Sometimes it’s not enough to have public lands. You need vision—and action—to realize their full recreation potential. And for that you need a visionary.
Or in the case of Springfield, Ohio, two visionaries. A decade ago, brothers John and Kevin Loftis returned to their hometown and quickly saw that it could become a true outdoor hub of the area. While they’d been away, the brothers had spent years paddling and climbing, and had seen how an outdoor epicenter like Steamboat Springs, Colorado, could transform a town.
At the time, Buck Creek, which runs through Springfield, was a neglected urban stream with industrial hazards like outdated, low-head dams. Today, Buck Creek has turned downtown Springfield into a river park enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors every season. The brothers also helped create a local climbing area that has become a destination crag for the region, and helped build a bouldering area at nearby Veteran’s Park.
Buck Creek’s play zone is called ECO Sports Corridor Whitewater Park, and it has nine different water features from Pumphouse Road through Snyder Park. It’s like the town rolled out a red carpet for anyone with a SUP, canoe, kayak, or inflatable craft. It’s been so successful that it helped prompt other nearby municipalities to do the same, with Dayton building the Eastwood Whitewater Park on the Mad River downtown, and also the Riverscape Park on the Great Miami River just downstream.
“Their project served as proof of concept for the whole region,” says Mike Harvey, of Colorado’s Recreation Engineering & Planning, which built the whitewater park. “These parks have completely transformed their downtown areas and opened their communities’ eyes to the possibility of urban recreation. They’re true hometown heroes who left town, saw what was going on in other recreation-oriented communities, and came back and said, ‘Why not Springfield?’”
Why not indeed. The project cost nearly $1 million to build—funded by the local conservancy district, originally set up for flood control and dam infrastructure maintenance, as well as several local nonprofit organizations—but has brought far more than that back to the town, both in dollars and in quality of life. “It’s the single most important component in creating Springfield as a destination town,” says Springfield Chamber of Commerce President Mike McDorman.
What inspired the Loftis brothers to act, and what can we learn from them? We asked John to find out.
What inspired you to build a whitewater park in Springfield?
I was introduced to outdoor recreation—climbing, kayaking, biking, skiing, camping—while growing up in Springfield, but grew to love the activities and lifestyle while living in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Springfield has wonderful natural resources and opportunities for outdoor recreation, but when I returned to Springfield in 2001, the Gorge climbing area was closed and the waterways were forgotten and neglected. After several trips to the New River Gorge and the Gauley to paddle and climb, I set about to improve the local opportunities for outdoor recreation in order to avoid the drive. So what started as a selfish pursuit turned into an opportunity to improve my hometown and introduce the Springfield community to the outdoor recreation activities and lifestyle that I had grown to love. My brother Kevin returned to Springfield in 2003 and joined the effort.