Ideas to improve Harmar levee area

The city of Marietta has never had a shortage of riverfronts, as restaurants, trails and lookout spots line the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, but those with ties to the historic Harmar Village agreed that the west side riverfronts offers a unique experience that deserves more attention.

With a grassy park that rolls down the Ohio River on Virginia Street and an aging pedestrian bridge that crosses the Muskingum, the west side is known for offering up a rustic corner of the river town.

With a little bit of landscaping and some extra elbow grease, those invested in the Harmar area said the west side has the potential to grow and prosper even further throughout the next several years.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, and it’s always been a bit more ‘wild’ than the other side of the river,” said Harmar resident Chris Newlen, 56. “It would be nice if someone could come and clean up down here, maybe trim down all the bushes and mow, so you can see the river better.”

The grassy area that stretches down Virginia and partly along Gilman is owned by the city, and technically falls under the classification of a park.

“It’s underutilized, but I’d really just like to see it mowed,” said Marietta City Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward.

Vukovic said he has made suggestions to the city to get more funding for Harmar parks like Flanders Field and areas along the river, but there are not currently any concrete plans.

“I would like to find a way to get some sort of windows in the trees so people could have views of the river, but we unfortunately just do not have the resources for it right now,” Vukovic said.

Donna English, 61, lives on Virginia Street and owns the Busy Bee restaurant.

“I think this side will be the place to live in five years,” she said. “The city just needs to get down here and clean it up, and it can be a nice park. It is now, but it could be better.”

English said she has seen the reputation of the area change, as people seem to be more drawn to its historic, old-world feel, something she sees could mean more for investment down the road.

“It would even just help to see them put in those new benches, like the ones Peoples Bank has provided on the other side of the river, to replace those old ones,” she said. “A few things could be done, and it would make the difference.”

Chuck Swaney, owner of FOUND Antiques, said one of the biggest factors for the west side’s development is the Harmar railroad bridge.

“Belpre has been working vigorously to connect a bike path to connect Belpre and Athens, but we’d like to see the bike path go right across and connect the east and west side here,” he said. “It would involve a way of clearing that path and putting some sort of roadwork in to make it so walkers and bikers could get across there easily.”

The Harmar pedestrian bridge is a staple of the west side, and Swaney said it could make or break the area as far as investors go.

“That would really be a game changer, but it’ll be something for the next 20 years that could really make things happen for the future of the west side,” he said. “But that bridge is not getting any younger, and its improvements like that which will make people want to invest here, whether they’re small or big businessmen.”

Newlen said it has always been the norm for the west side to be left alone.

“I sort of like the quiet, so I don’t mind if there aren’t boats running in and out of here as much as on the east side,” he said. “But if they cleared it out, it’d be at least a nice little place for the people who live here to enjoy.”

Swaney said getting the boat dock put in several years ago really helped, and that in general, residents of the west side deserve commendation for what has been done so far when it comes to general upkeep of the riverside.

Brooks Harper, president of the Historic Harmar Bridge Company, agreed that the bridge and its surrounding area’s upkeep should be at the forefront of conversation.

“We’ve got a lot of good things planned for Harmar, and I would like to see some kind of true river celebration on the riverbank separate from other festivals, and we are trying to put in a lot of effort to see it happen,” he said.

Harper said he has noticed an increased interest in what the west side offers for river space.

“We have some people who are coming in for company picnics and what not, and even though it does not make any money, it’s important that people are enjoying the area,” he said.

For now, Harmar residents, volunteers and businesspeople, Harper said, are just striving to keep the area beautiful until there is a chance to spread more money around.

“Some towns try to develop areas like this on purpose, and we have it here, completely by accident,” he said.