White River Plan revealed Monday with focus on water quality

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A comprehensive plan to turn the White River into a regional attraction took another step forward Monday with the unveiling of the White River Vision Plan.

Area leaders from Marion and Hamilton counties were are on hand to show the images that aim to make the river a clean, natural, historic, connected, and active asset for Indianapolis and the surrounding area.

"The idea of a free flowing river that you can kayak or canoe from Noblesville to downtown Indianapolis, chains of destinations along the river so the parks and little rest areas, trails all sorts of ideas like that," Brad Beaubien with the Department of Metropolitan Development said.

The plan is a community-driven project to enhance 58 miles of the river between the two counties. It stretches from Strawtorn Koteewi Park in northern Hamilton County to Southwestway Park on the south side of Indianapolis. It calls for hundreds of millions of dollar to be spent over the next several decades to improve the water quality and add more parks and trails along the river.

Work to get to this point began approximately a year ago. Since then, leaders behind the project gathered comments and ideas from more than 13,000 people.

"Throughout the process we’ve sort of forecasted and shown the community ideas that have now been finalized into renderings, drawings and ideas," said Gina Ford, principal and co-founder of Agency Landscape + Planning. The agency is the lead planners and architects with the project.

There are seven anchor areas the vision targets. They are:

  • Strawtorn Koteewi Park: Build on the park's regional success and exiting master plan, focus on enviormental health and historic interpretation, including a new trail from Potter's Bridge Park to Cicero, a viewing tower and an expanded area for launching kayaks and canoes, invasive plant species removal, and historic signage and installation.s
  • Downtown Noblesville Support Noblesville’s downtown revitalization with new riverfront links, including the incorporation of existing elements and projects like the Riverwalk and increased or enhanced river access, and new ideas like sustainable design practices, shadier streets, and riverfront terraces. 
  • Allisonville Stretch: Centered on the asset of Conner Prairie, this area focuses on community engagement to protect natural areas, support the existing Conner Prairie’s master plan, and local collaboration to improve pedestrian crossings.
  • Oliver’s Crossing: Situated around I-465, Oliver’s Woods and surrounding retail destinations, this anchor district builds on the opportunity for nearby post-production quarry lands close to the river for flood storage and outdoor adventure activities programming, as well as recommendations to connect public open spaces in this stretch with trails and riverfront landowner partnerships.
  • Broad Ripple: The vision for this beloved canal district reconnects the area to its riverfront by relocating parking and connecting across the levee at 64th St. to Holliday Park via the planned Broad Ripple Riverwalk and trail. It protects the historic character of residential neighborhoods and Broad Ripple’s commercial district, helps with early implementation of the planned boat launch, riverbank restoration, river walk, and terrace river edge projects. It also recommends that artists and the Indianapolis Art Center create temporary or permanent art installations.
  • Downtown Indianapolis: Building on key opportunities like the recent Riverside Park master plan and current needs of the Emrichsville Dam, the plan leverages partnerships to redesign the dam for multi-functional environmental, water quality, and recreational benefits to the neighboring Near Westside community and guides sustainable development outside the floodplain.
  • Southwestway Park: At the plan’s southern boundary, this large ecological asset emphasizes environmental education through grant funding and a ranger “outpost,” creates a new entrance from Southport Road, establishes multiple new river access points and recommends a 10-year restoration and management program.

The public can review and comment on the complete 222-page plan over the next 30 days by clicking here.

Some projects have some aspects already in the works, but leaders said this is the first time all river advocates will work collectively together.

Mike Fleetwood said he's been on the river two or three times a month for the past 40 years. He's seen previous river projects lose steam, but is optimistic it will work this time.

"I think a lot of it has been funding," said Fleetwood. "We’ve had some very progressive mayors over the years and the river was typically looked at as an open sewer."

Getting a cleaner river was a popular opinion from residents who were asked about the plan. The Citizens Energy Group's DigIndy project will dramatically reduce the amount of raw sewage that pours into the river following storms. The work is expected to be completed in 2025 and will reduce overflows by 97 percent.

"People really wanted clean water," Beaubien said. "All our drinking water comes from the White River so first and foremost they want a clean river. So we’ve got ideas on how we can make that happen."

Hamilton County Tourism president Brenda Myers said Noblesville is also in the midst of an overflow reduction project. She said other plans in the project will further enhance water quality.

"Up north, we're looking at those water retention areas and introducing wetlands to try to do a lot of cleansing the river," Myers said

This week is also Vision Plan Week. Several events are planned to celebrate the unveiling like a trek along the river, movie night and river clean-up. Click here for more on the events.

The plan is part of a joint effort between several organizations including the City of Indianapolis and Hamilton County Tourism.

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