Conner Prairie holds open house on White River Plan, talks river ecology center


On Oct. 16, Conner Prairie and City of Carmel officials conducted an open house at Wilfong Pavilion at Founder’s Park in Carmel to discuss how the two organizations fit into the long-term White River Vision Plan.

Representatives from Carmel City Council, Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation, Hamilton County Parks and Recreation, Conner Prairie and Hamilton County Tourism were on-hand to present information and answer questions.

Conner Prairie mostly presented on development possibilities on the land it owns to the west of the river. Overall, Conner Prairie owns 1,046 acres of land and has 3.3 miles of White River frontage. The White River passes through Hamilton and Marion counties as it makes its way to the Wabash River.

Tentative opportunities for Conner Prairie land could include a river ecology center, a farm-to-table restaurant with site-sourced ingredients, a conference center and more.

Carmel City Council member Sue Finkam had some positive thoughts as well as some concerns.

“I’m very excited about the aspect of having a high-quality interactive experience like this in our backyard,” she said. “I feel like (Conner Prairie) has been a good steward of the land they’ve been provided to manage.”

Finkam said plans are in the works for kayak and canoe access to certain parts of the river from the river ecology center that aren’t currently offered.

However, Finkam said she also has concerns for the nearby residential areas, mainly Legacy, a 440-acre development at the southwest corner of 146th Street and River Road.

“I think (residents) will appreciate this if it truly honors nature and doesn’t feel like an intrusion,” she said.

Finkam said she also was concerned about the potential long-term conference center. She said if that project comes to fruition, she hopes Conner Prairie will remain open to residential and city input.

Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation Board President Rich Taylor said more paths and a river ecology center have always been the subjects of public requests.
“The river ecology center would provide an opportunity to show historically how the river has been used. There would be learning about the nature that surrounds the river,” he said.

Taylor said if the river ecology center is built, it would like be a public-private partnership between the City of Carmel and Conner Prairie.

Conner Prairie President and CEO Norman Burns said if a public-private partnership for the farm-to-table restaurant forms, it would likely also include a partnership to plant the right crops and orchards to provide ingredients for the restaurant. Conner Prairie also plans to use some of the land to expand its rare breeds’ program.

Finkam said the plans for developing Conner Prairie land on the west side of the river could take anywhere from three to 10 years.

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