Fishers’ newest park has been softly open to the public since April 22, and has seen steady use, especially on some of the recent beautiful days. The hard opening over Memorial Day weekend kicked off what Fishers officials call “beach season.”
About a week before beach season started, it was nearly 80 degrees on a sunny afternoon. Families wandered through the park’s brand-new facilities; kids clambered over the pirate-ship play equipment; a group of lifeguards finished up training in preparation for the coming months; and almost everyone dug their toes into the soft, sandy beach.
Taking a tour of the park, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said development included completely overhauling the beach to make it swim-friendly for a variety of ages.
“So, all that water you see out there was actually drained,” he said, pointing to the designated swimming area. “There was a dam made, the water was pumped out, all the fish were actually shocked — they captured them and then put them back in the lake, so they didn’t die. And then they had to literally haul in thousands of cubic yards of fill to get to the beach. If you have a 4-year-old or a 7-year-old, when they walk out there, it’ll be a nice natural kind of incline, versus what otherwise I think was like a 20- or 30-foot drop off.”
Jake Reardon-McSoley, City of Fishers director of Recreation and Wellness, said the city brought in about 12,000 tons of sand to build up the beach and make it a better swimming experience, compared to the usual muddy lake bottom.
“It has now resulted in a great, very family-friendly experience,” he said. “There’s a gradual slope for 50 feet that goes down to a maximum depth of 4 feet. And actually, our Department of Public Works team works very hard, raking it daily. So, it almost looks like a golf course sand trap when people come in the morning.”
The sand has been a big attraction even before swimming was allowed. People were on the beach building sandcastles, and kids explored special equipment made specifically for sand play.
Reardon-McSoley said the swimming area has three natural fresh-water springs that were discovered during development. Those, combined with six aerators the city installed in the swimming area, will help keep the water from growing dangerous levels of algae.
“And then we operate this the same that really any aquatic recreation during the summertime would do,” he said. “We get water-quality samples, tested weekly. And we’ve already started getting them and everything’s a thumbs up. So, we’re excited.”
There will be eight lifeguards on duty when swimming is allowed, he said — six on the beach and two in the water. There is a launch ramp on one end of the beach for nonmotorized watercraft, and a vendor on-site who will rent out kayaks and paddle boards to those who don’t have their own.
Reardon-McSoley said there also will be a local food vendor selling concessions. And, of course, there are restrooms. Most of the park is ADA accessible.
The park is about 70 acres in total, and 40 acres have been developed. The playground has a soft artificial turf that doesn’t retain heat, so it won’t burn little bare feet on a hot summer day. There are shelters around the playground with picnic benches for visitors to get out of the sun. One shelter is available for rent for special events.
The remaining 30 acres, still under development, will be dedicated to “passive” recreation, Reardon-McSoley said, with gravel trails and other quiet engagement opportunities.
The city has received criticism because of the $50 parking fee for nonresidents to come to the park during beach season. Fadness said the park is a $30 million investment that the taxpayers of Fishers paid for, so it’s right for them to have priority. He said the $50 fee for nonresidents to park is comparable to what individual Fishers residents have paid for the park’s development, and will continue to pay for its maintenance.
“We certainly understand the rest of the region’s desire to utilize this park for free or at a nominal fee, and man, I wish we could accommodate that,” Fadness said. “And maybe someday, if demand goes down, there would be an opportunity for that. But right now, I don’t anticipate that to be the case, at least this first year.”
Fishers residents can register with the city at playfishers.com/219/Geist-Waterfront-Park, where they can download a “SmartPass” onto their phones to park at no charge. Those without a smartphone can get a physical card, according to the city’s website. During beach season — Memorial Day to Labor Day — nonresidents can go to the same link to purchase a one-day parking pass at least 48 hours in advance.
Reardon-McSoley said a parking space will be reserved for anyone who has purchased a pass ahead of time. Parking passes will not be sold on-site.
Nonresidents who walk, bike or take a ride-share service to the park do not need to purchase a parking pass. When beach season is over, there will be no parking charge for anyone visiting the park.
How did Geist Waterfront Park come to be?
The 70-acre site that is now Geist Waterfront Park had been a rock quarry. Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said it was the last section of land around Geist Reservoir that had not been developed for housing.
“For many, many years, there’s been a lot of development around the lake, but primarily residential homes,” he said. “A lot of beautiful, wonderful homes and wonderful neighborhoods. For as long as that’s occurred, there also has never really been public access to the water. So outside of that boat ramp across the street, if you wanted to go enjoy the water, there really wasn’t a location for you to do that.”
When the quarry ceased operations, the owners initially planned to turn it into another residential neighborhood, Fadness said. But he had other thoughts for the site.
“Ultimately, when we heard that they were considering building yet another 90 or 100 homes, we took a step forward and decided to secure the land for all of Fishers residents for the foreseeable future,” he said. “And that took a period of time. It was a lengthy, drawn-out negotiation with the owners, but ultimately, we were able to settle on a price.”
That price was $15 million. The developers potentially could have made more by building and selling high-end homes. But, Fadness said, there’s a certain amount of risk in that venture, compared to simply accepting a $15 million check and walking away.
The city went through a public-input process to find out what the community wanted from the new park, and from 2019, work has been ongoing to make the Geist Waterfront Park into what it is today.
Geist Waterfront Park is located at 10811 Olio Rd. in Fishers.