News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 26, 2014

New face for Riverscape

5 years of action make all the difference for new president

TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute native Charlie Williams admits that for a long time, he didn’t pay much attention to the Wabash River.

All that changed about five years ago when he became involved with Riverscape, a group that has encouraged a transformation of the once-neglected Wabash into a natural center of community activity.

He’s served on the nonprofit Riverscape board, and last week, with the retirement of John Mutchner, he stepped into the role of Riverscape president. He sees the river’s tremendous potential in promoting economic development, recreation and a positive image for the community.

“In the last five years, I’ve spent a lot time and effort with Riverscape. I think it’s the best chance we’ve had in my lifetime to redefine Terre Haute,” said Williams, president of Williams Randall Marketing, a business he started in 1979.

The organization’s official name is Wabash River Development and Beautification, but everyone in Terre Haute knows it as Riverscape. After nine years at the helm, Mutchner stepped down to allow younger leadership to take over the group.

Much has been accomplished, Williams said, but much remains to be done. “We have some important momentum,” he said.  “I think we’re making a difference.”

He wants to keep that momentum going.

Among his goals as president, Williams wants to broaden the scope of involvement by groups that have been supportive of Riverscape. That process has already begun, he said.

Last week, the board elected four new members during its annual meeting: Mary Kramer of Art Spaces, who was instrumental in helping organize 2013 Year of the River; Lorrie Heber of Our Green Valley Alliance; Ken Brengle, executive director of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce; and Brendan Kearns, a Wabash River enthusiast.

The board has 35 members.

“I think we can benefit from more collaboration” with these and other groups, Williams said. “We all want the same thing. We want to leave Terre Haute better than we found it.”

Williams also hopes to better inform the public about what Riverscape is and does. “We want to tell our story better,” he said. “I think we need more broad-based recognition for our potential and our progress.”

The group receives a lot of questions “about what we’re doing and what we’ve accomplished,” he said. It’s an all-volunteer group, and it doesn’t have a speakers bureau.

The board will have a planning retreat in February. Other officers are Fred Nation, vice president; Michael Shaw, secretary; and Nancy Rogers, treasurer.

Williams and Mutchner describe Riverscape’s big-picture vision for the banks of the Wabash as a “three-legged stool” agenda:

• open to the public the riverside south of Fairbanks Park;

• enhance the Wabashiki wetlands on the west bank; and

• revive the east bank along North First Street.

Progress includes ISU’s plans to place athletic facilities west of campus near the Wabash, as well as the 2010 opening of the 7,000-acre Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife Area and trail system near West Terre Haute, which is still developing.

The other goal, opening up lands south of Fairbanks Park through an aging industrial corridor, has unfolded more slowly, Mutchner has said. He praised persistence by the mayor and city officials in acquiring access to the grounds for a scenic trail and other future possibilities. Those long-term enhancements will “be a mix of public and commercial,” Mayor Duke Bennett recently told the Tribune-Star.

Williams said the mayor “is really on board in trying to optimize this whole Riverscape plan. … He has been a great ally.”

A Riverscape plan prepared by HNTB in 2008 will continue to unfold and evolve, Williams said, and it will call for continued collaboration with government and many community partners.

A Terre Haute native, Williams graduated from Indiana State University in 1970, an English major and journalism minor. He worked his way through college as a reporter on the sports desk at the Terre Haute Star.

He later worked in communications/marketing at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, ISU and the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce. Then in 1979, he started Williams Co., an ad agency that evolved into Williams Randall Marketing.

As Riverscape president, Williams is excited about what’s been accomplished and optimistic about what is left to be achieved. “I think the river and Riverscape can be this once-in-a-lifetime linchpin to our progress,” he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235.

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