Curious Cbus: Was The Olentangy River Moved For Route 315, And Where?

May 8, 2017

This story is part of the Curious Cbus project. You ask the questions, you vote for one of the questions and we answer.

Traffic thunders along State Route 315 between downtown Columbus and I-270 North. Running alongside is a popular bike trail and beside it, the Olentangy River. 

Listener Valerie Mattingley rides the bike trail often.

"I am a volunteer with the MetroParks," Mattingley says. "I heard from somebody at the MetroParks that portions of the Olentangy River were moved when Route 315 was being built. And I’ve always been curious what sections were moved and why."

The short answer is “Yes.” That’s the word from Breanna Badanes at the Ohio Department of Transportation. 

The Olentangy, she says, was rerouted at the I-270 Interchange and just south of Antrim Park. But, Badanes says, there’s no one left at ODOT who can speak more specifically about the project, which dates back to the 1960s.

So I paid a visit to the offices of FLOW, Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed. That’s where I met Laura Fay, who pulled something out of a library of historic maps from 1902.

She found a map that shows that, at a point just below present-day Antrim Park, the Olentangy turns west, then south, then turns east before resuming its southerly course. Fay compared the 1902 map with one from the 1960s.

"Honestly, it does look like there have been changes from 1902 to 1968," Fay says. 

A map of Route 315, out of a book titled “State Route 315: Ackerman Road to Interstate 270," shows the location where the Olentangy River was moved.

I wanted to see first-hand if there was still a bend near Antrim, but recent rains made canoeing the swollen river impossible. Laura Fay had a suggestion.

"George Anderson comes to mind," Fay said. "He’s a professional photographer but fell in love with the river and goes out canoeing quite a bit. He might be familiar with this stretch."

He was more than familiar. Anderson has been canoeing the Olentangy for over 30 years.

"Right there where 315 comes in, just south of Antrim Park, that part of the river, I would strongly suspect, was either straightened out or moved over to put in 315," Anderson says. "My understanding is that when 315 was put in, several acres of wetlands were filled in for 315 to be placed there."

That makes sense, since 315 is at ground level near Antrim, rather than elevated, as it is in the university area.  Anderson says the bend in the river is gone; so is another farther north.

Just below Antrim Park, the Olentangy River was moved at the cost of several acres of wetlands.
Credit Sam Hendren

"The interchange at 270 and 315 took out, there was a horseshoe or at least a bend that you may find in old maps and so it was straightened out right through there," Anderson says.

I found final confirmation in an obscure volume housed in The Ohio State University’s architecture library, a book titled “State Route 315: Ackerman Road to Interstate 270.”

It contains ODOT’s plans for constructing Route 315, and includes a section titled “Probable Adverse Environmental Effects That Cannot be Avoided.”

That report says nearly 22 acres of wetlands will be lost, and it indicates that the river would be shortened, from 2,300 feet of natural channel to 1,600 feet of man-made channel. 

Route 315 did indeed change the Olentangy River forever. But George Anderson says you can still find some solitude there.

"I can’t say it’s quiet," Anderson says. "I need to plug my ears and not hear six lanes of highway. But actually to tell you the truth around Antrim Park, it’s amazingly quiet and amazingly sylvan, would be the word I would use."

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