Making the World a Better Place: Phyllis W. Smale Award

Local children enjoying outdoor adventure along the Mill Creek


If you grew up in Cincinnati, it’s likely your perception of Mill Creek was that it was awful, certainly not somewhere you wanted to go to fish or revel in nature’s beauty. In fact, in 1997, Mill Creek was named the most endangered urban stream in North America.

Well, “awful” is changing to “awesome” thanks to the Mill Creek Alliance (MCA), a non-profit organization formed in 2018 through the merger of two renowned area conservation groups – The Mill Creek Watershed Council of Communities and Groundwork Cincinnati-Mill Creek. The Alliance’s mission? To empower the more than three dozen Mill Creek constituent communities to protect and enhance the value of the Mill Creek, its tributaries and watershed, thereby enhancing the area’s quality of life.

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation, in recognition of the MCA’s creative community collaboration in its continuing commitment to transforming the Mill Creek into a healthy ecosystem along which people can live, work and play, will present the Mill Creek Alliance with the 2019 Phyllis W. Smale Award during the Hats Off Luncheon on Friday, May 10, at the John G. & Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park.

“At P&G, we have a long history of environmental stewardship, and we are inspired when we see individuals making the world a better place,” says David Taylor, Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of Procter & Gamble, the award-presenting sponsor. “The Phyllis Smale award recognizes those who make a meaningful difference in our community, and we are proud to partner with the Smale Family and the Cincinnati Parks Foundation to celebrate the work of the Mill Creek Alliance as this year’s recipient.”

“The Mill Creek is the second most important body of water for the City of Cincinnati, the Ohio River being the first,” says Chris Caldemeyer, an MCA volunteer, avid fisherman and Phyllis’ grandson, who nominated the MCA for the award. “More people live, work and play near the Mill Creek than any other waterway in the area. The Mill Creek is still alive, thanks mostly to the MCA and its predecessors. The MCA, working on a shoestring budget, coalesced around a grassroots and city-wide will to do better. The MCA is what happens when good people want to do good for their community. That’s what the MCA is about – improving the communities and lives affected by the Mill Creek.”

Over the past 20 years, Mill Creek’s water quality has vastly improved – the fish population and diversity have exploded,  people now enjoy fly fishing on Mill Creek, and endangered birds like the Rock Night Herron and ospreys have returned, to name but a few positive changes.

“It is an absolutely tremendous honor to be recognized with the Phyllis W. Smale Award,” says David Schmitt, MCA executive director. “To me, it feels like a recognition of the merger itself. The Mill Creek Watershed Council of Communities and Groundwork Cincinnati-Mill Creek have been in existence since the mid-90s, both doing great things. Last summer’s merger allows us to bring all the strengths of both organizations together.”