Positioned on the Southern Indiana shoreline, just across the water from Louisville, lies a tremendous natural resource nestled within its urban core. Now known as the future home of Origin Park, the 630-acre parcel of land has seen its fair share of activity over the years.
Filled with stories of emancipated salves finding freedom via the underground railroad and tales of First Nation civilizations that once filled this extensive swath of land, much of the rare and beautiful landscape has become home to the ruins of industry. Landfills, excavation scars and even a superfund site dot the site now, abutting a rich floodplain forest at the river’s edge. Though, in time it will become an engine for biodiversity, human health and community engagement, bringing back the region’s human history to coexist alongside nature this time around.
It’s all part of landscape architect Lucinda Sanders’ vision. President and CEO at the Olin Studio, who provided the masterplan for the park, Sanders said her main goal is to bring locals closer to nature, something that has proven to be quite vital today.
An Engine for Equity and Mobility Within Nature
COVID-19 and a renewed focus on racial justice has highlighted the essential nature of parks as community builders and safeguards of mental wellbeing within urban settings, and this holds especially true in this region of Indiana where the rate of physical inactivity runs high along the Ohio River.
Planned to be built up over the course of several phases, Origin Park will ultimately become a gateway that leads into many of the existing and planned park systems of the region. Once completed, the greater park system will connect Clarksville, Jeffersonville and New Albany, extending out into the greater Louisville area with the planned Louisville Loop as well.
The areas that the park will connect to are also neighborhoods that hold some of the most affordable housing options within the region in some of the most walkable areas outside of the city. Parts of the park will also connect with many of the downtown areas, which will provide even more access points into an expansive and free recreational space that will help increase regional vibrancy and improve the quality of life.
Whether its paddling along the lands’ many available waterways or exploring the elevated 2.8 miles Infinity Loop, Origin Park will connect the surrounding urban landscapes to a variety of journeys and destinations within the Southern Indiana region.
Opening the ‘Raw Awe’ of the Ohio River
While the design will focus on adding in new infrastructure such as boardwalks and activity centers, a core component of the project will work on rewilding many of the local habitats. This will include a reseeding of the meadow uplands and oak savannahs, amounting to 250 acres of enhanced and preserved woodlands, 150 acres of new meadows and 50 acres of new forest all being added within this greater metropolitan region.
The natural hydrology of the river will also be enhanced throughout the course of the project, with the first phase encompassing work on the Silver Creek Blueway, a 4.5 mile stretch of water that feeds into the Ohio River. Improvements include the removal of a low head dam, paddling access along one of the urban sections and a take-out spot further down the river.
As a floodplain forest, the landscape at Origin Park engages in incredibly dramatic changes throughout the season, and as such, the design aims to celebrate this drama. For instance, boardwalks and piers will allow visitors to wander parts of the park safely during periods of flooding while also providing erosion control for the landscape. In other locations, the elevated boardwalks will bring guests to closely marvel at the canopies overhead.
Adaptive Design and Programming Ensure Park Livelihood for Years to Come
As time progress along with climate change, the annual flooding of the Ohio river is expected to worsen with even greater flood volumes than previous years. However, the design of the park, from both accessibility and infrastructure aim to be able to adapt to these changing conditions, starting with the pathways throughout the park.
In times of lower flood waters, guests will be able to still access the meadows and shores via elevated boardwalks above the landscape. However, during higher flooding periods levees that are in place in and around the park will be closed off, becoming their own walking paths where residents will be able to look out onto the submerged forests and meadows. All of the structures and the ecology within the park will be designed with this in mind, such that the flooding can continue to serve as a restorative process.
Programming and activities within the park will also work twofold. Infrastructure such as an outdoor adventure center will act as a recreation and event space for a variety of activities including climbing, whitewater rafting, music and dining, generating hundreds of jobs for the region while also acting as a travel destination for out-of-town visitors. Then, much of the programming, aimed at celebrating and interacting with nature, may providing an avenue for future generations to become educators and stewards within the park as well.