White River

The White River is going to look different over the coming years, from a floating stage to more recreation areas along its path, and community members can still help shape what it looks like. The White River Vision Plan will transform the river from a forgotten waterway into a cultural destination. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick) 

Clocking in at 220 pages, the White River Vision Plan Draft is the culmination of 15 months of community partners across Marion and Hamilton counties working together to reimagine what the White River can look like. But they’re not quite done, and there’s still time for you to get involved and share your ideas for the river.

The Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development and Visit Indy, along with other organizations, unveiled the plan’s draft June 3. The plan affects a 58-mile stretch of the White River and includes specific zones to respect the character of each community along the path. The plan will be posted for 30 days on the White River website, mywhiteriver.com, where community members can submit public comments.

The committee will make any final edits to the plan and reveal a final version later in the summer. Through earlier phases of planning, the committee received more than 13,000 comments and ideas from community members.

“The work is just starting,” said Brenda Myers, president and CEO of Hamilton County Tourism. “Today is celebratory because it doesn’t just close one phase of planning; it opens another.”

For downtown Indianapolis, the plan includes bringing together community partners to redesign the Emrichsville Dam near 16th Street for environmental, water quality and recreational benefits to the near west side. That includes possibly retrofitting the dam into a series of smaller dams that would allow people and wildlife to move more freely and safely down the river.

Reconnecting to Our Waterways (ROW) will play a role in getting those partners together. ROW is a collective impact initiative, meaning it brings together community members, businesses, government agencies and other nonprofits around issues where they can best align. Julie Rhodes, ROW’s collective impact director, said ROW has 100-150 partners, and part of her job will be getting as many of those partners as possible involved in the implementation of the plan.

Until then, Rhodes emphasized it’s still important for people to give their feedback and continue to shape what the White River Vision Plan will be.

“When the vision plan started, there was some skepticism from neighborhoods that the process wasn’t gonna be inclusive or that the plan was more for bringing in tourism,” Rhodes said. “But those who will look at the plan will realize it’s been a sincere process of inclusion and community voices.”

Other highlights of the plan include a park with a ropes course and launch points for canoes and kayaks, as well as a floating stage for concerts. (A group of arts organizations received a grant last year to build the stage; shows will start June 20.) There’s also the possibility of developing winter activities such as ice skating so the river isn’t seen as something the community can only enjoy during warmer months.

Gene D’Adamo, president and CEO of the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, said he has three goals for the White River that he hopes his organization can contribute to: improving water quality, increasing public access and growing appreciation for the river. Last summer, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust announced $4.9 million in grants to launch the Partners of the White River collaboration and to support the White River Alliance.

No matter what the finished product looks like, it’ll take years, maybe even decades, for everything to be established. That’s partly because of financing, which hasn’t been finalized. In an interview in February, Brad Beaubien, Indianapolis’ administrator of long-range planning for the Department of Metropolitan Development, said he could imagine local governments pitching in, as well as state resources and even federal help.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


The White River Vision Plan is not finalized, and you can still give ideas and feedback for what you’d like to see the river become at mywhiteriver.com. The committee will take comments through June 30, and the final plan will be released later in the summer.

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