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March 30, 2014

Taking a step against violence: Unity walk shows support for Big Four Bridge safety

Hundreds of people from both sides of the river participate in event

LOUISVILLE — Shannon Herbst is not going to let a recent spate of violence stop her and her family from enjoying the Big Four Bridge.

“We are here to show that this is a safe place to be with your family and your children, and to show that we are not going to let what is going on to stop us from coming down here,” said Herbst, Louisville.

She’s not alone.

Jeffersonville and Louisville residents, including Herbst, joined together Sunday to take steps against recent violence near the Big Four Bridge by taking part in a unity walk.

The event, which attracted hundreds of community members to the foot of the Big Four Bridge ramp in Louisville Waterfront Park for a walk onto the bridge, was initiated by writer and businessman Bob Hill.

Hill, owner of Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Gardens in Utica, where he lives, downplayed his involvement in organizing the community event, however, before the large group began its trek onto the pedestrian bridge.

“One paragraph on Facebook. That was it. That is all I did,” Hill said, about a post he had written that got the attention of community leaders and residents. “I am just blown away by all the people here.”

Hill voiced his concerns after learning of statements made by community members about avoiding the park because of the reported violence.

“I read the stories about what went on in Louisville and reactions of people not going downtown,” Hill said. “That is just wrong.”

He said millions of people use the pedestrian bridge annually, and that it will continue to be a draw for local residents and tourists.

“I know how much people care about the river and riverfront on both sides,” Hill said.

According to newsgathering partner WAVE-3 News, a mob of teens is accused of several violent and damaging incidents on March 23 in downtown Louisville, including at Waterfront Park and the Big Four Bridge. Two teens were arrested and charged, and more arrests are expected, according to WAVE.

Hill said the recent violence is a “complex situation” that will require community involvement, education and efforts by law enforcement to mitigate.

“This is the first step. People believe in this cause. They believe in the bridge. I certainly do, and we are going to make this happen,” he said.

While the incidents occurred in downtown Louisville, Hill said the unity walk was organized to include residents from both sides of the Ohio River.

“This is very much an Indiana story, too. It is not just Kentucky. That bridge is going to the other side of the river,” he said. “It is going to connect the two together, and that is very important to me because that is where I live.”

Hill said the event is not a fight to regain control of the Big Four Bridge area, but to show community support.

“Somebody mentioned to me, ‘We are going to take back the bridge.’ We never lost the bridge,” Hill said. “There was an incident up there. It was very ugly. It was very bad. We didn’t lose anything. We are just showing that we care.”

Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer attended the event to show unity and their interests keeping the area accessible to members of the community.

“We are not just building a bridge here, we are building our future,” Moore said. “We want to make everybody know that is our bridge, and we are not giving it up.”

Moore said he was appreciative of Hill’s effort to organize the unity walk and to Fischer for fostering a working relationship with Jeffersonville.

“Mayor Fischer has obviously reached out several times across the river to include Jeffersonville and Southern Indiana,” he said. “This is two communities coming together to make one.”

Hill said he doesn’t think the severity of violence that has taken place in Louisville will be a threat in Indiana, but Moore said he and other city leaders are taking precautions to keep Jeffersonville safe as the Big Four Bridge will soon be accessible at Big Four Station.

Moore recently announced that the Jeffersonville side of the bridge is targeted to open April 30, after being delayed for about a year.

“I think you always have to take heed of your surroundings. We are prepared. We are ready,” Moore said. “I have talked with the [Jeffersonville] police chief and the [Jeffersonville] police department, and we are taking measures to make a strong police presence down on our side of the ramp.”

Jeffersonville Police Detective Todd Hollis said the department plans on increasing police presence in the area after the bridge opens and that officers are considering putting a bicycle patrol unit in place.

Herbst, who attended the unity walk with her 8-, 9- and 23-year-old children, said she visits area restaurants and has taken her young children to the Waterfront Park playground.

“It is a concern for me,” she said of the recent violence. “I do worry, but I want to show that this is someplace for everybody, not just for one group to take over and make it some place you don’t want to be.”

Herbst said she was comforted by the large crowd of community members at the event.

“It is nice to know that everybody cares about something like this, that everybody wants this to be a place where everybody can be,” she said. “We are all in this together.”

Herbst, who has family in Jeffersonville, said she is looking forward to the completion of Big Four Bridge in Jeffersonville so she can walk into Indiana.

“I have a sister that lives in Jeff, and I think it would be cool to be able to meet her and walk and do the bridge on both sides,” she said. “I think it is awesome.”

When the pedestrian bridge links Kentucky to Indiana, Moore said Jeffersonville will offer Louisville residents, like the Herbsts, and Indiana residents a safe, enjoyable and family-friendly atmosphere at Big Four Station, the park at the foot of the bridge.

“It is going to be a family park,” Moore said. “It is a family project, and we are going to make sure families feel safe.”

 

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Sierra Proctor, 13, New Albany, looks through a clothing rack at the Clarksville Salvation Army Thrift Store along Little League Boulevard on Wednesday morning. Students enrolled in any level of schooling in Floyd, Clark, Washington, and Scott counties were eligible for the back-to-school clothing giveaway.

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