Vision & Progress
Connecting neighborhoods, parks, culture, and more.
The White River is Central Indiana’s next frontier: unifying and diverse, productive and protected, timeless and contemporary. The River sets us apart as communities that can work together to realize big dreams. Its healing power guides us toward a resilient future, supports healthy neighborhoods and economies, honors the past, and improves the lives of Hoosiers for generations to come.
The White River Vision Plan
The White River Vision Plan is a community-driven plan in Hamilton County and Indianapolis that explores the enormous potential of our river to enhance regional vibrancy, ecological integrity, livability, and economic vitality.
In recent years, Hamilton County and Marion County have experienced a renaissance. Downtown development is accelerating, suburban communities are flourishing, cultural institutions are expanding, major infrastructure projects are tackling water quality challenges, and park improvements are leading to a flourishing quality of life for the community. Long invisible, the river too is awakening from a period of underutilization and ecological degradation. Unveiled in 2020, the plan is the culmination of the thoughts of more than 13,000 people gathered during a nearly two-year planning process.
Implementing the Vision Plan
Cultural Trail Expands to White River
The Indianapolis Cultural Trail announced in 2023 that it would receive a $21m extension to connect a current trail spur at Lucas Oil Stadium through the planned Indy Eleven Park and over the planned iconic Henry Street Bridge to White River State Park‘s expansion area.
Lilly Endowment Invests in Indy Parks
In 2023, the Lilly Endowment awarded $80m for improvements across the Indy Parks system, including several major grants for White River-adjacent parks. Holliday Park is receiving $4.5m for playground and signage improvements, walkway upgrades, and gazebo maintenance. Major Taylor Skate Park, part of Riverside Regional Park, is receiving funds to expand and add lighting. Riverside Park itself is receiving $11.55 in new funding (on top of $6.5m previously committed by the City) to build a new playground at the Taggart Memorial, upgrades to the soap box derby track, and new sidewalks and nature trails in the new adventure park portion of the park. Southwestway Park received $1.25m for a new comfort station, expanded parking area, and playground.
Broad Ripple Park Family Center Opens
In 2023, a new significantly expanded Broad Ripple Park Family Center opened, the first step in implementation of the Broad Ripple Park Master Plan completed in 2019.
Broad Ripple RiverWalk Completed
In 2023, construction wrapped up on the Broad Ripple RiverWalk promenade, connecting Broad Ripple Park with Broad Ripple Village.
Floodplain Connectivity Mapping
In 2023, The Nature Conservancy is researching aquatic wildlife restoration techniques and mapping floodplain connectivity along the White River.
Riverside Affordable Housing
Indianapolis announced the Vacant to Vibrant housing initiative in 2023 to develop new affordable home ownership and rental housing in two city neighborhoods facing growth pressures, including the Riverside neighborhood. A pilot of a new residential property tax escalation cap has also been approved to address gentrification concerns in the area.
CEDS Embraces Vision Plan
The Central Indiana Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) regional blueprint was adopted in 2023 and calls for a focus on water management and for expanding the vision plan’s framework to other communities.
White River Report Card Released
The White River Alliance led the development of the White River Report Card with input from throughout the community. This scientifically based Report Card analyzed 9 watershed regions and calculated 142 grades for 18 different categories related to land, water, and community.
Indy Water Connection Camp Launches
In 2023, Friends of the White River launched a new Indy Water Connection Camp to increase opportunities for racially and ethnically underrepresented communities to interact with the White River.
Conner Prairie Nature Trails
In 2023, Conner Prairie began construction of 2.5 miles of nature trails along the White River, thus activating another 260 acres of their properties for guest access. The trails will open to the public in spring 2024.
Carmel White River Greenways Expands
In 2023, Carmel will extend its White River Greenway, following the river for more than 5 miles from 116th to 146th Streets and includes a partnership with Conner Prairie’s river-related projects.
30th Street Bridge Reconstructed
The historic 30th Street bridge in Riverside Park is currently being rehabilitated and restored, including wide promenades leading down to the water’s edge.
Steven Nation Trail Opens
The Steven Nation Trail, which connects downtown Cicero to Strawtown Koteewi Park and the White River along an east-west route, opened in the summer of 2023, providing additional miles of greenway connectivity to the river.
146th Street Bridge Reconstruction
The 146th Street bridge over White River is being reconstructed. The old bridge used a solid barrier wall, inhibiting views of the White River, while the new one includes a design that allows views of the river along with wider pedestrian paths.
White River State Park Expanding
A 10-acre expansion of White River State Park along the river will be part of the Elanco redevelopment of the former GM Stamping Plant. Planning for the park expansion is currently underway.
Conservation Agriculture Assistance
As part of the National Water Quality Initiative, The Nature Conservancy provides outreach to farmers and dollars for conservation practice implementation on farms in the Upper White River watershed, including $2M in the Prairie Creek Reservoir area and $50,000 in Hamilton and Tipton counties.
DigIndy White River Tunnel Opens
Citizens Energy Group’s Dig IndyTunnel System is already reducing combined sewer overflow incidents in the river, improving its health and the health of the surrounding communities. In 2022, the White River Dig Indy tunnel opened, joining the Eagle Creek and Pogues Run tunnels to nearly eliminate all combined sewer overflows into those waterways. Work continues on Fall Creek and Pleasant Run tunnels, with completion expected in 2025.
Pleasant Street Bridge
Hamilton County and Noblesville broke ground in 2022 on the new Pleasant Street Bridge as part of the city’s Reimagine Pleasant Street initiative. Not only will the bridge ease traffic congestion in downtown Noblesville, but its pillars will also tell the story of the three WRVP guiding principles of environment, economy, and equity through public art.
Elanco broke ground in 2022 on a new $100M campus on the former GM Stamping Plant site along the west bank of the river in downtown Indy, which will include expansion of White River State Park and a new multi-modal bridge that will connect West Indy with downtown.
White River Regional Opportunity Initiative
Hamilton, Madison and Marion Counties, together with the communities of Anderson, Carmel, Fishers, Indianapolis, McCordsville, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville, joined forces to use the White River watershed as a framework for a White River Regional Opportunity Initiative, a collaborative submission for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s READI grant initiative and was awarded $20M in project funding. Included in the plans are not only commercial developments but new greenways and park spaces.
Invasive Species Mitigation
Through a partnership with MIBOR, the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District installed numerous boot brush stations at parks in the White River watershed to reduce the destructive spread of invasive plant species.
The Nexus mixed-use development in downtown Noblesville opened in 2022, providing 287 apartment homes with retail space and a trail connection to the nearby White River Greenway and Forest Park.
The Village at Federal Hill
Construction began on The Village at Federal Hill, located near White River’s Federal Hill Commons Park in downtown Noblesville. When complete, the development will bring 220 apartment homes and new retail space to the area.
East Bank Apartments
Construction began on the East Bank Apartments development, located along the Noblesville Riverwalk in downtown Noblesville. When complete, the project will offer 219 apartment homes and retail space.
Burr Oak Bend Acquired by Hamilton County Parks
In 2022, the Central Indiana Land Trust transferred the Burr Oak Bend nature preserve in Noblesville to Hamilton County Parks, with plans to continue ecological restoration and expand public access by constructing a new trail.
Accessibility at River Heritage Park
In 2022, Carmel Clay Parks finished updates at River Heritage Park to include wheelchair-accessible playgrounds, nature trails and White River overlooks.
Rock Ramp Dam Completed
A new rock ramp dam structure in Riverside Park now replaces the Emrichsville Dam which collapsed in 2018. The rock ramp dam offers a safer and more ecologically friendly alternative to low-head dams.
Kessler Boulevard Bridge Reconstruction
In 2022, Indianapolis spent $7.5m to complete extensive reconstruction of the Kessler Boulevard Bridge over the White River.
Oliver’s Woods Nature Preserve Opens
In 2021, the Oliver’s Woods nature preserve opened along the river, nestled in the busy Keystone at the Crossing Area. The 53-acre park includes nature trails and a canoe launch on the river.
Belmont Beach Pop-Up Park Opens
In 2021, Haughville neighborhood residents and Visit Indy opened the Belmont Beach pop-up park, a temporary community park celebrating human and environmental resiliency at the site of the formerly segregated swimming beach. A master plan is currently underway for the historic site that will soon become an official City of Indianapolis park.
Riverside Adventure Park Plan Released
In 2021, the Riverside Adventure Park plan was completed, repurposing the former Riverside Golf Course that had been taken offline a year earlier as part of implementation of the broader Riverside Park Master Plan, completed in 2018. Funding for initial projects in both parks has been committed by the Circle City Forward program.
Restored Taggart Amphitheatre Opens
In 2021, the Taggart Memorial Amphitheatre in Riverside Park opened. The restored historic Taggart Memorial serves as the backdrop for community programming from Indy Parks and is home to IndyShakes, an outdoor Shakespeare company.
HamCo Comprehensive Plan Embraces River
The 2021 update to the Hamilton County Comprehensive Plan places significant focus on preserving the river floodplain and specifically incorporates several of the Vision Plan’s guiding principles.
RAFT Water Quality Program Launches
To fill gaps in knowledge, the White River Alliance launched a River Assessment Field Team (RAFT) program. This program uses trained volunteers to collect water quality data at 74 sampling sites, which is shared with State and local officials as part of ongoing analysis of the river’s health.
Central Indiana Water Study
Indiana Finance Authority completed the Central Indiana Water Study in 2021, which explores forecasted water demand and supply in the watershed.
Conner Praire Shoreline Stabilization
Conner Prairie has completed three shoreline stabilization projects, reducing silt and runoff in the river.
South River District Study
In 2021, Hamilton County Tourism released its South River District Study, proposing improvements and connections between Conner Prairie’s planned River Education Center and two existing and one new park. This new park, Thomas Marcuccilli Nature Park, was also announced.
Fishers Announces New Riverfront Park
In 2021, a new riverfront park was identified as needed in the new Fishers 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Fishers has since purchased property just north of 96th Street and begun planning the park.
White River Bluffs Protected
In 2020, after several proposals for private residential development, the Central Indiana Land Trust acquired riverfront property, known as White River Bluffs, from the Highland Country Club.
Agriculture Cover Crop Incentive Program
Indiana Department of Agriculture, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, has funded a Cover Crop Premium Discount Program since 2020 to incentivize farmers in the upper White River watershed to plant cover crops to reduce erosion and improve quality.
White River Water Quality Study
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Management completed the White River Mainstem Project water quality study in 2020, one of the most significant studies of water quality on the river ever undertaken.
Nature Park Riverbank Stabilization
In 2020, Newfields completed riverbank stabilization and reopened the riverfront trail in the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park.
Koteewi Lake Opens
In 2020, Koteewi Lake, a repurposed gravel pit near the White River, opened for public use at Strawtown Koteewi Park and includes a kayak launch.
Carmel-Clay Parks Prioritize White River
In 2020, the White River is featured as a top priority in the Carmel-Clay Parks 2020-2024 Master Plan.
Logan Street Bridge Overlook
The Logan Street Bridge in downtown Noblesville was expanded to include wider pedestrian paths and a plaza-like overlook dubbed “The Bridge of Flowers.” It also has changeable seasonal colored lighting underneath.
Conner Prairie Master Plan Update
In 2019, Conner Prairie updated its campus master plan, proposing significant restoration and activation of the several miles of riverfront it owns, most notably through construction of a new River Education Center.
New York Street Bridge Illumination
The New York Street Bridge in downtown Indy has installed changeable LED lighting and serves as an icon for the area.
River House Development Opens in Broad Ripple
The River House mixed-use development opened in 2019 at the confluence of the Central Canal and White River, offering 86 apartments and first-floor retail overlooking the river in Broad Ripple.
Vision Plan Progress
While the plan is a generational plan to establish a national-park like network of places and experiences, we’re already getting started! Riverfront parks in both communities are already receiving additional investment. White River State Park is expanding. Combined sewer systems in Noblesville and Indianapolis are being addressed. A growing number of people are living, working, and visiting riverfront villages. Trail networks to and along the river are growing. Upstream farmers are being incentivized to use farming methods that help the river’s health. Institutions are activating their river’s edges. It’s just the beginning.
Vision Plan & River Partners FAQs
Because the plan is a vision with guiding principles and illustrative case studies and not a master plan with specific projects, there is no way to say the plan is x% complete. Instead we look to individual partners who are inspired by the plan and want to use its principles to guide their own projects. We are keeping track of the progress our community is making in implementing the plan on our History & Future page.
Because the White River Vision Plan isn’t a master plan with a list of specific projects, there really isn’t a cost associated with it. Through its guiding principles and illustrative case studies, the plan is designed to inspire individual communities, organizations, parks, attractions, and even individuals to take action in their own places, big and small. When each of those places identify projects, they will also develop a funding plan to make them happen (and to maintain and develop programming for them once built). We do know projects will likely require public (including new public sources), private, and philanthropic funds.
Yes, but it’s also about quality of life for residents, environmental stewardship, recreation and wellness, neighborhood vitality, flood protection, equitable economic development, and more! The plan was intentionally developed by a wide array of stakeholders and is deliberately broad in its scope.
We don’t think so. We believe if the river is out of sight, it’s out of mind. The more reasons people have to connect with the river, the more a part of their lives the river becomes, the more they will fall in love with the river and demand its protection. That doesn’t mean every proposed project on or along the river is good: we have to be very intentional and careful, engage ecological experts, and follow the guiding principles outlined by the plan.
It’s a starting point. The two counties are the largest two counties along the river and have the greatest density of existing parks and attractions. We know communities upstream and downstream are doing good work too, and we hope the Vision Plan will eventually grow to incorporate and align their work.