Lowellville Launches Riverfront Livery, Rest Area

LOWELLVILLE, Ohio – The completion of a canoe and kayak launch along the north bank of the Mahoning River here is just the first step in this small village’s transformation.

Ahead are plans to develop 13 adjoining acres into a riverfront park, providing an attractive destination spot for hikers, cyclists, fishing enthusiasts and nature lovers, officials said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday.

Even more encouraging is the prospect of these public riverfront projects leveraging private investment along the village’s business corridor, said Mayor Jim Iudiciani. 

“We have natural beauty here,” he says, glancing over a free-flowing river on a bright, mild December morning. “We’ve still got a little more work to do. I’m just excited it came through and our vision came through.”

A crowd of about 60 guests joined Iudiciani and other officials at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the canoe livery and rest area.  “This is the start, and we hope to grow Water Street,” he says.

Lowellville Riverfront canoe livery.

The mayor says that several buildings downtown have been acquired over the last year, and their success could attract additional investment in or near the business district, such as possible condominium developers. 

Among the guests on hand were representatives from Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, elected officials, engineers and development specialists who worked on the project.

Iudiciani said all of this was made possible because of the OEPA’s removal of the Lowellville dam last year.  The $2.3 million project was the first step in the river’s restoration, which now frees up the entire area for recreation and economic revival.

That process alone took almost 10 years, Iudiciani recalls. In 2011, the village, along with the city of Struthers, applied for funding through the OEPA’s Water Resource Restoration Sponsorship Program.  The dam removal was able to move forward thanks to sponsorship from the city of Canton.

“Ten years later, here we are,” Iudiciani said. “We hope it brings people here and help our restaurants and stores.”

The new livery cost $114,000 and was funded through a $57,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and another $57,000 match from the village. Another $175,000 was spent to construct restrooms at the site, the costs split between ODNR and the village, he said.

The riverfront park is expected to cost about $700,000 and is in the early stages of assessment, he said. 

What’s more important is that Lowellville sets an example for other Mahoning River communities that stand to benefit from dam removal in the coming years.

“This is a very exciting day for the village of Lowellville,” says Joann Esenwein, director of planning and development at Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.  “We’ve all been working a long time on this project.”

Lowellville’s dam was the first to be removed, and the Struthers dam is scheduled for removal this summer, she said. Youngstown’s dams are also funded, but those won’t be removed until some of the administrative work is finished, which could take at least a year.

Of the nine dams along the Mahoning River, seven are funded. Funding for the Girard dam – the most complicated and largest project of the group at $10 million – and the Warren Township dam has not been allocated yet, she says. 

“It’s very exciting for the Mahoning Valley, to get the whole river clean,” Esenwein noted. “This is very important for economic development and presents a good quality of life.”

Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti praised the work of Iudiciani and Lowellville’s village council on their vision to redevelop the riverfront. 

“We are so proud as county commissioners and we all support this,” he said.  “This is something that’s good for families, for our children and recreation is still part of economic progress in any community, in any village.”

State Rep. Michele Lepore Hagan noted that it’s important to view the Mahoning River as a historical, living monument that has knitted the Mahoning Valley together through some of its best and most difficult times, such as the steel mill shutdowns during the 1970s and 1980s. 

“We have to embrace our history and memorialize it” through preservation and development efforts such as Lowellville’s.

Bill Zawisky, an environmental scientist for the OEPA, marveled at the progress under way in Lowellville and the Mahoning Valley.

“To see this recovery occurring in front of us in the entire Mahoning River is truly amazing,” he said. “This is a river being reborn.”

Pictured above: Lowellville Mayor Jim Iudiciani.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.