Park With a Purpose

Land purchase takes Madison, Ind.'s Heritage Trail closer to fruition

Conservancy is raising money to complete project

(January 2021) – The Heritage Park project has been in the works in Madison, Ind., since 1995 and in late November came one step closer to completion. The long sought after vision to conserve and develop parklands, while providing

January 2021 Cover

outdoor recreational and educational opportunities, is about to be realized by the Heritage Trail Conservancy with this park expansion.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since a land acquisition for Heritage Park was made,” said Bob Greene, 72, executive director of the Heritage Trail Conservancy. The volunteer-based organization oversees and maintains the Heritage Park, which features 20 acres on the Madison riverfront and a paved trail system that stretches two miles up the hill to the Madison State Hospital.
Greene said approximately 1.5 acres was recently purchased for $185,000. The land for the park lies along the Ohio River, with the trail winding through it. The trail is limited to hikers, walkers and bicyclists.
The project began when the Heritage Trail Committee formed in 1995 implementing plans to put in a trail leading from the hilltop to downtown that would tie into the larger park project. A mile and a half portion of the Heritage Trail connects downtown Madison with its steep hilltop section, beginning at the intersection of Vaughn Drive and Vernon Street.
The original mission of the Heritage Trail Committee was to “build trails in the city and county. And that is still a core emphasis,” said Greene. “In 2012, we developed a Master Plan for the Heritage Trail that I believe is still the most practical, cost effective and least intrusive to property owners.”

Photo by Don Ward

Area residents enjoy walking the Heritage Trail in Madison.

Greene, originally from Pittsburgh, became involved in 2007 when he moved to the Madison area. Two years later, the committee name was changed to the Heritage Trail Conservancy.
In 2009, Green said that the committee “adopted a broader philosophical approach that trails are only as appealing as the environment they run through. So we made a commitment to acquire as much adjoining land as appropriate to make the trail experience as enjoyable as possible.”
The first parcel of land was purchased in March 2012, the second in December 2012 and the third in November 2013. They now join this most recent parcel recently purchased.
“The Indiana Department of Natural Resources was a major partner in funding the first two parcels of Heritage Park by a grant provided through the Environmental License Plate Fund and a second grant through the Indiana Bicentennial Fund,” said Greene.
The property that was just added is primarily in grass, except for a wooden barn, he said. “The property has been well maintained. There are some old concrete foundations that will be removed in the future for aesthetic purposes.”
This past summer, Greene said he “was burdened with the thought that the Conservancy needed to purchase the final missing parcel for the park while it was still available. I got up one morning and felt led to knock on the door of a potential donor to kick off this initiative.”
He shared his concern with the potential donor that it was now or never for the Conservancy to move forward in purchasing the land, which lies in a flood plain along river. Greene said he felt that with downtown Madison real estate in great demand, the group was at risk of losing a critical piece of land if they did not act quickly.
He said he was grateful that the donor heard him out and offered to donate $15,000 toward the purchase. Later that same day, “I got a phone call from the donor asking me to return the check. I thought it was a case of buyer’s remorse.”
He immediately went back to the donor and returned the check. “They handed me another check – this one for $100,000!” said Greene. The donor was concerned about the Conservancy coming up with the balance, but Greene replied that he would do his best to make it happen.

Strong community support behind project

It has taken a lot of effort to come this far with the project, he said. “The fundraising campaign was an extraordinary experience for me to be a part of. I believe God’s hand was evident throughout the process.” Many of the donors have chosen to remain anonymous.
Cathy Hale, board member with the Conservancy and executive director of the Madison Railroad, said “Bob has done a tremendous amount of fundraising.” She said he alone removed more than 6,000 tires from the property in an effort to clean it up. “I’ve seen it go from trash to treasure, but there will still be a lot of maintenance work.”

Photo provided

Bob Greene of the Heritage Trail Conservancy says he hopes his group will eventually be able to build a park pavilion in Madison, Ind., similar to this one located in Batesville, Ind.

Hale said she has been involved since the beginning of the project. When Greene asked her if the railroad would donate or become involved, “I saw the impact he was making to our community and told him if he ever needed someone for the board, I would join. I did so because of the work I saw him doing. I wanted to support the overall vision he came up with.”
Throughout the countless hours of hard work Greene has spent on this project, he said it “has brought me endless joy and happiness. I’ve received incredible support by so many.”
Tony Hammock, a board member of the Conservancy for the last 10 years, said “several different properties were acquired” to make up Heritage Park. “Upkeeping them will be a full-time job.”
Hammock, who owns a local construction company, said he has “done a lot of cleanup for Bob on the park land” using his company’s heavy equipment. The two first became acquainted when Hammock saw “him working and knew he needed help.”
Hammock said one of the next biggest steps will be to “develop the land and make it more user friendly to people.” Fundraising is also important, he said, adding, “I support Bob in whatever he does.”
Bob Canida is a Madison dentist and Conservancy board member who has also been involved with the Heritage Park project since its conception. He said Greene is under appreciated and under estimated in the amount of work he has put into this project. “He has personally gifted the city with his time and labor, and this has been the mission of his life.”
Canida said he feared that eventually there would have been “more development along the riverfront” if the Conservancy had not been able to purchase the land. While development is needed, “you also need an undeveloped portion,” he said.
Canida said he loves the view one gets of the large expansive, undeveloped riverfront, void of houses and businesses. “Bob has over the years done a fundamental reclamation of the property as well,” as evidenced by removing the tires and other debris.
“It’s a fabulous piece of property,” Canida said of the park project. In the future, “it will continue to connect Madison with the river, especially with the undeveloped land that is on scope with Clifty Falls State Park. It’s a great outdoor connection with the river. The river is the lifeblood of Madison. It always has been.”
The latest acquisition of one and a half acres “completes the whole park,” said Canida. It also “opens up the potential for the development of programs.”
Marci Jones, who in October retired as an employee of VisitMadison Inc. tourism bureau, said events have been held there before. She cited a very popular Night Hike with flashlights and said it would be a great venue for Boy Scout programs.
She said the amount of interest in the park “sort of surprised me. When I worked at the Visitors Center, people would come in and ask if there was a place to walk. A lot of people were excited to learn about the Heritage Trail.”
Jones walks the trail a great deal. “I really enjoy it. I live downtown, so it’s handy for me.” She said it’s a good walking trail, partly paved, partly gravel. She can walk to the State Hospital and loop around the Indiana Veterans Cemetery, which lies on the same property. “I rarely walk the trail that I don’t see people on it.”
Jones said she believes the Heritage Trail was used more during COVID-19 pandemic this year as a way for people to get much-needed exercise.
At the beginning of the COIVD-19 outbreak, she said she walked a lot at Clifty Falls State Park. “I thought no one would be there, but the park was packed all of the time.” The Heritage Trail at Heritage Park offer more outdoor opportunities for residents and visitors alike.
Hammock said Heritage Park gives Madison much-needed open space. “People use the walking trail (Heritage Trail) constantly.” He said Greene has accomplished so much cleanup work that “it looks totally different from what it once was.”
Jones said Greene “should really be commended for all the work he’s done. He’s maintained the trial and had hip replacement lately. We’re very fortunate to have Bob Greene.”
But Greene is not one to seek the spotlight, preferring to showcase the volunteers and donors that have contributed to the project. At last count, “we have had 40 donors who have given to the project, from individuals, small businesses, local government and large companies,” said Greene. “I’m pleased to say that many have donated to the Conservancy for the first time. I want to especially acknowledge the Community Foundation of Madison and Jefferson County, which has supported the project from the very beginning with key grants.”
Greene said he believes the Conservancy is “a leader in both building parks and building trails based on a fundamental advocacy for the conservation of the natural environment. We take our stewardship of Madison’s natural resources seriously and always endeavor to deliver a high standard of excellence in maintaining public resources for our citizens’ and visitors’ enjoyment. It’s not a job for us. It’s a calling.”
He continued saying, “There are so many moving parts with this project. The American Discovery Trail (ADT) goes through our park and Madison.” Greene was able to secure a designation for Heritage Park on the ADT and said, “It was an involved process that I had to go through to get the section that runs through Madison officially certified as part of the American Discovery Trail.”
The American Discovery Trail is a new type of trail – part city, part small town, part forest, part mountains, part desert – all in one trail. It comprises more than 6,800 miles of continuous, multi-use trail, stretching from Cape Henlopen State Park, Del., to Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif. It is the first coast to coast, non-motorized trail. Heritage Park lies within the Central-Southern route.

Ambitious future plans

With the footprint of the park secured, the next step is to concentrate on implementing a comprehensive Master Plan for the park, said Greene. “There are five existing features that are obvious platforms on which to build.”
First, the park property has three barge cells, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refer to as “dolphins.” The cells are brown, silo-looking structures that towboats tie off to when docking. “We would like to build a walkway to the top of at least one of the barge cells that will serve as an observation deck overlooking the Ohio River.”
The deck would “give visitors a unique and stunning vantage point to view the river,” he said. A similar one was built near the Big Four Bridge in Louisville, Ky.
The Conservancy would like to build a permanent concrete fishing pier that is safe, convenient and flood proof. In conjunction with this, Greene envisions a river interpretative center where people can visit and learn about the ecology and history of the river that “will be an irresistible draw to our children.” The center would feature faux replicas of different fish and river wildlife.
The third feature would incorporate the first railroad line in the state of Indiana, built in 1841, which runs through the middle of the park. While owned by the Madison Railroad, the Conservancy “would like to work, with the permission of the Railroad, to restore the tracks for historic reasons, even though the tracks won’t be used for train traffic.”

Photo provided

The area down by the Ohio River in Madison, Ind., was littered with junk autos, tires and debris before Bob Greene moved to town and began an initiative to clean it up.

With the latest acquisition, Conservancy board members have envisioned building a large pavilion, he said. It would be patterned after the one in Liberty Park in Batesville, Ind., and provide a public gathering venue for all sorts of events.
Lastly, the one feature that has generated a great deal of interest is a waterscape, featuring a waterfall with a recreated country stream for youth to learn stream ecology first-hand.
Greene admits “these are big goals. These are ambitious goals. But our commitment is for the highest and best use for this priceless land for the greatest good.”
When beginning this project, Greene said his primary motivation was to protect endangered and threatened species, such as monarch butterflies, and to create green space. But as he continued to develop the project, “I realized the most endangered species in our community is our children.”
For that reason, he has become focused on developing park features that will minister to at-risk and special needs children.
“We want the park to be a launch pad to ignite imagination and a sense of wonder in children so they can discover themselves, their passions and their purpose.”
Hale said that with this park “there will always be a dedicated green space for the citizens of Madison. The land was placed in a land conservancy and lies in a flood pain, which means it cannot be developed. “We wanted to create a park for everyone. The vision was that it was made available to all.”
Greene agreed with Hale’s sentiments, saying, “I want people in this county 100 years from now to say, ‘The people who planned and built this park really knew what they were doing. Here we are in 2120 and this park is still relevant to us.’ ”
There is no set timetable for funding of this project. Future funding sources will be sought through government grants, foundation gifts and legacy gifts from private citizens. Greene said he feels that “people are looking for opportunities to support causes that will have timeless and universal appeal.”
By all appearances and past success, the Heritage Park already measures up to those standards.

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