An Original Indianapolis Greenway: The Fall Creek Trail and Corridor


This past week was the 25th anniversary of the opening of the first section of the Monon Trail, the venerable greenway of Indianapolis, stretching from 10th Street downtown to the 96th Street frontier with Hamilton County. The 25th anniversary was the subject of some media attention, including this article in the Indianapolis Star (this is behind a paywall, but a subscription is only a few bucks). The article details the efforts that went into the creation of the trail, as well as the ultimately unsuccessful opposition against it's construction.


While the Monon is easily the most popular and well-known greenway in the city’s still expanding network, the original Indianapolis greenway is actually the Fall Creek Trail, which follows the route of Fall Creek from downtown all the way to Fort Ben Harrison State Park on the northeast side of the city.

The first movement towards the construction of the Fall Creek Trail was in 1985, when the creation of a Fall Creek Corridor Master Plan was considered to help guide development along the creek, with the inclusion of Woollen Gardens and Skiles Test Nature Park. Around this time, in August of 1985, the city submitted a request for federal money, seeking a $100,000 for the Fall Creek Corridor, which included "development of a multi-purpose trail (biking, hiking, jogging)." The proposed greenway took a step towards reality in late 1986 when the city received the $100,000 grant from the National Park Services Land and Water Conservation Fund (the grant was chosen by Indiana DNR, and paid from the federal money) to help add recreation facilities along the Fall Creek corridor, including picnic and parking areas, canoe launches, and the multi-use paved trail. The Indianapolis Star noted on December 4, 1986 that the city would match the funds, and that the grant was part of a larger plan for the Fall Creek Corridor, from 30th Street northeast to I-465.


Rundell Ernstberger Associates was retained to design the Fall Creek Trail, and other improvements along the creek, with Kenneth Smock Associates submitting the winning construction bid. The first 2 mile section of the trail ran along the north bank of Fall Creek, from Keystone Avenue to Fallwood Drive, and was constructed in 1988-89, while the next stretch from Fallwood to 56th Street in Millersville was constructed in late 1990. The images below show the construction of the first section of the Fall Creek Trail, dated July 7, 1988 (Indianapolis Public Library Digital Collections, Indy Parks and Recreation Collection)

Various recreation facilities were included along the trail as mentioned above, and the trail was routed under 46th Street and Emerson Avenue, the only two streets which intersected its path in this area. The trail was formally opened on March 23, 1991, with a grand opening ceremony followed by a community walk sponsored by the Mayor’s Fitness Council, and attended by Mayor William Hudnut. The flyer below advertised that event, and is contained in the William Hudnut papers at the Indianapolis Digital Mayoral Archives at University of Indianapolis.

Fall Creek Trail greenway Indianapolis history William Hudnut
Credit: Indianapolis Digital Mayoral Archives

The Indianapolis News reported on March 22, 1991, that cost of the Fall Creek Trail had been nearly $586,000, although $275,000 of the amount was obtained through grants. The Fall Creek Corridor report from November 12, 1990 (below), details the construction and costs of the Fall Creek Trail to that date.

Indianapolis history Fall Creek Greenway #indyturns200 trail
Credit: Indianapolis Mayoral Archives

The city began to plan for other greenways, and a 1994 report titled ‘Indianapolis Greenways Land Acquisition/Resource Development Model’ provided brief summaries of several potential greenway locations, including White River Corridor, B & O Trail, Eagle Creek, Central Canal, and the Monon Trail, which already had a master plan prepared. In regard to the Fall Creek Trail, the report noted that the completed trail between 56th and Keystone “has been a tremendous success for the neighborhood and citizens who use it.” The report also noted the interest in the trial which came from communities adjacent to the Fall Creek Corridor, and the “great enthusiasm” which was displayed by the residents in regard to the Greenway Master plan.


While researching this post I found no references to opposition to the construction of the initial sections of the Fall Creek Trail from community members, and as noted above, the response seemed positive. This is in contrast to the opposition which arose in response to the Monon several years later. The difference in treatment is likely the Fall Creek Trail’s location within the Fall Creek corridor, and specifically, in the flood plain between the creek and Fall Creek Parkway, not adjacent to any homes or businesses. Even as this section of the Fall Creek Trail was being finalized in 1991, there were discussions of a possible trail using the Monon right of way following the defunct railroad’s (it ceased operations in 1987) route through Marion County.

Fall Creek Trail Indianapolis history Greenways
Fall Creek Trail Logo

The Fall Creek Trail was expanded beyond the original terminus just south of 56th Street, and eventually all the way out to I-465, in 2007. A parking area along Fall Creek Parkway, just west of I-465, provides access to the trail, along with a canoe launch, directly across from Woollen Gardens. A spur of the trail also cuts off to access Skiles Test Park to the north. Around 2014 the trail was extended to Fort Ben, with an underpass to allow the trail to go under I-465 and Shadeland. This section of trail is very close to the creek, and often floods during periods of high water. The photo below is one of those instances, from 2015. Note the blue center line marking on the trail. The Fall Creek Trail uses blue, while the Monon uses red markings.

Fall Creek Trail Greenway Indianapolis history flood

A proposed pedestrian bridge to link the Fall Creek Trail with Woollen Gardens, referenced in a prior post, never materialized, and likely never will considering the protected status of the Gardens. In 2002-2003 a connection with the Monon Trail was made, which also included the installation of a pedestrian bridge to connect the Monon connection trail, which partially runs along the southern bank of the creek, to the main trailhead at Fall Creek Parkway near Keystone Ave. Over the past decade, additional sections downstream on Fall Creek have been constructed, including from the Monon to Meridian Street. More recently, a section was completed from Meridian westward, allowing trail users to now follow the Fall Creek Trail all the way to Fall Creek Boulevard and Dr. Martin Luther King Avenue. Additionally, over the past two years the original section of the trail from the trail head near Keystone to 56th Street were recently repaved and widened, and in some areas the trial was realigned to minimize flooding concerns. Sections between 56th and I-465 also underwent realignment in certain locations.


Sources

Indianapolis Star: September 21, 1985, December 4, 1986, December 5, 1986, June 11, 1987, February 16, 1990, September 18, 2002


Indianapolis News: December 4, 1986, October 5, 1987, January 4, 1988, January 25, 1988, October 11, 1988, March 22, 1991


Indianapolis Greenways Land Acquisition/Resource Development Model (1994) Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, https://uindy.historyit.com/item.php?id=194539


Indianapolis Department of Parks and Fall Creek Corridor Project Report (1990) Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, https://uindy.historyit.com/item.php?id=454377


Information Update to City-County Council, Department of Parks and Recreation (March 1989) Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, https://uindy.historyit.com/item.php?id=427936


Board of Parks and Recreation Meeting minutes, 2007


Board of Parks and Recreation Meeting minutes, 1987, Volume 2




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