River Heritage Conservancy has revealed detailed plans for Origin Park, an innovative urban park to be built along the Ohio River in Southern Indiana.

River Heritage Conservancy (RHC), the nonprofit leading the project, released the name and a master plan for the public park at a Thursday event. The park system will connect with the Falls of the Ohio State Park, the Ohio River Greenway and other destinations along the Southern Indiana riverfront.

The plans for Origin Park include 35 acres of new park lawns, 22 miles of trails, 4.5 miles of “blueways” to paddle on Silver Creek, seven new community gathering shelters and a new public event center. The park will also feature 75,000 new trees over 50 acres, 250 acres of a protected urban forest and 150 acres of naturalized meadows and an oak/hickory savanna.

RHC Executive Director Scott Martin said the public introduction of the Origin Park plan is “just the beginning chapter in a long conversation.”

The park will have national significance as the first climate change-resilient river park designed in the Upper South and Midwest, he said. The park is designed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 75-year flooding projections in mind.

“This is a park that will not close in a flood — this is a park that will welcome you in a flood,” Martin said.

Based on the master plan, the cost of the park would likely be about $130 million with funding from both public and private sponsors — $10 million has already been secured. RHC will kick off a capital campaign in 2021 to begin development for the first phase of the park.

The entire park is projected to be complete in about 20 years, Martin said, but pilot projects are expected to take form in a shorter period of time. RCH selected OLIN, a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture studio, to design the project. The studio is known for landscapes such as Bryant Park in New York City, the J. Paul Getty Center Gardens and Grounds in Los Angeles and the grounds of the Washington Monument.

Martin said the scope of the project has grown from 400 acres to about 600 acres. The plan now includes property in New Albany leading to the Kentucky and Indiana Bridge, land owned by the City of New Albany, which has not yet endorsed the master plan.

The conservancy has acquired 40% of the acres needed to complete the park system, and remaining parcels will need to be acquired in agreements between the conservancy and private land owners. According to RHC, the park will “heal” more than 300 acres of brownfields at the intersection of the Ohio River, Silver Creek and the Ohio River Greenway.

Cindy Sanders, CEO and partner at OLIN, is the leader of the consulting team of engineers, designers and ecologists who developed the design for Origin Park. The team has worked closely with RHC to study the property, and they spent many weeks onsite throughout the seasons to become familiar with the landscape.

“It was from this close reading of the site that the River Heritage Conservancy and the design team committed to celebrate and enhance the views of the river and the sky,” Sanders said. “We are committed to protecting nature and enhancing wildlife and creating opportunities for adventure. We believe that the drama of low water and high water are experiences to capture. But likewise, the drama of motion and stillness are to be equally celebrated.”

THE MASTER PLAN

The “social heart” of Origin Park will be the Infinity Loop, an accessible 2.8 mile trail that will include an elevated walkway over the Ohio River, Martin said. Visitors will be able to go to the park and walk the trail during a flood.

“There are very few places in our community where you can go to feel that energy,” Martin said. “This park and that pathway will take you out over the Ohio and allow you to have that experience, making it a unique amenity not only for our region, but for what we believe is the entire Ohio River system.”

The Base Camp park will be a nine-acre lawn featuring a lodge, a ranger contact station and other gathering spots. The construction of the 20-acre Buffalo Trace Lawn will be a “rolling, flowing lawn” with plenty of trees for shade, he said.

The park will also bring new life to the George Rogers Clark Cabin in Clarksville by telling the complex story of the 100,000 years of human settlement at the Falls of Ohio, including the stories of indigenous people who settled in the area, Martin said. The site was a starting point for the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Near the Clark Cabin, an event center overlooking the river will be designed to hold about 400 people and will be available to rent for weddings and other events. The venue will draw revenue for the park and enhance “the drama of our riverfront experience,” Martin said.

The Mill Creek Lowlands portion of the park, one of the few wet wood habitats in the region, is a “vitally important territory” featuring diverse flora and fauna. About 180 bird species were spotted there last year, Martin said. The Industrial Meadow will include 150 acres of meadow and savanna with a character that will change with the seasons.

The Flatwater space will be a major feature showcasing the adaptability of the park. When the park floods, visitors will be able to take paddle boats in spaces they would have walked in dry conditions.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Sanders said the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of the outdoors and public parks, and the goal is to create a “community of stewards who will love and care for this park and invest in caring for the next generation.” The park will be free to the public.

“The last six months has demonstrated the salvation of the outdoors as a place of health and recreation and a place to wave to others, friends and strangers alike,” Sanders said. “Parks, when well-planned, can be the foundation of living and experiencing the values of democracy. What better place to come together than in an environment of adventure designed to take your breath away — a place to experience raw awe.”

The name Origin Park is inspired by the rich history of the land, and it looks to both the past and the future. The name felt appropriate, bold and authentic, Martin said.

“We hope it’s the origin of a healthier, more livable, breathable, economically strong and diverse community for the next 100 years going forward,” he said.

“The name isn’t based on the landscape,” he said. “It’s based on stories — the ones before us and the ones that are to come. The best days of the park will be 100 years in the future. That’s the beauty of this park. We will get to have immediate wins, but the best will be in the future.”

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