Becky Thatcher park progressing

A large strip of riverbank behind Marietta’s Armory Square and the former Becky Thatcher Showboat parking lot is gradually being developed into a shady parklet that will include picnic tables and a great view of the Muskingum River.

Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, who chairs council’s lands, buildings and parks committee, said the property generally runs downstream along the river from the old Lock 1 lockhouse to the confluence of Goose Run at the Muskingum.

“There’s some history in that area, too,” he said. “The old Phoenix Mill (circa 1800s) was located near Goose Run. I understand it was a water-powered mill for grinding wheat and corn into flour. And the old Lock 1 lock wall can still be seen along the river just upstream from that location.”

Noland said the area was kept pretty well maintained during the years the Becky Thatcher was moored along the riverbank and operating as a floating theater and sometimes-restaurant. But in 2009, after being vacant for several years, the sternwheeler was moved to the Pittsburgh area where it eventually sank in February 2010.

Since the showboat ceased operations the riverbank became covered with vines, small trees and brush that city crews have gradually begun to clear away.

“The ultimate goal is to clean up that area to provide a better view of the river,” said Tom Kunz, foreman for the city’s facilities department.

He said as time and other duties permit crews have been working to clear the brush and overgrowth away from the riverbank.

“There are some huge sycamores there, too, so the area has potential to be developed into a nice shaded park for the community to enjoy,” Kunz said. “But there’s a lot of work to be done first.”

He noted that repeated flooding of the river has deposited a few feet of soil on the riverbank since the Becky Thatcher was first moored there in 1975.

“We recently used a small backhoe to dig up the original walkway that led down to the boat and uncovered the tops of a couple of concrete benches that had been placed there for visitors when the showboat was operating,” Kunz said. “The silt there had been built up to about three feet, covering the sidewalk and benches.”

City safety-service director Jonathan Hupp said Kunz and the crews have been clearing the area over the last year or so.

“We want to see all of that overgrown area gone,” he said. “Once it’s cleared there will be a nice area where people using the River Trail bike path can take a rest or have a lunch.”

Hupp also noted the wooden walkway that was used for access onto the Becky Thatcher is still standing along the river and could be reworked to provide an observation platform overlooking the river for tourists as well as the community in general.

“(Mayor Joe Matthews) has attended multiple Boy Scout meetings recently, and almost every time there’s some scout looking for a community project to earn a badge,” Hupp said. “So the mayor and I have been working on some project ideas, and are kicking around the possibility of scouts doing some reinforcement and renovation of that platform. I think it could be done safely if they did the work a small section at a time.”

He said some people have asked about opening the platform for public use. Currently the structure is not considered safe and access is blocked by crossed timbers.

Once the riverbank property is cleared Noland said the city has 10 picnic tables that can be permanently placed in the area.

“They’re brand new and all made with coated metal so they won’t float away in a flood and they won’t rot,” he said.

The tables, with built-in benches, were among tents, tables, chairs and other moveable equipment the city recently purchased through a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant.

Noland said the facilities would be ideal for busloads of school children who tour the city’s historical sites throughout the year, as well as for tourists, River Trail users or downtown employees looking for a place to have their daily lunch. He also envisions the possibility of eventually having a gazebo constructed in the area that could be used for weddings, reunions and other gatherings.

No target date has been set to complete the park development. But Noland said work will continue on a gradual basis. He added that the area could also be included as an ongoing project for future Make A Difference community improvement days.