Riverside Regional Park is about to receive a new entrance gate. Unlike the kind that soars on hinges, however, the Riverside Promenade will be a wide path that’s both a map and an outdoor museum.
Stretching from 16th Street to the 29th Street Bridge on the east side of the current park, it will invite people to find activities and amenities that populate the green, rambling acreage. Mini-squares will pay homage to the history, traditions and achievements of the surrounding region.
“Early in the process, we identified that this walkway would be a cultural heritage corridor,” said Briana Metzger, experiential graphic designer at RLR Associates, signage consultant for the project.
“It would highlight the stories of the people and the movements, the events that took place in this regional Riverside area. And not just the park, but the history of the park is kind of the core and the piece of the quilt that ties everything together. You can almost consider it the epicenter of this regional community.”
Once built, the boardwalk will point to current amenities, like the restored Taggart Memorial Amphitheater, home to the Indianapolis Shakespeare Co. and the setting for a new annual concert series. In the near future, the trail will also guide pedestrians and cyclists to a new 200-acre adventure park north of 30th Street under development.
The boardwalk will anchor a network of trails and popular gathering spaces, including the White River Trail and the Central Canal Trail. In doing so, it will record the history and traditions of the area so that it remains rooted in the surrounding neighborhoods.
How the boardwalk will be laid out
The 860+ acre expanse of Riverside Regional Park in the middle of the city is its most stunning attribute. The original park opened in 1899 as 953 acres of land along the White River. Early 20th-century visitors saw a Spanish mission-style shelter with lookout towers, a zoo with two brown bears, and a vineyard, among a host of activities. While construction of I-65 and the Larue Carter Hospital reduced Riverside’s original capacity, it still stretches from Riverside Drive to Cold Spring Road between 18th and 38th streets.
The size gives the impression that its current equipment, which has acquired its own identity over time, is fragmented. Wilbur Shaw Soap Box Derby Hill runs along 30th Street west of the White River. The amphitheater is east of the river, halfway between 16th Street and 29th Street. To the northwest of both sites, the Major Taylor Velodrome resides where the curve of Cold Spring Road crosses I-65 just south of 38th Street.
Also, those traveling on busy thoroughfares just outside the park, such as along 16th Street near the White River, might not realize it’s only a few blocks away. .
Indy Parks hopes the boardwalk will serve as a guide to what’s out now and what’s to come.
“Many of our community members and guests within the Riverside Regional Park Corridor have always had difficulty finding the various features or amenities that are provided to the community. So as part of the boardwalk project, we’re also looking at directional signage and community storytelling,” said Indy Parks Assistant Manager Don Colvin.
Renderings show panels with laser-cut designs and gaps between panels containing photos and information so people can see the natural environment through them.
The 15-foot-wide trail is the second feature, after the Taggart Amphitheater, to be completed as part of the Riverside Regional Park Master Plan. The plan guides the development of the park over the next two decades to provide more amenities and make it a destination.
Indy Parks senior project manager Julee Jacob said construction tenders will take place within the next month and construction could begin as early as April or May. It will last until the end of the year, with finishes to be completed early next year.
The area between 16th and 18th Streets currently has pavement that will need to be repaved, but Jacob said construction will not affect traffic on Riverside Drive. Between 18th Street and Burdsal Parkway, Colvin said crews will remove the chain-link fence to trace the trail through a section of the South Grove Golf Course.
Funding for the boardwalk will come from the $11 million Riverside Park received from Indianapolis’ Circle City Forward initiative, which will improve parks, infrastructure and community revitalization projects, among other things. A portion of the $11 million will also go toward adventure park costs, Colvin said.
Mini-places full of activity
For the neighborhoods surrounding Riverside Regional Park, seeing a new trail is one thing. But having it represented is another.
A network of art panels will carry stories and information about iconic residents through the nodes, or mini-plazas, on the boardwalk. The integration will honor the communities that have had an interest in the park and its surroundings. This includes indigenous peoples; German, Irish and Slovenian communities; and today’s population with a large number of black and Hispanic residents. Geographically, the signs will cover stories from neighborhoods such as Riverside, Haughville, Stringtown, Indiana Avenue, Cold Spring Road, and around Martin Luther King Jr. Street, among others.
Virtual meetings, an open house and listening sessions allowed residents to tell their stories and provided designers with information to work with.
“To encompass all of these neighborhoods and not just the immediate Riverside neighborhood was something the regional park never really promoted or did,” said Phyllis/Sakina Hackett, Riverside historian and longtime resident. “As a result, many neighborhoods don’t have and feel the affiliation with the regional park as part of their communities. So hopefully what I’m really trying to do is invite those other neighborhoods, people from those other neighborhoods to be represented as well.”
Seven nodes will be built along the promenade, each with a different theme. These include:
- community sports and pioneer athletes;
- community and history art and artists;
- faith, mindfulness and educators who have had a positive impact;
- Riverside traditions, such as the annual parade and family reunions;
- a multicultural region that pays homage to the region’s diverse communities;
- the place of the park in the system designed by the landscape architect George Kessler; and
- a resilience and restoration that recognizes the injustices and disinvestment that residents have overcome.
A place to tell stories
While the team behind the boardwalk is still deciding on specific stories and icons, Hackett said topics covered so far include people’s favorite places to play, families who have fished the waterways and games at the old Bush Stadium, where Hank Aaron played when he was the original Victory Field.
“I don’t think a lot of people even realize who all lived in this park,” said Ron Rice, a nearby Northwest resident who helped spearhead the master plan. “To see people from their area themselves, I think it will give a lot of people there a sense of pride that they maybe didn’t know they had.”
While many stir up fond memories and traditions, Rice said the painful aspects will be covered in an educational way. The former Riverside amusement park, for example, had long had a “whites-only” policy that allowed black people to attend only one or two days a year.
“There’s been a whole series of transitions in and out of this neighborhood over the centuries, where people – they lived together and they lived in harmony, but there were also conflicts over where they were. Riverside,” Hackett said.
“There are stories that we’re not proud of at Indy Parks and they were able to tell us those stories, and we want to address those stories — we don’t want to hide from them,” Jacob said.
The designs painted on the ground in each node will also draw inspiration from past and present cultures. Among the examples, one will wear a Sankofa – a West African symbol of the importance of the past that celebrates the region’s black heritage. Native American patterns incorporate symbols that include textiles from Delaware and Miami, Metzger said. The Celtic knot pays homage to Irish heritage and the lotus flower reflects the Asian population.
With signage, seating, bicycle parking, and lighting, the nodes can host concerts, classes, and poetry and spoken word events.
Rice said he hopes the opportunities for cultural education, exercise and activity will provide neighbors with amenities they have been deprived of and make the park a destination for out-of-town visitors. Hackett said she wanted to ensure the development of the park benefits current neighbors in the long term.
“Cultural heritage tourism is great; it generates funding and so on,” Hackett said. “But I think we also need to look at protecting the people who live here now and how we can continue to make this an important place for their livelihoods.”
A connection to the adventure park
As the parkway heads north, it will turn and head west to the 29th Street Bridge. At this point, it will take people to a 200-acre adventure park in development between 30th Street, I-65, Cold Spring Road and the White River.
Going forward, the current golf cart trails and newly constructed trails will form a new system in the park. Construction is expected to begin in 2023, Jacob said, and picnic facilities, restrooms, nature play, an adult fitness room and parking will be on site. According to Indy Parks, more amenities — like an outdoor stage, the Soap Box Derby Pagoda and a treetop walkway — could be part of longer-term plans. Depending on the funding, Indy Parks manager Phyllis Boyd said she would like to incorporate public art throughout the park.
As planning and design continues for the adventure park, Indy Parks invites the public to provide input at an open house between noon and 6:30 p.m. March 3 at 3502 N. White River Parkway Dr. in the clubhouse.
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