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For more details, contact the White River State Park Visitors Bureau at 1-800- 665-9056.
Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association, 1-800-824-4639.

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A park pilgrimage
White River State Park features a zoo, gardens, museums and more in downtown Indianapolis

Visitors to White River State Park enjoy wandering through the sculpture park
Story and photos
By Ruth Chin
Published: May/Jun 2001

While most getaways to a state park conjure up images of cabins and marshmallow roasts, escapes to White River State Park break the mold.

You won't find any campfires in this park, located in downtown Indianapolis. Yet within its sprawling 250 acres, visitors will find 16 diversified attractions to fill any weekend Indianapolis itinerary.

Creating the state park

During the 1960s and ’70s, many cities were confronted with depressed downtowns. Indianapolis was no different. Early commerce, begun near the river, included smoke-stacked industries, a meat-packing plant, massive warehouses and a pumphouse that supplied water for drinking and fire protection. Left neglected and vacated, the aging structures evolved into an unsightly neighborhood.

Civic leaders, aware of this once-vital area's decay, made plans to revitalize downtown with entertainment and recreation. There would be theaters, playgrounds, parks with beautiful flowers–even a Ferris wheel.

“In 1979 the general assembly established an independent White River State Park Commission, not connected to the Department of Natural Resources, to avoid complications in acquiring funds for land to revitalize the area,” said Donna Imus, Deputy Director of the White River State Park. “The national highway, U.S. 40, which is Washington Street, ran straight through the city center and through what is now the state park. The highway was rerouted around the old Washington Street Bridge area to accommodate the park.

“The architects wanted to emphasize the river,” Imus said. “A lot of people never knew a river existed in the downtown area because factories hid it, and it was not a place conducive to sightseeing.”

Now all the park needed was attractions, and when the Indianapolis Zoo decided to relocate to the park, a dream was nearly reality.

Animals and azaleas
Within the park, the Indianapolis Zoo is home to more than 4,000 wild animals.

The zoo was first to move from 30th Street into the area in 1988. Approximately 4,000 wild animals made downtown their new home.

Children's playgrounds feature water areas with sculptured whales and dolphins and colorful dry slides and tunnels. Sideline benches provide adults a place to rest while watching their children. A restored carousel, petting zoo and pony rides are also popular with youngsters.

Take the PrideTrain Ride through a jungle of wild African animals. In May, the zoo stages its version of the Indy 500, the Zoopolis 500. Special events are also held in June–August, October and December.

Adjacent to the zoo is the White River Gardens. Like the zoo, it is open year-round and complements the zoo's biome concept. Visitors may solve garden problems with the help from volunteer master gardeners at the Dick Crum Resource Center, located in the conservatory. During warmer months, more than 1,000 free-flying butterflies flutter among visitors.

Decorated with original sculpture by five artists, 1.5 miles of path thread through nine theme gardens.

Other cultural institutions

Opened in 1989, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art features the collections of Indianapolis businessmen and philanthropists, Harrison Eiteljorg and Eli Lilly. Works by Western artists C.M. Russell and Frederick Remington, as well as Georgia O’Keeffe, are featured. Rare and exquisite memorabilia tell the stories of the old West and its people.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial was dedicated on May 28, 2000. The one-acre memorial is made of 27 curved walls of glass, each from seven to 10 feet high, noting 3,432 names and specific battles. Recorded stories by the heroes are played throughout the day. The memorial is located at the edge of Military Park that was once a Civil War encampment.

Another attraction, heroic in size, is Indiana's only IMAX Theater, which projects larger-than-life images onto a six-story screen.

The sporting life

The NCAA Hall of Champions displays artifacts and interactive exhibits regarding all 22 National Collegiate Athletic Association sports.
“Take me out to the ballgame” means to the White River State Park, where Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, farm team of the Milwaukee Brewers, play baseball on natural grass April through September at Victory Field Baseball Park. Opened in 1996, the 15,000-seat park includes outfield picnic areas and luxury suites above the stands.

The NCAA Hall of Champions and Headquarters, relocated from Kansas City in 2000, displays all 22 sports and national championships through student and intercollegiate athlete exhibits. Hands-on equipment, multi-media presentations, a Final Four theater and a state-of-the-art Wall of Champions with 144 video monitors, shows visitors all the action.

Dedicated to health and fitness research, the National Institute for Fitness and Sports (NIFS) welcomes all ages and abilities in its program of fitness appraisals, a 200-meter indoor track, a basketball court, a rubberized workout floor, extensive weight training, and cardiovascular exercise equipment and exercise classes. Visitors may participate in exercise and health-related activities.

Associated with Indiana University School of Medicine, NIFS’s governing bodies keep the institute aware of new health and fitness developments.

The Central Canal Walk and the River Promenade provide walkers and runners a safe place to exercise. A Sculpture Garden also provides walkways for scrutinizing Indiana artists’ works. Park visitors also can rent a bike or a pedal boat.

Future plans

The new Indiana State Museum will move from Alabama Street and will open in the park next year. Ongoing improvements for the park are the extension of the Central Canal, plus the creation of new paths and landscaping at the Waterfront Project at the Washington Street Bridge. Expansion at the Eiteljorg Museum, renovation of the IMAX Theater and the new Powerhouse Museum, with its old turbines, are all scheduled to open in 2002.

Indianapolis has awakened to a renaissance throughout the entire region. Visitors who return often will find something new each time.

Ruth Chin is a contributor from Muncie, Ind.

Also see: Add these items to your Indianapolis itinerary

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