Environmental groups are proposing a system of trails to promote use of the White River in central Indiana rather than damming it for a possible seven-mile-long reservoir.
The Mounds Greenway proposed by the groups would connect parks and trail systems along the White River in Anderson and Muncie area and cost one-tenth of the estimated $450 million to create the Mounds Lake Reservoir, said Tim Maloney, senior policy director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.
Maloney said the greenway plan was a viable alternative to building a 2,100-acre lake that would flood part of Mounds State Park and woodlands along the river about 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis.
"It offers a lot to all of the communities in this region from a recreational, tourism and economic standpoint and protects a high-quality natural resource," Maloney said.
Reservoir supporters are holding a series of "Imagine Mounds Lake" public meetings this week in Anderson, Chesterfield, Daleville and Yorktown, along with displays at Mounds Mall in Anderson.
Project advocates say it would improve flood control, create prime real estate for waterfront housing and boost economic development in the Anderson area. The planned 50-foot-high earthen dam would create a lake slightly larger than Geist Reservoir on the northeast side of Indianapolis, which supporters say would help supplement central Indiana's water needs.
The reservoir plan include trails around the lake and one between Anderson and Muncie, said Rob Sparks, director of the Corporation for Economic Development Anderson/Madison County, which is pushing for the project.
Sparks said he hoped this week's meetings will help the public learn more about the lake plans.
"Certainly, when you flood 2,100 acres there's a lot of impact," he said. "We don't want to minimize that. We want people to come through and kind of experience that, talk about what they see and some of the benefits of the project, some of the challenges, and how they might be addressed."
Representatives of the Hoosier Environmental Council, Heart of the River and the Robert Cooper Audubon Society discussed their proposal during a news conference Monday at Canoe Country near Daleville.
Canoe Country owner Robbie Mixell said thousands of families and hundreds of school children have canoed on the White River for recreation and educational purposes.
"I would lose my business and home," he said. "People don't paddle on a reservoir."
An environmental study is being conducted on the reservoir plans, and Sparks said funding sources remain uncertain.
David Schulte, who owns several rental properties close to the proposed dam, said the reservoir was a necessary project.
"To me, it's going to be a boon for Madison County and for Anderson and the entire area," he said. "We're depressed and we need help. Yes, it's at a cost. Everything is."
The HEC said a greenway would save more than 2,000 acres of forests and wetlands while offering recreational opportunities, including hiking, fishing and biking. It would also save several historic sites in Mounds State Park.
It would also address another key reason cited for a reservoir by providing another source of clean water in central Indiana.
"The Mounds Greenway project will protect clean water for Hoosiers by conserving critical floodplain forests that reduce sediment and other runoff entering the river," the HEC said in a written statement. "Protection and restoration of wetlands will help filter polluted runoff before it reaches the river, and also provide groundwater recharge areas that maintain a healthy aquifer and regional water supply."
Federal agencies have questioned plans for the reservoir because they fail to address alternatives.