The West Fork White River from Muncie to Anderson is a clear, free-flowing river, lined by majestic trees. It is home to a variety of birds and fish and is popular with paddlers. The Mounds Lake project would dam the White River at Anderson and inundate the river valley at least seven miles upstream, creating a 2,000-acre reservoir. The reservoir would flood as much as one-third of Mounds State Park and the Mounds Fen. The park and fen contain a diversity of native plant species comparable to the best sites in Indiana, according to a report from the Indiana Academy of Science. Beyond Mounds State Park, nearly 1,000 acres of hardwood floodplain forest and natural wetlands would be destroyed – a loss of habitat that is home to hundreds of species including rare dragonflies and the uncommon starnose mole.
A principal reason for the establishment of Mounds State Park was the protection of distinctive prehistoric earthworks left behind by the Adena and Hopewell people. The shoreline of the reservoir would come within one hundred feet of these earthworks leading the Indiana Archaeology Council to oppose the reservoir project.
Along the West Fork White River is a productive aquifer that supplies water to central Indiana communities and has substantial untapped capacity to supply more. The City of Anderson gets its water from riverside wells, and a portion of Muncie’s water also comes from groundwater wells. Indianapolis and its suburbs obtain about 16 percent of their water supply from underground. Today these consumers use less water per capita than in the past, and there are still more opportunities to improve water supply and consumption efficiency.
The Hoosier Environmental Council and its partners Heart of the River, Robert Cooper Audubon Society and Indiana Forest Alliance have developed an alternative plan for the West Fork White River that is both environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial – the Mounds Greenway. The vision for the Mounds Greenway is two-fold: protect one of the most ecologically unique and high quality free-flowing rivers in Indiana; and create a premier greenway for the Midwest.
The Greenway would protect about 2,300 acres of forest, wetlands, and open habitats along the river’s floodway between Anderson and Muncie. The greenway would provide enhanced river access, places to hike, bike, picnic, watch wildlife and fish. By linking the city trails in Anderson to the White River Greenway and Cardinal Greenway in Muncie, the Mounds Greenway would connect a regional trail system of nearly 110 miles.
Based on the experiences of other communities around the country, natural river corridors and associated parks and greenways can provide a multitude of economic, outdoor recreation and tourism benefits. Outdoor recreation and tourism are thriving industries, and trail-based recreation in particular is growing in popularity. Over a million Hoosiers participate in trail-based recreation, and nearly 600,000 take part in non-motorized water recreation such as canoeing and kayaking.
Parks, greenways and protected rivers improve the quality of life in nearby communities. A 2014 American Planning Association survey of millennials and active baby boomers found that “[q]uality of life features such as transportation options, affordability, parks, local vitality, health and presence of friends and family are equally or often more important [than traditional business recruitment strategies].”
Over 30 years ago the Indiana Department of Natural Resources recommended the White River corridor between Anderson and Muncie be protected as a public recreational resource, finding that “the significance of this riverine resource to the urban populations found along its banks, and to the people of Central Indiana in general, cannot be overstated.” More recently, the Anderson, Muncie, and New Castle Economic Vision and Manufacturing Strategic Plan recommended establishing a regional greenspace and water trail network to offer a unique biking and hiking amenity for residents of the region. The Plan noted, “[w]hy are we targeting a greenspace/trail network as part of a manufacturing strategy? It comes back to offering the quality of life amenities that employers and employees demand.” For more information, go to www.hecweb.org/issues/open-spaces/hec-releases-mounds-greenway-plan.