Southern Indiana

The first portion of a massive park set to take up 600 acres along the Ohio River in Southern Indiana will wrap up later this year.

River Heritage Conservancy, the nonprofit behind Origin Park, announced plans for the Silver Creek Blueway on Thursday. Silver Creek divides Clarksville and New Albany, flowing into the Ohio River.

More than 4 miles of the waterway will open to downstream paddling. Scott Martin, executive director of River Heritage Conservancy, said Silver Creek is full of “breathtaking” scenery.

“You never want to say it’s easy, but take what Mother Nature gives you, and that’s what made this so attractive as a first project,” he said. “Blueways and paddling trails just have a unique ability, no matter where they are, to slow people down and have them connect with their home communities in ways you can’t do otherwise. We know the power of those experiences on water can really shape people’s lives and make you stop and appreciate what we have here at home.”

There will be two access points on the creek. One will be upstream near Blackiston Mill Road. From there, paddlers will go downstream to the mouth of the Ohio River. The old Providence Mill dam, a low-head dam about 2 miles inland from the river, will be removed to make the waterway safer.

The other access point will be closer to the Ohio, which will allow people to venture out on the river.

“The lower access in the summer provides access to the Falls of the Ohio when it’s at summer pool, when it’s very low,” Martin said. “It’s a huge river, but it’ll give you a whole new experience to be able to get out there safely and experience this massive river that defines our region.”

Madison Hamman, vice chair of the River Heritage Conservancy board, said the team is excited to announce its first project. The announcement was more personal for him, since he grew up in Clarksville.

Hamman said locals have never seen the full potential of the land that was once home to junkyards and other industrial sites.

“For me, it’s exciting to take something that not many people knew existed, unless you bought auto parts down there before,” he said. “It could be such a beautiful landscape as Silver Creek meets the Ohio River. There’s untouched, virgin forest there that I think we take for granted, because you’re typically not going to that part of town.”

River Heritage Conservancy has acquired about half of the land needed for the park. The years-long endeavor of completing the park is expected to cost up to $130 million.

Hamman said the Silver Creek Blueway is the best way to bring attention to the land’s potential.

“This is just a very small peek of what’s to come,” he said. “We think the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. While it might look small to start, it’s the start of something much bigger than any of us on the board, and should last many, many years to come.”

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.