Southern Indiana

The ongoing effort to construct a major park in Southern Indiana received a pair of grants worth a combined $900,000 this week.

When completed, Origin Park will take up nearly 600 acres near the Ohio River in Clarksville. But industrial operations have occupied much of that land for decades, meaning any contaminants left behind must be removed.

On Thursday, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded Clarksville $800,000 to help with that process. Clarksville was one of 151 communities in the country to receive funding through the EPA’s Brownfields Grant program, which helps with environmental assessments and cleanups at former industrial sites. 

The Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, a charitable group that donates to local development efforts, also announced a separate $100,000 grant for Origin Park on Thursday. 

“We were at the peak of industrialization by the late ‘60s, as was Louisville, and look at Waterfront Park now,” said A.D. Stonecipher, a Clarksville Town Council member and the appointed president of the redevelopment commission. “We’re trying to do what Louisville has done on our side of the river to create not just green space, but attractions and quality neighborhoods that [are] going to encourage companies to move here and stay here, and for residents to move here and stay here.”

The EPA grant will help with environmental cleanup at three former industrial sites in Clarksville. Two of those properties — a junkyard and a waste disposal facility — will be incorporated into Origin Park.

River Heritage Conservancy, the group behind the park, has acquired about half of the property included in the plan. But executive director Scott Martin said the next step is to make sure that land is safely rehabilitated.

“One of the sites we’re going to work on within our master plan is really the heart and soul of what will be a new forest,” Martin said. “What will be cleaned up now, which is a lot of clutter and junk, will become in our lifetime an urban forest. This is a really neat first step to what we call in our business rewilding our urban centers.”

But Stonecipher said cleanup at the third site funded by the EPA grant will benefit the South Clarksville Redevelopment Plan, which includes a new town center, mixed-use housing and park improvements.

“Having this grant is a huge buffer to ensure that we can move forward with what is really a three-pronged vision for the riverfront,” he said. “It is a big sigh of relief knowing that we have these funds available to make sure that we can move forward with these big visions.”

Crystal Gunther, the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana’s senior director of community philanthropy, said its $100,000 grant will help fund the River Heritage Conservancy’s Silver Creek Blueway project. The 4.5-mile paddling trail on the waterway will be the first portion of Origin Park to open.

The funding is Community Foundation’s first Quality Of Place Grant, which focuses on improving neighborhoods in Southern Indiana. Gunther said projects like Silver Creek Blueway, and Origin Park as a whole, can bolster the local economy and sense of community.

“We know that this will be an incredible asset to our community,” she said. “It really is going to be a transformative project in taking an area of our community that has kind of been inaccessible, and allowing a lot of community members now to access it and experience the outdoors in a new way.”

Martin said River Heritage Conservancy is still in the permitting and design drawing process for the Silver Creek Blueway, but construction will start this summer. The project is expected to wrap by the end of the year.

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