The South 80 in Mariemont: history, transformation and future
The South 75+ acreage was bequeathed to Mariemont in 1976. Historically the acreage was used to grow corn and beans although, at one time in the early 20th Century, it was a nine hole golf course with a club house, the remnants of which still exist. During recent years H. Hafner & Sons have cultivated the acreage without land rent in exchange for disposing of the yard waste and leaves in the Fall. Few Villagers even knew that this acreage was a part of Mariemont until small garden plots were offered to Mariemont residents in recent years and the Eastern Corridor project resurfaced.
During most of my 52 years as a Mariemont resident, the ‘South 80’ was considered just farm acreage in the flood plain adjacent to the train tracks at Clare Junction. In the days when Clare Junction was an active switching yard, the din from the steam engines and coupling of railroad cars was fairly continuous. Plus the smell of smoke or diesel fuel often settled like an early morning fog over the community. There was also an artesian well with a water tap at Clare Junction where anyone could fill containers with the pure Silver Springs water.
When my children were small, the ‘bottoms’ as we called the South 80 was a great place to shoot off bottle rockets, fly model airplanes and skip stones in Whiskey Creek. At that time, unbeknownst to most parents, the kids used to climb through the large pipes running to Whiskey Creek as well as climb up to the top floor of the abandoned steam-power plant along the railroad tracks.
Now let’s fast forward. Almost overnight, this fertile farm land has become a remarkably prized piece of real-estate. It has morphed into the site of an ancient Indian Village and has allegedly become a lynch pin for Mariemont’s designation as a National Historic Landmark. Most now refer to the South 80 as a Park. Indeed, it has a nice hiking trail for a pleasant walk in the out-of-doors and numerous small garden plots for residents to grow vegetable and flowers. Additionally, a well with a hand pump has been dug for clean but non-potable water for the gardens.
Three major public work projects have catapulted the South 80 into prominence in the media and conscience of Mariemont. These include the Eastern Corridor Project for Route 32, the Oasis Trail Transit for light passenger rail and the Wasson Line Bicycle Trail. The foremost project creating the most pushback from the residents of Mariemont, Newtown, and Madisonville is the Eastern Corridor Project that entails building a “boulevard” extension of Red Bank Road to act as a connector to Route 32 in Newtown. The argument for building this extender is to relieve traffic congestion on Route 50 and the Beechmont Levee and provide a more direct route to Eastgate, Clermont County and beyond. ODOT contends that this boulevard would stimulate economic growth in the region even as the proposed route would bypass the business district in Newtown.
One of the Routes under consideration by ODOT for building a part of the Eastern Corridor carries the Route 32 connector through the South 80. Supposedly, this route is being considered because a more direct extension of Red Bank Road to Route 32 across the Horseshoe Bend in the Little Miami River would be more costly and challenging from an engineering standpoint.
At this juncture, this segment of the Eastern Corridor Project is unfunded even as it has been on the drawing board for over three decades. Furthermore, where is the $100 billion coming from with so many other competing infrastructure needs such as the Bent Spence Bridge? At the end of the day, I think it will be the no build option that wins out and, if the Ohio State Route 32 project ever moves forward, it will not be in our lifetimes.
The following objections were expressed in the Mayor’s Bulletin in early 2013 concerning the rerouting of Route 32 through the South 80.
- Destabilization of the Miami Bluff hillside and further loss of the Indian serpent mound earthwork at the top of the Bluff from landslides caused by major excavation at the base of a volatile hillside
- Possible loss of National Historic Landmark Designation
- Destruction of Native American Archeological Site (Prehistoric village just discovered by University of Cincinnati)
- Negative environmental impact on our park and nature trails
- Significant reduction in Village of Mariemont parklands
- Increases in the amount of air pollution in the Village
- Terrible noise pollution
- Water pollution to the Little Miami River, which is listed as a National Scenic River and must be protected
- Loss of wildlife habitat (In what other Hamilton County community can a short walk from your home lead you to a natural wildlife area and scenic river? Do we want to lose this unique characteristic of our Village?)
- Destruction of the track used by our high school Cross-Country Track team
- Impact on Concourse resulting in loss of one of the most beautiful valley views in Hamilton County
- Major impact on the nearby Prevey Bird Sanctuary
- ODOT’s flawed analysis of alternative routes
In the 2013 Mayor’s October Bulletin, he showed how the Eastern Corridor opposition was gaining momentum. The Mayor was appealing to the court of public opinion and listed the groups showing support to preempt any ODOT plans. This opposition list included the Village of Newtown, the Madisonville Community Council, the Village of Terrace Park, Little Miami Incorporated, Sierra Club, the National Trust in Washington, D.C., John Ruthven, Dr. Ken Tankersley of the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Preservation Association, the Mariemont Preservation Foundation, Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel, Greg Hartman and Todd Portune, Laure Quinilvan, Dr. Stanley Hedeen, the National Trust of Historic Places, the Hillside Trust, the Ohio River Way, Heritage Ohio, the Ohio Ornithological Society, the Cincinnati Bird Club, the Cultural Landscape Foundation, State Representative Peter Stautberg, Brad Wenstrup, and the Piqua Shawnee Native American Tribe. To obtain the endorsements from this mind-boggling array of individuals and agencies must have consumed a huge amount of the Mayor’s time. In general, it seems like overkill and an invitation to make ODOT a hostile advisory to the interests of the Village.
In another Bulletin, the Mayor disclosed that he had enlisted the services of an attorney, Matt Fellerhoff and Bob Newman, to represent the Village in this matter and initiated a program to raise money for legal defense and appeals.
To further muddy the waters, ODOT sponsored community poster sessions for the Oasis Trail Transit Project and the Eastern Corridor Project. Even though the whole engineering crews was present at these meetings, the presenters shed little light on the specifics concerning the rerouting of State Route 32 and Light Passenger Rail.
At a recent scheduled ODOT meeting in Fairfax to explain the programs, I attempted to get some answers from Andy Fleugemann, the 8th District Deputy Director of ODOT. Despite intense probing, he provided no specifics and seemed indifferent to the rising tide of negative public opinion. At that meeting there were no less than 6 engineer representatives from ODOT and I came away with the impression that these Projects were insuring long term employment for this cadre of engineers.
There are many questions to answer if the State Route 32 extender were to go through the South 80.
- How wide an easement or swath would the road occupy and how many lanes would it have. What assurances do the residents of Mariemont have that this would not be an expressway or Interstate Highway?
- Would the highway or boulevard be separate or run parallel to the railroad tracks?
- Assuming the Oasis Rail Line and Watson Road bike path became a reality; how would they integrate with the Ohio 32 extender?
- How many of the South 80 acres would be consumed and what would be the configuration of those left for development?
- How would you insure improved access to the residual acreage for recreational activities?
- How much and to what height would the connector need to be elevated to address the flood plain issue and to what degree would this obstruct the view from the Mariemont Concourse?
- Would the high tension wire towers need to be moved, relocated or would these utilities be buried?
- The traffic would cause what decibel level of background noise and what steps would be taken for noise abatement?
- Would the project cause any instability to the Miami Bluff or cause rerouting of the Little Miami River?
- How would you safeguard or preserve any antiquities that might be uncovered during construction?
- How much money as ‘sweeteners’ to the deal would ODOT give to the Village of Mariemont to build access to the South 80 and create recreational facilities such as ball fields, picnic areas, parking lots, camp grounds, gardening sheds, electric outlets, city water and a fishing dock?
- How will ODOT deal with the Mariemont Historic Village issue and manage all the concerns expressed by the residents of Mariemont as well as other effected communities?
None of these questions have been answered to the satisfaction of the vast majority of Mariemont Residents.
When I hike the trail, I see additional opportunities for the Village to consider in the utilization of the South 80 such as:
- A couple of baseball diamonds or soccer fields with a parking lot and portable toilets. This would alleviate some of the congestion and improve safety around Dogwood Park in the heat of baseball and soccer season and provide practice fields for the Mariemont School System.
- An elevated open air shelter house that can be easily cleaned if flooding occurs and provide shelter for campers, hikers and picnickers.
- Make the garden plots more appealing by offering rentable sheds to house farming equipment and provide electric
- Improved access and parking
This is just brainstorming to produce food-for-thought for the council committee that oversees the South 80. The minutes of their meetings have been posted on this blog in the past. As the first step the 1.4 mile scenic trail around the South 80 acres below Miami Bluff is a great addition. The community is indebted to the volunteers for the hard work that brought this about.