The Scioto River will get worse before it gets better. That's the message the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. has for city residents puzzled by the field of mud that's about to emerge Downtown along the river's banks.

The Scioto River will get worse before it gets better.

That’s the message the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. has for city residents puzzled by the field of mud that’s about to emerge Downtown along the river’s banks.

The corporation began tearing out the dam just south of the Main Street bridge last week, the first step in the two-year Scioto Greenways project to add about 33 acres of parkland along the river’s edge.

Tearing out the dam and dredging the clogged waterway will create a narrower, deeper and faster-moving river that project managers say is closer to the Scioto’s natural state.

Still, the river’s banks will resemble a large, muddy construction site for more than a year until the paths and tree-filled parks begin to take shape in the fall of 2015. That’s why development corporation officials are asking people to bear with them until they can put the green in greenways.

“This is a necessary part of the progress,” said Amy Taylor, chief operating officer of the corporation. “I think everyone can agree that the Scioto Mile is a success — but first it had to be built.”

She said city residents will see the river change in four major stages:

First, there’s the dam removal that’s taking place now through the beginning of next year. Next, the river will be dredged and new riverbanks created through next fall. Third, crews will begin installing new bike and multiuse paths, and electric and irrigation systems, in the spring of 2015. Finally, they’ll install sod, trees and the river’s edge plantings through the fall of 2015.

Taylor said the construction timetable is subject to weather, and the movement of the river is fluid, literally.

The $35 million project is being funded by a combination of state grants and money from the corporation, Columbus, Franklin County, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Columbus Metro Parks, the Columbus Foundation and Battelle.

Taylor said the greenways project, like the Scioto Mile and Columbus Commons projects before it, will help drive renewed interest and economic development Downtown, and is the first step in the larger redevelopment planned to take place on the west side of the river in eastern Franklinton.

Not everyone is thrilled at the manicured nature of the new riverfront parkland, however.

Laura Fay serves on the board of the Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed, or FLOW. Removing the Main Street dam will improve water quality in the river, increase wildlife and boost the natural ecosystem there, she said. But she would have liked to see less emphasis on manmade parks and more on returning the river to a more-natural appearance.

She said the grooming of the river’s banks during a similar project that removed a dam on the Olentangy River near Ohio State University was rushed to make the river look nice, when it should have been given longer to revert to its original shape.

Fay did applaud the corporation for its plans to install a natural river edge along the Scioto’s banks, with flood-tolerant plants that can help absorb water and clean the river.

Removing the dam will have a net effect of improving the river, she said, and it will help teach people that the river should be protected as a natural resource.

“One of FLOW’s goals … is to get people out there enjoying the river,” Fay said.

Brian Ross, president of Experience Columbus, said any short-term drawbacks from construction will be outweighed by the draw of the additional parkland and a new, active Downtown riverfront.

“This will be a functional river that we’re proud to show off, and a long-term benefit to the residents of Columbus,” he said.