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Little Miami Watershed Network wins award for documentary about beauty of Ohio and national scenic river

By Carolyn Kroupa ’22

The Little Miami River was designated an Ohio scenic river in 1969 and a national scenic river in 1971, becoming one of the first rivers in Ohio to achieve state and national status. In February, the Little Miami Watershed Network premiered a documentary to celebrate the 50th anniversary of these milestones.

The documentary, More Than Rocks and Water – The River Speaks, was awarded a 2021 Ohio Parks and Recreation Association Award in November. The 30-minute video officially premiered online last month at the network’s annual meeting.

The video, produced and directed by Josh Pressnell, was part of a larger project funded by Ohio Humanities. The project leaders included Bill Marvin, University of Dayton principal lecturer of philosophy, and Hope Taft, former first lady of Ohio from 1999-2007. Her husband, former Gov. Bob Taft, is a distinguished research associate at the University.

More Than Rocks and Water – The River Speaks presents an oral environmental history through interviews with people who have relationships with the watershed. 

Plans originally called for University students to conduct some of the interviews, but that wasn't possible because of COVID-19 safety protocols.

Marvin, whose primary research focus is applied ethics, attributes the inspiration for the documentary to American environmental ethics author, Aldo Leopold. Leopold’s belief is that the most effective way to motivate people to preserve the environment is to get them to appreciate it first. Leopold also argued that history is an account of the relationship between people and their ecosystems.

The Little Miami Watershed Network incorporated this framework by showcasing people talking about fond memories associated with the river. Interviewees recounted childhood memories, family celebrations and special moments. 

Couples have been engaged by the river, people have spread their loved one’s ashes there, and many played hockey and skated on the river as children.

“The rivershed has transformed our lives, and this documentary shows that,” Marvin said. “We care more about things we find beautiful, so we are more apt to save the ecosystem if we see beauty in it. The documentary communicates and displays the beauty of the river and the impact it has had on the people who have enjoyed it.” 

Marvin said the documentary ties into the University’s mission to advance the common good and promotes sustainability principles. An educational mission that extends beyond the classroom lies at the core of the film.

“My hope is that people use this documentary as a vehicle to build a better appreciation for a natural treasure like the Little Miami Watershed,” he said. “I want people to learn, be inspired and be better custodians to the natural world.”

The video received second place in the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association’s Historical and Cultural Arts Programs and Events category.

“Winning this award is exciting for The Little Miami Watershed Network because we are a small volunteer non-profit group, so along with the Ohio Humanities grant, this has raised our profile and raised our thoughts on what we are capable of,” Hope Taft said. “We can help people understand the value of the river, love it and want to take care of the river without ever being on it. It’s a real turning point for our organization.”

Hope Taft joined neighbors to form the Little Miami Watershed Network to help preserve and protect the Little Miami River in 2010. She became chair emeritus this year as the organization she helped to start works towards long term sustainability.

The Little Miami River has experienced many changes during the last 50 years. It has endured cycles of species being threatened and recovered, the construction of bridges that altered the paths of the river, as well as other human impacts on the river such as tons of trash.

Hope Taft said, “I hope viewers sense the river’s importance to people individually and to the area collectively. A lot of people will not be able to see the river in real life, so this documentary is a way to experience the river virtually. Maybe they will fall in love with it, too.”

To watch More Than Rocks and Water – The River Speaks, visit the Little Miami Watershed Network’s YouTube channel or website.

Groups and schools interested in a private showing of the video can contact Rebecca Victor, executive director at

Photos: Top, A shot from the documentary More Than Rocks and Water – The River Speaks, which recently won an Ohio Parks and Recreation Association Award. Middle, Hope Taft, former first lady of Ohio from 1999-2007.

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