Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve & Christmas Light Debris

The Little Miami River, designated a National Wild and Scenic River, is a regional treasure to be cherished. Sierra Club members and others who enjoy and appreciate its beauty will be concerned about a recent issue. 

During a day of recent filming for the Little Miami Conservancy in the Clifton Gorge, Dirk Morgan of Warren County found hundreds of strands of Christmas lights on the bank and in the water of the Little Miami. Some of them appear to have been cut with wire cutters. 

The Clifton Mill, located on the banks of the River less than ½ mile upstream from the area where the strands of lights were found, is famous for its annual Christmas display with over 4 million Christmas lights – . To Morgan, it seemed reasonable to contact the Mill to alert them to the issue. Dirk Morgan showed the lights to an employee of the Clifton Mill and told them where they had been found. He also let them know that there were many hundreds more on the banks and in the water. He urged them for the sake of the river to find a way to clean up the lights already in the water and keep it from happening in the future. 

Because of his concern, Dirk Morgan made a follow up visit to the area three weeks later to see if the problem had been resolved. He found that there are still hundreds, if not thousands, of strands of lights on the banks and in the water. Morgan said there is no sign that any attempt to clean them up has been made. 

It appears the owners of the Clifton Mill are not willing to accept responsibility for the problem… is there another entity on their ½ mile stretch of river with thousands (or millions) of Christmas lights that have the potential for ending up broken and in the water? 

As of Monday, ODNR was planning to meet with the owners of the Clifton Mill to investigate the problem. Those of us who enjoy the beauty of the Little Miami River, who paddle it, who bike along its banks, and who care about the wildlife that depends on it, need to follow this issue to make sure it is resolved. 

See this story on Fox19- Dayton: 

Wires, broken glass, pieces of filament, and shredded plastic cannot possibly be good for the health of the Little Miami, the wildlife that depends on it, or the people who enjoy it.

UPDATE 3/27/19

A representative of the ODNR responded to Dirk Morgan’s concerns saying that Clifton Gorge State Preserve manager, Michelle Comer, met with the owner of the Clifton Mill. Together they went into the gorge and picked up “several” bags of trash, including “some” lights. “Ms. Comer met with the Mill on Monday and they went into the gorge looking for and picking up litter.  They filled several bags with some lights and wire but also lots of bottles and even a bicycle.  The mill returned today (Tuesday) to pick up more trash and plan to come back again later in the week.” They are considering holding an annual “Clean up the gorge” event. The ODNR is calling this a “show of good faith” and have decided that because of “all the effort the Mill has put into addressing the problem…” there is no basis for a citation or any sort of prosecution. 

In their response to this situation thus far, the ODNR also has included nothing about determining how many more lights may be in the river, how far down river they may have travelled, or an assessment of what the impact on the river may be. They also include nothing about monitoring the gorge in the future, but seem to be relying solely on the “good faith” of the Mill owners. 

Given the Mill’s very public, 3-week denial of any responsibility, (see the Fox interview link above), and given the fact that the river WILL rise again, repeatedly and regularly, this is not a reasonable nor adequate response on the part of ODNR. 


For those who care about preserving the Little Miami River as a National Wild and Scenic River, as a wildlife refuge, as a harbor for paddling enthusiasts, and as a unique asset for our community, I would encourage you to contact ODNR and demand:

  • That at minimum, a warning citation be issued to The Clifton Mill for polluting the Little Miami River; 
  • That consequences for future light debris found in the river be determined;
  • That those consequences have enough significance to serve as a true deterrent;
  • That the river below the Mill be thoroughly examined to find and remove additional light debris;
  • That the impact on the river, the wildlife it supports, and the riparian corridor be determined;
  • That necessary remediation for negative impact be implemented immediately, with the cost to be borne by the Clifton Mill;
  • That a comprehensive plan for preventing future (accidental or intentional) pollution of the river by Christmas light debris be implemented immediately. 

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