Reader Comment About Ripley Ohio's Riverwalk
Jeremy, I read your comments on Ripley Ohio's river walk project and I have a different perspective than yours. Ripley Ohio and Front Street especially has been my absolute favorite place to visit for many, many, many years. Of course, as you might have guessed, like you, I love looking at that view of the mighty Ohio RIver with the hills of KY across the way and that georgeous bend in the river where you can see some of the best sunsets imaginable. But my love of Ripley's Front Street goes way beyond seeing the river. Until the river walk project began and was completed there were many other things that drew me and others to Front Street. Here they are; The tree-lined street, or a more accurate description of Front street might be "lane." The 20 trees that were bulldozed for the project were once majestic and provided cool shade in the summer. The ones along the river bank softened the rivers edge and added character to the view. No, they did not "obstruct" the river-view. That would be like saying that palm trees block the ocean's view and should be cut down. The trees silohetted against the sky and water were a photographer and painter's dream. There used to be a special tree with a plaque that read "here is where Liza the slave crossed from Kentucky to Ripley to freedom." That tree, which was featured on the front page of the Ripley Bee years ago is now gone along with the plaque. Bald eagles have nested just a few miles down river from Ripley. There used to be recent sightings of them in the large trees on Front Street. That will not be happening again. In the spring the air was filled with bird song. Also, gone. The road used to be a straight tree lined street that seemed to go to infinity. Now it is curved and naked of trees. The street itself is now black top. Unlike you, I never felt that the river walk "ended" at Cohart's.
People for generations have strolled along the grassy bank all the way up and down Front Street, it's always been there under your feet to walk anytime. No one needed a designated concrete overlook in order to walk, stop and see the beauty all around them. The overlooks, all three of them are pristine white combed concrete. On them are way too many lights- 2 tall street lights plus at least 6 shorter lamps all in a row on each of the three overlooks. I used to love walking down Front Street at night. Not now. I did just that last weekend. This was my experience of it; the street is lit up like daylight and I happened to have a newspaper in my hand. I was able to read every word from Cohart's river house resaurant all the way to the Signal House B & B. I tried to look at the river but it was almost painful to do so. The glare from the many new lights blinded my view. I stood at an over-look and the white glare from the lower lights just behind/beside me were in my perephial vision and I was unable to make out the river the way I used to. A barge went by and it was not as dramatic because of the competing lights leaking into my view from the sides. I tried to talk to someone walking towards me and we both shielded our eyes from the street lamps as we tried to make eye contact with each other as you normally do.
I thought of the many summers when I would watch the fireflies come out of the river bank and house's yards on Front Street- it was almost magical. They will barely be visable now. Several weeks ago I and several of my friends from Cincinnati stood on Front Street and star-gazed. It was beautiful. I tried doing this last week and with the blinding lights I could barely make out the stars above. The folks who live in those beautiful old houses on Front Street will have a different experience of sitting out on their porches at night now. Their houses and front porches are lit up like store fronts. Probably looks great to the people across the river. It's as though Ripley is posturing and showing off it's beautiful old homes for the people on the other side of the river. They've literally spot-lit them. The people who planned this on paper seemed to forget that there are actually people living in these homes and have porches they liked to sit out on and bedrooms that they sleep in at night. And now one living in these homes are allowed to park in front of their houses anymore. Are we trying to give the illusion that Front Street is merely a museum and not a real neighborhood of Ripley's working class people? As far as drawing more people to Front Street with all of these modern changes I don't believe it will.
Front Street is supposed to be Ripley's "HISTORIC" district. Yes, the old houses with their plaques telling the place in history they have are still standing. And the river will always be there. But the quaintness, the "Mayberry" feel is gone. It used to be easy to imagine the slaves escaping to freedom on the dark banks of the river on Front Street. They looked for the lantern up on Rankin Hill overlooking Front Street and they would climb the steep stairs to freedom to Rev. Rankin's hill-top house. It's impossible to see it that way anymore with the concrete over-looks and the many, many blinding street lights and low lights turning the night into day. The slave catchers would see their slaves clear from Kentucky to Front Street the way it is now. Should we be worried that someone will want to illuminate the hill-side steps that lead up to the Rankin house with rows of low-lights? Will grants and a committee push for this next? New side walks (the original width and contour), a repaired street, underground electric and sewers are all good improvements for Front Street. So was the iron fencing replacing the chain link on the river side. The design of the street lights is lovely but the bulb wattage is way too bright and there are too many lamps. And a "few" trees having to go would have been acceptable and forgiveable. If just these improvements had been made I believe Front Street could have retained it's elegant and charming look and "mood" to both resident and visitor.
I have seen absolutely NO sensitivity given to Front Street being a registered "historic" district as the design and later the actual construction of the project got underway. It now looks like so many other river fronts in Cincinnati and Kentucky; modern, brightly lit and snazzy. The people who pushed so hard for all of this are excited about the benches and how they picture many people sitting on them and gazing at the river. Maybe in the cool of the day or very early on a summer morning. But not in July with NO TREES, concrete under your feet and black top at your back. And not at night as you literally shield your eyes from the electric lights. Ripley will always be a great little river town because of it's friendly people. Sure, you can say that Front Street is now neat, new and up-to-date. How much stronger the riverbank is now with the trees gone and the concrete overlooks in is still left to be seen until after a few high-waters and possibly a minor flood occur. I hope and pray that they were right on this one. But Front Street has been scarred for life. It is unrecognizable. What did Joni Mitchell sing? I think it went like this "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise to put up a parking lot." This could be Front Street's anthem.