Editorial: Riverfront plan builds for region’s future

The effort to transform Columbus’ downtown riverfront from a mucky wilderness into an engaging, accessible oasis flows forth. Public comments recently closed as state and federal agencies continue their permit reviews.

As with most major projects, there are people who commented in favor of and against the project, and those who simply raised questions about various aspects.

But looking at the big picture, this project offers Columbus and Bartholomew County a unique opportunity to combine some long overdue environmental improvements and flood control measures with new opportunities for riverfront recreation and more. In short, it’s a chance for our city to polish up a diamond in the rough.

It’s our hope that the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management permit a project that we believe will be a boon for our community, and a natural enhancement to our region’s quality of life, for decades to come.

But there are also practical reasons for this work to go forward.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has been ambitious in removing dangerous low-head dams, including one in the East Fork White River beneath the Third Street bridge that serves no purpose other than negative ones. Those include collecting sediment and trees that have washed into the river.

Removing that dam is a basic part of the plan, which would restore the river’s natural flow and help reduce flooding.

Yet the “Our River, Our Riverfront” plan calls for much more. The plan includes trail enhancements that would better connect the riverfront and downtown to Columbus’ west side for walkers, runners and bicyclists.

Plans also call for a new riverfront plaza and riverwalk as well as an in-river recreational piece and other amenities. If you haven’t seen the visualization of what the plan could look like, take a few minutes to check it out at columbusriverfront.org. The video there gives you an impressive bird’s-eye view of the possibilities for this new riverfront draw.

This proposal has been the result of efforts dating to 2016 that involved early community input to reimagine one of Columbus’ central, yet untapped, assets. There’s reason to believe the project also could spur additional development to pair with the Upland Brewing Columbus Pump House, one of the few local businesses to make good use of the riverfront in its current state.

Multiple Indiana communities have experienced the positives that come with enhancing the natural beauty of their riverfronts, from Elkhart and South Bend to New Albany. Those communities and multiple others have enjoyed a riverfront renaissance of sorts by wisely investing in one of their primary resources: waterways that shaped their communities.

Columbus is likewise looking forward with the “Our River, Our Riverfront” plan. We’re excited about the opportunity to build for the future by adding to the amenities that make our community an excellent place to live, work, visit and play.