TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute and the Wabash River were like strangers living next door to each other.
For decades, the community rarely acknowledged the river’s existence, except as a convenient dump or a fishing hole for adventurous outdoorsmen. The Wabash resiliently rolled past, iconic and sublime to outsiders, yet ignored and neglected in its signature city.
It was a dysfunctional relationship.
Finally, the Welcome Wagon arrived. The aloofness thawed. A kinship developed. The Wabash actually is being appreciated.
A notable moment in that blossoming friendship unfolded Tuesday morning. As Mayor Duke Bennett delivered his State of the City address at the outset of his second term, he mentioned several objectives for the future. The list included a hope to extend the Fairbanks Park recreational trail south to the area near Interstate 70 by the end of 2013. The trail, as Bennett pointed out, is a component of the Riverscape initiative — a long-range plan to transform the riverfront, crafted by the independent, nonprofit group, Wabash River Development and Beautification Inc.
“I think that would be really cool to add that to our trail system,” Bennett said after his address.
An extended riverside trail would be a gem in Terre Haute’s growing trails network.
Likewise, tangible, initial steps are, obviously, crucial to enhancing Riverscape’s momentum. Those steps can carry Riverscape through disagreements, such as the debate in last fall’s mayoral campaign over the mayor’s plan to use a pond on the vacated International Paper grounds as a storage lagoon for combined stormwater and sewage overflow. The political dust settles; the project adjusts and moves forward.
“It’s extremely important that Mayor Bennett has seen [the riverside trail] as a value to the community,” said John McNichols, the Indiana State University track and field coach who helped design the trails envisioned in Riverscape.
McNichols’ national-caliber runners already use new developed trails on the river’s west bank, through the Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife Area.
The setting on the east bank, between Fairbanks Park and I-70, differs from the west-bank Wabashiki wetlands. Most of the 1-mile trail extension mentioned by the mayor would follow the long-forgotten, original Dresser Drive. The city built that lane in the 1920s in honor of Terre Haute songwriter Paul Dresser. Its cinder base remains intact, though obscured by grass and lawn-like weeds. Brush — especially stubbornly invasive honeysuckle — has spread on both sides of the old Dresser Drive. In some places, the bygone road disappears, overwhelmed by woods and thicket. At one point, the flat cinder path becomes sandy and uneven. Near the river’s edge are a few rusted and wrecked vehicles, old tires, and the concrete remnants of a riverboat dock, perhaps from the 1800s.
“The cleanup would be what I would call moderate, basically trash,” said Pat Martin, chief planner for the city Engineering Department.
Martin walked the path last week, along with Hal Orndorff, director of maintenance for the city Parks Department. Afterward, Martin said the cost of basic earth-moving work, brush-clearing and preparation for the trail would vary, depending on whether city crews would be used and the type of surface selected. A rough estimate would be $50,000 for crushed rock, while asphalt would run about $150,000 and concrete $175,000 to $200,000. The trail area gets flooded about 10 percent of the year, so asphalt may not be suitable, Martin said.
In the State of the City, the mayor mentioned the possibility of the city receiving a grant for the trail through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
The proposed trail would border the back edge of several properties of former and current industries and businesses along the Wabash. Bennett said the city is working to secure easement from all of the land owners to allow the trail to flow from the park through the former International Paper grounds. The city is currently negotiating with the former Wabash Environmental Technologies, Bennett said, and an agreement would complete the easement process.
With security patrols by the Terre Haute Police and beautification work, the trail would provide a safe, scenic view of the fabled Wabash for walkers, bicyclists, runners, bird and nature watchers, and fishermen. If a concrete surface is affordable, roller-bladers could hit the trail, too.
Plans for a recreational trails system around Terre Haute began in 1991, McNichols said, and the trails started to become realities a decade later. Since then, the roster includes the National Road Heritage Trail from the ISU campus to Chamberlain Road, the Hulman Street trail, and the Memorial Stadium trail. An extended riverside trail would attract even more recreation-seekers. “It’s just a wonderful setting,” McNichols said. “Peaceful. Birds. Mother Nature. [The river] is our community’s best-kept secret.”
Capitalizing on such an asset “is very logical, and it’s not revolutionary,” McNichols added. “We’ve watched this happen in other cities.” He cited two other similarly sized college towns that have developed riverfronts — Eugene, Ore., and Boise, Idaho.
Both communities got reacquainted with their river.
Terre Haute has a chance to do the same.
“This is more of an environmental embrace of the river,” Martin said, “where we take it back to its original environmental beauty and make it an asset.”
Sounds like a friendship.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MARK BENNETT: Proposed trail would give river development momentum, reacquaint community with Wabash
TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute and the Wabash River were like strangers living next door to each other.
- Mark Bennett B-Sides
MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
MARK BENNETT: People spaces
Demolition machinery chipped away at the buildings on the 500 block of Wabash Avenue. I stood and watched awhile, last week. By July 2015, a new $18.7-million structure will replace those relics.
MARK BENNETT: City sparkles during premiere of ‘The Drunk’
William Tanoos and Paul Fleschner cast their hometown in a starring role in their debut effort as filmmakers.
MARK BENNETT: ‘Notes on a River’ exhibition brings Wabash scenes to gallery
The best views of the Wabash come with wet, muddy feet.
MARK BENNETT: Quest for the perfect Valentine’s Day gesture may not involve gifts
You’ll need a broom, a pickup truck, trash bins, shop hooks and aspirin.
Filming a “Sanford and Son” remake? Preparing for the apocalypse?
MARK BENNETT: Illinois officials content their state has its business advantages, too
Most people count the Wabash River as an economic asset for Terre Haute. Of course, economic development officials in the Land of Lincoln beg to differ.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana should revisit its time-zone classification
Mister Spock would look at the situation in Indiana and, in that dispassionate “Star Trek” voice, utter a firm conclusion.
“That is illogical,” he’d say.
MARK BENNETT: Young at heart
Imagine an alternate ending to the old Life cereal commercial.
MARK BENNETT: The Drunk: Making peace
Terre Haute grew fond of Eugene Debs.
The process took time.
Debs film to debut at Indiana Theatre
Set in Terre Haute, based loosely on the legacy of a Terre Haute icon, the movie “The Drunk” has one appropriate place for its premiere.
MARK BENNETT: Album turns memories into musical Christmas message for Terre Haute’s Dave Frey, band
In a way, Dave Frey walked in the footsteps of Charles Schulz.
Both men worked hard to let Linus Van Pelt explain the “true meaning of Christmas.”
MARK BENNETT: ‘Longest Night Service’ a time to reflect, remember
Holiday images rarely depict hurt or struggle.
Raising the bar
Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.
John bypassed by Hall of Fame again
Baseball Hall of Fame electors have bypassed Tommy John again. The Terre Haute-born pitcher, who won 288 games in 26 big-league seasons, didn’t receive enough votes from the Veterans Committee as it cast ballots on Sunday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tim Meadows: SNL cast member knew he was prime time
If you watched the first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 11, 1975, raise your hand.
That gives you something in common with Tim Meadows.
MARK BENNETT: Walk of Fame inductee would stand tall in any era
Unlike most of us, Amory Kinney didn’t let the wall around his comfort zone grow taller as time passed.
MARK BENNETT: Words, and what they mean, is what we remember
I remember scanning the granite wall at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, looking for those words.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
MARK BENNETT: Keeping Terre Haute a vibrant city ‘worth doing’
The past, present and future had just converged at the Crossroads of America.
The moment was made possible by the gutsy spirit of 1920s Terre Haute. Without it, the city would look starkly different.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John’s Field of Dreams
A kid pedals a bicycle, a ball glove looped over the handlebar, headed to a sandlot game.
It didn’t get much better than that for a 10-year-old in summertime.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done
Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.
Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.
MARK BENNETT: ISU professor’s book on Churchill to be TV period drama
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
MARK BENNETT: Restoration improves courthouse top’s standing in skyline
Terre Haute has a skyline.
From some angles, it consists of billboards, restaurant marquees and convenience-store signs. From other spots, the outlines of historic buildings, church steeples, college dorms and old industries jut into the horizon.
MARK BENNETT: Inspiring project connects Blues Festival, B&G Club members with music
Think a decade into the future. You’re relaxing amid a sea of fellow lawn-chair sitters at Seventh and Wabash, watching the 23rd annual Blues at the Crossroads Festival. Suddenly, the guy on stage starts playing your old Fender guitar. He sounds like the next B.B. King. Then, the guitarist dedicates a song to the person who donated that worn Telecaster to the youth music program in which he learned to play it.
MARK BENNETT: Even Marty McFly wouldn’t want to go back to those paydays
Reliving the 1980s may sound tempting.
Ah, simpler times. Then again … hair styles as big as mushroom clouds, “Miami Vice” jackets, the trickle-down theory, New Coke, Yugos.
OK, “Back to the Future”-style nostalgia obviously has its limits.
MARK BENNETT: Hoops film focuses on life of ‘Slick’ Leonard
Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
MARK BENNETT: Rose-Hulman bridge design would let people walk, run, ride across Wabash River
Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
MARK BENNETT: When did athleticism surpass skill in sports?
Baseball has gotten too athletic.
MARK BENNETT: Steve Martin keeps Terre Haute on burner
If insults are a form of flattery, Steve Martin still likes us.
Better yet, he hasn’t forgotten us.
- More Mark Bennett B-Sides Headlines
- MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river