Southern Indiana

The development of a massive riverfront park in Southern Indiana will continue under new leadership starting this month.

Since 2017, Scott Martin has guided the planning and fundraising process for Origin Park as executive director of River Heritage Conservancy (RHC), the nonprofit behind the project. He’s leaving the position after being nominated to serve as administrator of the Department of Parks and Outdoors in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Prior to joining RHC, Martin oversaw development of the Parklands of Floyds Fork in Louisville.  

“I’m very fortunate to have been a part of two of the most transformational projects in the nation, in terms of urban parks,” he said. “Being a part of, frankly, two of the biggest projects I’ll probably ever be involved in is a remarkable lifetime experience. ”

Martin credited the RHC board of directors for their vision to transform 600 acres along the Ohio River in Clarksville into Origin Park. Land that was dominated by junkyards and other industrial operations for much of the 20th century will be “rewilded” with meadows, wetlands and at least 75,000 trees.

Though Martin’s departure came as a surprise to RHC, the nonprofit found a new director within 24 hours of his announcement last month.

Susan Rademacher, whom Martin calls his mentor, will take over as executive director Jan. 16. Earlier in the planning process, Rademacher served as a professional panelist for RHC during the selection process for Origin Park’s name and designer.

“It’s a fascinating place that gives us the opportunity in a really new way to balance ecological awareness with recreational experience that is one-of-a-kind,” Rademacher said. “And with the conservation and the industrial reclamation, it just wraps everything into one amazing project.”

Rademacher has more than three decades of experience in park planning. She’s served as parks curator for Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy since 2007.

Earlier in her career, Rademacher spent 15 years as president of Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy. That local connection is one of the reasons she was drawn to RHC.

“We love the hills of Southern Indiana,” Rademacher said. “We love the great reaches along the Ohio River. And we’re really looking forward to re-exploring the region, because a lot has changed. There’s been some really interesting new growth, and we’re going to be learning as we go.”

Along with the natural amenities, Martin said Origin Park will showcase the property’s historical significance.

“I think this is the most sacred land in our region, and I use that word very intentionally,” he said. “From the First Nations and the traditional custodians of the land, to the Underground Railroad, to the Lewis and Clark story, to the settlement of New Albany and Clarksville and Southern Indiana, you will be hard-pressed to find a richer site on the eastern side of the Mississippi than this. The fact that that’s an untold, unexplored, unappreciated story is a gift, because it means we still have a chance to do it.”

Rademacher said she hopes to build on Martin’s momentum to make Origin Park a reality. Over the next 18 months, she plans to focus on fundraising efforts and phase one development of the park, which includes office space for RHC and trails.

The vision for Origin Park won’t change under Rademacher. She said she’s inspired by Martin and RHC’s efforts to engage with the public and develop partnerships.

“Scott and the board and others have lit a big spark here, and that spark is in me, as well,” Rademacher said. “It began when Scott called me and invited me to be part of that selection process for the design of the park, and it’s grown ever since.”

Kent Lanum, the chair of RHC’s board of directors, said the Origin Park site will see “more activity than we’ve ever done before” in 2022. Over the next several months, RHC plans to announce a series of project updates, including construction start dates for some of the park’s first components.

Lanum said he’s confident the leadership transition won’t affect that expected progress.

“We’ve done the conceptual stuff, and we are at a point now where we need to start actually doing something,” he said. “Susan’s been on that path within her career, and having her at this time is a wonderful asset to the organization. We’re not going to miss a beat.”

RHC is hosting a party at the Reserve in Clarksville to say goodbye to Martin and welcome Rademacher, starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

John is the Health/Southern Indiana Reporter for WFPL. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.