News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

November 27, 2011

MARK BENNETT: First impressions: City benefits from hearing visitors’ views of community

The town should blush.

“Terre Haute’s cute,” said Marycarol Treleven, smiling.

Cute is good. The phrase might be worthy of a tourism campaign slogan.

Treleven traveled 2,200 miles from her home in Tacoma, Wash., to watch her 21-year-old daughter, Chloe Treleven, compete in last Monday’s NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course. Chloe and her University of San Francisco teammates became the first cross country team in school history to qualify for the national title race. That historic berth sealed Marycarol’s mid-November travel plans.

“If you make it to nationals, you have to go,” she said of the long journey.

Adding to the drama is the fact Marycarol’s daughter overcame childhood health problems and blossomed into the No. 3 runner on America’s 26th-ranked college women’s cross country team.

On Monday, Chloe ran the 6-kilometer race in 21 minutes and 24 seconds, good for 117th place out of 254 competitors. They hugged a few dozen feet from the finish line. Though a chilly drizzle dampened their faces and hair, the moment, Marycarol said, “warms my heart.”

What a hefty honor it is for Terre Haute to serve as the setting for such a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Memorable exchanges just like that happened all over the Gibson course Monday afternoon. Family, friends and fans traveled from all corners of the United States to that serene 240-acre location. Jim and Gloria Amthor trekked 1,100 miles from San Antonio to watch their daughter, Julie, run for the Texas Longhorns, and she placed 152nd. Eric and Donna D’Agostino and family came 1,050 miles from Topsfield, Mass., to see their daughter, Abbey, represent Dartmouth College in the NCAA event. Abbey crossed the line third, just 1.7 seconds behind the winner, in one of the most thrilling finishes since the NCAAs first came to town in 2002.

As a sea of onlookers huddled along the fence on the homestretch, watching the lead pack run shoulder-to-shoulder toward the finish line, one fan hollered, “It’s gonna be close. What a race.”

Listen to improve

The impressions of Terre Haute etched in their minds go beyond the race. The course, the community and its attributes fit into their memories, too. Those opinions from objective outsiders are valuable — the favorable (which were predominant) as well as the constructive criticism.

The Amthors have followed Julie’s University of Texas track and cross country career throughout the vast Big 12 Conference. The Terre Haute course struck them as unique. “It’s different than anything else, because you’re so out in the country, and it’s so beautiful,” said Julie’s mom, Gloria. “And the amenities are really good,” added her husband, Jim.

Many inside college cross country circles have suggested that Terre Haute become the permanent site for the NCAA Division I race, because the course is specifically designed for the sport and the city has become so adept at staging the event. (The nationals have been conducted here nine of the past 10 years.) Jim Amthor likes that idea. “Just geographically and logistically, this [place] makes a lot more sense” than others, he said.

The NCAA hasn’t locked Terre Haute in yet, though. Louisville was awarded the 2012 championships, while Terre Haute gets them back in 2013.

During the past decade, this community began calling itself “Cross Country Town, USA.” The label may have started out as wishful thinking, but now it fits like a pair of plush running shoes. It also sets a standard that should motivate Terre Haute to improve.

The D’Agostinos enjoyed their first encounter with the city, and daughter Abbey’s performance as a mere sophomore enhanced it. The course, said Abbey’s dad, Eric, “is very spectator friendly.” The event was “very organized from the beginning,” said her mom, Donna, a former college runner, “and parking was effortless.” The idea of Terre Haute as the annual NCAA host sounds good to Abbey. “Obviously, it’s a central location and there’s lots of stuff around here,” she said.

Nighttime, fitness options

Eric offered one suggestion: “Tell the restaurants to stay open on Sunday night.” The D’Agostinos struggled to find a place to eat downtown on the eve of the NCAAs. While more Sunday night dining possibilities exist for folks who stay at hotels near the I-70 and U.S. 41 intersection, Chris Pfaff — president of Downtown Terre Haute Inc., and chairman of the ISU strategic plan to energize downtown — acknowledged the desire for extended restaurant hours.

“I think we find ourselves in that transition,” Pfaff said. “I think that will get better, but that’s still a challenge.” Restaurant owners need to see a potential for a return on their investment of keeping longer hours. If they stay open and pay employees for later shifts, will customers walk in? On a day-to-day basis, the future opening of the Indiana State University Scott College of Business at Seventh and Cherry streets, as well as proposed downtown housing units for students, should provide the necessary foot traffic to sustain evening dining, Pfaff said.

“It’s something that everybody’s aware of, and we’re just to that tipping point, but we’re not quite there yet,” he said.

Still, for special events such as the NCAAs, “Perhaps [the restaurants] need a little bit of encouragement” to extend hours, Pfaff added.

Another suggestion came from Marycarol Treleven as she listened to her daughter assess Terre Haute and other towns that host cross country meets, such as Madison, Wis., and Palo Alto, Calif. On her first visit to Indiana, Marycarol was glad to see Terre Haute’s array of restaurants included a Panera Bread. She also hoped to see more running paths or sidewalks, which are less prevalent on the south side of the city near I-70 and U.S. 41. “A lot of people that come are athletes, themselves, and would like just to have a jog,” said Marycarol, a regular runner.

The busy I-70 and U.S. 41 area gained sidewalks from Margaret to Davis avenues in recent years, but joggers and walkers have better options elsewhere in Terre Haute. “Arguably, that’s the most difficult area to construct [pedestrian paths] in the city,” said Pat Martin, chief planner for the city Engineering Department.

That said, Terre Haute has made great strides in developing places to run, walk and bicycle. In 2001, the town had no trails. By 2011, Terre Haute has 30-plus miles of trails and more envisioned. The first section completed was the National Road Heritage Trail’s 5.5-mile stretch from the Rose-Hulman campus area to the city’s east side in 2002. The planning process started under former mayor Jim Jenkins, began implementation under Judy Anderson, ramped up under Kevin Burke, and kept going forward under current mayor Duke Bennett.

To go from zero to 30 miles of trailways in 10 years is significant. “Arguably, that’s pretty good,” said Martin. “That’s not to say we’re resting on our laurels. We’d like to have 50 to 60 miles of trails, but that depends on resources.”

Future pathways, such as one connecting Collett Park to ISU and the Union Hospital area, and “share-the-road lanes” for cyclists and pedestrians, would appeal to a healthier generation of residents. Visitors, including those who see Terre Haute as Cross Country Town, USA, would appreciate those routes, too.

“We have to live up to that reputation and be more walking friendly, bicycle friendly and running friendly,” Martin said.

Cute and runner-friendly. For Terre Haute’s future, it’s all good.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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