The property is still home to landfill above the banks and a massive Duke Energy facility nearby. But the banks are transforming back into a green and thirsty vegetation instead of blackened debris that absorbed no runoff and contributed to, rather than absorbing, pollution.
"It’s massively impressive to see," Byer said. "It looked like 40 feet of black sooty debris that the creek was cutting. Now it’s already starting to greenify. You can play golf (at Hartwell) and enjoy the view.
Byer grew up around the site, comparing it very negatively to the far prettier creeks where he lives in Lebanon. Slowly, the Mill Creek is turning around its reputation.
"You can canoe up and down the Mill Creek and not be worried some chunk of concrete is going to gouge your canoe," he said. "It will be a waterway that people will actually want to navigate."
Wildermuth Preserve, West Chester
The Wildermuth Wetland Project includes adding riffles to slow the flow of water and create habitat for wildlife, left, and a channel to help control the flow of the Mill Creek. Photos Courtesy of Mill Creek Council of Communities.
A $170,000 project has restored 22 acres of floodplain in West Chester Township, including the addition of a 2,300 floodplain pilot channel.
It's just the latest in 20 years of improvements in and around West Chester, which has won numerous Clean Ohio grants in collaboration with neighboring communities. They include the Port Union Canal bike path and the Port Union Conservation Corridor, both of which follow the path of the creek and the old Miami and Erie Canal.
West Chester's portion of the Mill Creek was spared the industrialization that marred it in the urban core. But poorly controlled erosion and runoff have a bad effect downstream, and Wiegand said the township is cognizant of the benefits to the region's economy when West Chester works to restore the creek.
"Waterways don't care about political boundaries," West Chester Economic Development Director Aaron Wiegand said. I compare it to one jurisdiction building a nice four-lane road. That doesn't do any good if there are narrow gravel roads on either side. Rivers are very much the same."
Wiegand doesn't attribute West Chester's robust growth to the Mill Creek as an attraction, necessarily. But Whatever we do is only going to benefit as lots of people are on board.
But Barbara Wilson, a West Chester spokeswoman, said communal efforts on things like a bike path that now connects to Fairfield's add appeal to the township's bid for new and expanded businesses.
"We took it from an unsightly, little-known waterway and turned it into an amenity," Wiegand said.