The Wabash Valley Riverscape Project


What is the Riverscape?

Here are a few things in store for our riverfront according to the Riverscape Masterplan: riverside condos, hotels, and business offices. In the words of the privately run non-profit known as Wabash River Development and Beautification Inc., they want to “transform the face and image of Terre Haute in hopes of bringing economic growth opportunities for new business and to provide a landmark destination for tourists done through the restoration of the banks of the Wabash.”

It sounds good. Mission statements do.

The Riverscape project is one of at least three easily confused ventures to help reconnect Terre Haute to the Wabash River which lays hidden behind city hall, broken roads, and defunct industrial plants: The Wabash Valley Riverscape, Turn to the River, and Year of the River (2013). Although separate, all three are connected by a common, overlapping purpose.

In case you somehow missed it, last year was the Year of the River. Year of the River was a project developed by the Art Spaces Inc. which sponsors sculptures and other artistic displays around Terre Haute. Perhaps you’ve seen the piece outside of the library that looks like a shattered arch? That was created under their guidance. They are also responsible for most of the more prominently placed art around ISU’s campus. Turn to the River was a much larger project than any of their artistic blurbs around town. Like an excellently run propaganda campaign, they sponsored events every week based on the theme of the Wabash River. Their website is full of information about their accomplishments and Year of the River did give a kind of umbrella organization to an impressive number of community events.

However, quantifying or classifying actual lasting effects from the Year of the River is problematic. One that is probably known community-wide is the mural on the side of the Cox, Gambill and Sullivan Law Firm building. According to the Tribune Star, “the funds became available and the mural ‘was further inspired by the Year of the River initiative.’” Painting the mural was an educational program initiated by Indiana State University’s Art Department, and only later became a fairly successful display of the focus on the Wabash that the Year of the River project promoted. In other words, there was already a plan to create a public mural; however, making the artwork river-centric was unplanned at the outset.

This brings to mind the question: who exactly is planning for the use and development of the Wabash River? There must be key players. Indiana State, due to its ownership of property near the river is definitely one of them. ISU is also going to either capitalize on or spearhead this river-ward development and build a new Track and Field complex right on the river. As you can see in the conceptual photo below, they may also be planning to build a bridge across the river.

A river-themed mural is very nice to have in a river town. The track and field ISU intends to build looks pretty. If the bridge over the river isn’t cut from the plan, that would also be appealing. At any rate, competition at the venue would get more people to look to the river. But it wouldn’t yet be a “landmark destination.” Wabash River Development and Beautification Inc. must have more in mind. Because they are a non-profit organization, the expectation is that they have an altruistic purpose; economic growth for Terre Haute would be of benefit to the community, but if the community at large doesn’t know about opportunities for new businesses on the banks of the Wabash, won’t the benefit go to only a selected circle?


Over a month ago, I tried to contact the Riverscape Project through the e-mail address on their website. No response yet. So, what kinds of businesses are they looking to attract? What will their role be in deciding who can do business on the river? Perhaps they haven’t planned that far ahead. Maybe what they have is a plan for a plan, and they are still at the soliciting comment phase. If so, you’d think their website would facilitate the process.

Riverscape Website Woes

Like Alice’s journey after the always late rabbit down his hole: that’s how I’d describe the Riverscape  website. Do a Google search for the Riverscape and you’ll find it. This encouraging at first sight, but keep in mind what happened to Alice. Take an initial look at the website and you’ll think it’s an adequate info hub; but try, to find actual information on this website, and you’ll be disappointed. Sure there are very nice pictures, if a little dated. There’s a map of the area planned to be developed, but if you can somehow manage to save the image of the map to file it will only be 296 x 410 pixels, which means if you blow up the image large enough to see any actual details it will all be blocks and chunks of color like an image for the impressionist era. Am I being overly critical? Let’s ignore the technical and look at content.

The website, which should be one of the major platforms for disseminating knowledge about the project doesn’t really give the public a lot of information. For instance, let’s try to find out the project timeline through the website. The first thing you’ll see in the “History” section of the website is that an organization called Terre Haute Tomorrow, responsible for giving our fair city the logo “A Level Above,” takes credit for developing the River Committee. But what has that committee accomplished since “the early 2000s”? If the website has anything to say about it, well, it should say it.

You can scour the website for other information, but the only item with seeming potential is the contact e-mail: I encourage readers to contact them and ask them what they have in the works. Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did.

Now, it may seem as if I am simply feeling slighted by having my e-mail ignored. However, I would argue that if you can’t manage to successfully build, maintain and monitor a website, how can you expect to build, maintain and monitor a riverscape? Creating a riverscape requires the input of civil engineers, artists, landscapers, flood zone experts, and various entities of local government, not to mention a heck of a lot of money. But all of that has to be grounded on the support of the community.

To put this in perspective, when I contacted Mary Kramer at Art Spaces she replied almost immediately. She gave me the information she had about Riverscape, but also gave me a list of contacts of people who knew better than she did about the project, including the current president of Riverscape (by the way, the website wrongly states that John Mutchner is the president when it is really Charlie Williams). Art Spaces seems to be much more organized, and they at least have a set of leaders who are helpful.

I would like to suggest that perhaps the people who designed and “maintain” the website simply don’t know what they are doing. It is obvious that they don’t understand modern design principles. Chalk it up to a lack of care, a lack of knowledge, and a lack of focus. It could also be a way of maintaining control until everything is a done deal.

Looking at the list of organizations associated with the Riverscape project, it seems apparent that they have dreamers and organizers, planners and strategizers. They might be in need of better communicators to present and disseminate information about their mission. They should be engaging with the community that they claim to want to benefit. Go to one of their meetings and you’re not among an open group of river-loving people. It feels more like an exclusive club of do-gooders patting each other on the backs. You get looks suggesting that you probably shouldn’t be there. Transparency and openness is essential to ventures such as Riverscape. All the business leaders, politicians and facilitators involved should know that.


Organizations Working on Riverscape/TTTR/Year of the River:

Editor’s Note

Recently, the Turn to the River Project distributed a document about their work. We will be looking at this in a future article.

Related Images:

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