(This piece was originally published on July 14, 2017 in The Herald Bulletin.)

Anderson has a great many virtues that will enable the community to grow in the 21st century – a historic downtown and central city neighborhoods, the presence of Anderson University and Purdue Polytechnic, the city’s quality parks and trail system. There are optimistic young people and natives of the city who moved away but are now returning with the idea to help Anderson in its next chapter. And through the center of the community runs the West Fork of the White River, one of Indiana’s most scenic rivers.

A broad coalition of groups, including the Hoosier Environmental Council and locally-based Heart of the River, White River Watchers, and the League of Women Voters of Anderson, support a project that would boost the city’s quality of life, conserve the free-flowing White River, and create economic opportunities. This project is the Mounds Greenway, a 2,300-acre linear park and trail system that follows the White River from Muncie to Anderson, with an eventual connection downstream to Indianapolis. More than “just a trail,” the Mounds Greenway would conserve valuable floodplain forests along the river, help protect the wonderful historic, archaeological, and cultural sites of the river valley, expand outdoor recreation facilities, and attract entrepreneurs looking for the right kind of place to live and build a business. The Economic, Health and Environmental Benefits Analysis for the Mounds Greenway forecasts $13 million in annual regional benefits.

Across the country, and in Indiana, historically manufacturing-centered communities like Anderson are refocusing attention and care on their local rivers as part of their economic revitalization. Among them are Racine, Wisconsin; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Red Wing, Minnesota; Fort Wayne, Indiana, and most recently, Indianapolis, which – with Hamilton County – is embarking on a strategic planning process to make the White River corridor a focus for enhancing these communities.

Is the Mounds Greenway the single solution to Anderson’s challenges? No. But along with riverfront revitalization it has the promise to be economically, culturally, and environmentally transformative for the city. And with the proposed greenway expected to produce a very positive return on investment, as shown in case studies for similar greenways with benefit-cost ratios ranging from 3 to 1 to 6 to 1, the Mounds Greenway would be an economically very sound approach to community development.

Since proposing the Mounds Greenway concept in partnership with Heart of the River, the Hoosier Environmental Council has been extensively engaging the Anderson community: We have made presentations to over a dozen local organizations, had at least 40 one-on-one meetings with community leaders (including business owners, planners, health care providers, and educators), hosted two community stakeholder meetings, and sponsored a very short film produced by an Anderson filmmaker. We presented to the Anderson City Council late last year. And we met with Anderson city officials on four separate occasions, including a fall 2016 meeting with Mayor Tom Broderick, to invite the city to work with us on the Mounds Greenway. In collaboration with a local business, we also proposed to the city a greenway-related recreation and economic development project along the river at Scatterfield Road. What’s more, our local partners and many Anderson residents have reached out to city leaders on many occasions including their own meeting with the mayor about the Mounds Greenway.

HEC’s track record of community engagement in Anderson is considerable and belies the claim made by some community voices that we have not been inclusive in our work on the Mounds Greenway. We will continue to collaborate with any Anderson resident, business, official or organization who is interested in making the Mounds Greenway part of the next great chapter for Anderson, and look forward to doing so.

Tim Maloney is senior policy director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.

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