the trail to the north leads you under a CSX railroad bridge (also the route of Amtrak’s Chicago-to-DC Cardinal) and past the remarkable Fitton Center for Creative Arts. As you pass the rear of the Fitton Center, the trail bends to the right and terminates at the Butler County Fire Memorial statue. Just before you leave the trail, a set of stairs descends the levee to the lower trail along the river. At the trailhead there are a water fountain and seating available adjacent to the recently-restored Soldiers, Sailors, and Pioneers Monument.

From the trailhead, turn left along Monument Avenue to High Street. Within three blocks to either your left (west) or right (east), there are multiple options for food and drinks along the High-Main Corridor. The Hamilton Welcome Center is located nearby at #1 High Street. As you explore downtown, keep an eye out for bronze plaques on some buildings – these indicate the maximum water level during the catastrophic 1913 flood of the Great Miami River.

In our next installment, we’ll head across to the north side of High Street and visit Marcum Park and the RiversEdge Amphitheater, then return to the GMRRT and continue north along the river. Until then, get outside and ramble on!