It was a diverse group who attended Wednesday’s discussion of future plans for the Whitewater Gorge through Richmond at the Richmond City Building.
But they had one thing in common, they all were interested in the Gorge.
And, though there was nothing decided, there were a dozen opinions as to what should come next.
The main one was voiced by Ray Ontko, who represented the Richmond Shakespeare Festival at the gathering of about 25 people.
“My main hope at this point is that we update our Gorge plan to see where we are, where we can go next and how we can get there,” Ontko said. “By doing that we can look at what’s the next major effort to tackle and how we go about it.”
The next best opinion came from Richmond Parks Superintendent Denise Retz, who said, “I think we all agree that the Gorge is hugely important to all of us and to our community.”
Those attending heard a summary of the past Gorge plan, which is now over five years old, presented by Kevin Osborn of Rundell Ernstberger Associates of Indianapolis, the consulting firm hired to do the previous report.
Osborn discussed previous plans and accomplishments in the Starr Gennett Valley, Veterans Memorial Park and the Gorge land in between. He then highlighted plans for the future, presented in the past, that included an “elevated” walking trail on the east rim of the Gorge, a “Gorge Park” just south of the Third and D streets trail head for the Cardinal Greenway Trail and a visitor’s or interpretative center on land just south of the Main Street Bridge.
Those attending wanted to talk about connecting the entire trail with features like the Starr Gennett Valley, trail heads, veteran’s park, downtown Richmond and the city’s Depot District.
They also wanted to find new ways to create more access for people into the park.
“I don’t think we can create a vision for the Gorge without solving the problem with connection,” said Joe Hellrung, president of the board for the Society for Preservation and Use of Resources (SPUR). “There is a spectacular trail system south of the Starr Gennett area that should not be forgotten.”
Hellrung pointed out that if SPUR had not begun acquiring and developing Gorge land 50 years ago there would probably be no Gorge trail and no Starr Gennett Valley today.
“And we need better access to what’s in the Gorge,” Ontko said. “We need to let people know what’s down there and help them get there.”
Discussion also focused on developing the “little depot,” just south of the Third and D trailhead, but Len Vonderhaar, president of the Wayne County Rail Roaders Association, said action must come soon to preserve the historic building.
“There are several holes in the roof and every rain is a threat to that building,” he said. He added that the railroaders would be happy to help with that project.
Retz said a feasibility study must be done soon to get an accurate picture of what must come next to the depot and to establish costs.
“These things don’t happen quickly but I know the longer we wait the greater chance of further decay of that building,” she said.
David Fulton of the Starr Gennett Foundation also discussed possible ways to better display the medallions placed in the “valley” commemorating the various artists who made recordings there.
In the end, Retz said REA will update the Gorge plan and another meeting will be set.
“If anyone has any additional ideas they should call me at 983-PARK or send me an email,” she said.
Overall, the meeting was a success in part because of the groups attending. There were park board and Richmond Common Council members there, along with representatives of the veterans park, railroaders, SPUR, Starr Gennett Foundation, tourism bureau, Shakespeare Festival, even Hayes Arboretum.
No one talked money, which, of course, was the 800-pound gorilla in the room, but the discussion was lively and showed, as Retz said, “that people really care about the Gorge and it’s future.”
I, for one, came in thinking the meeting was a waste of time, and the idea of a welcome or interpretive center one of the dumbest ideas of the year.
But upon further review, I guess, why not? Why not let people know the history of the Gorge, the settlers, the mills, the Starr Piano Company and Gennett Records, what the SPUR folks have done, what the veterans have done, the Starr Gennett Walk of Fame, and throw in information about downtown Richmond, the Depot District, Earlham College, etc.
Then let’s get people into the Gorge through festivals and other events.
In my opinion, that might just be a good idea. At least it’s something worth talking, and dreaming, about.