Study: Mounds Greenway would bring $13M in annual benefits

An environmental group fighting a proposed reservoir in central Indiana has released a report showing that its rival idea—a 17-mile trail system — would generate about $13 million in annual benefits and make the region more attractive to businesses and young professionals.

The Hoosier Environmental Council hired a consulting firm to evaluate its proposed Mounds Greenway, which would link several communities, parks and attractions with hiking and biking trails along the White River northeast of Indianapolis.

The project is a response to a proposed $450 million reservoir that would be created by damming the river in Anderson, which supporters say will help Indiana's long-term water needs and lure development. Opponents argue the extra water isn't needed and that the reservoir would swamp wildlife habitat and threaten earthen structures in Mounds State Park built more than 2,000 years ago by the Adena-Hopewell people.

The study conducted by California-based Alta Planning and Design estimated that the greenway project would generate between $12.2 million and $14.2 million in annual tourism, environmental, transportation and public health benefits. It also said the project would also create a one-time $32 million boost to local property values.

The environmental group presented the study Monday in Chesterfield during the first of several planned briefings for area residents. Alta specializes in planning and designing bicycle and pedestrian trails.

Studies are still underway to assess the proposed Mounds Lake reservoir's expected economic impacts and determine how much additional water the region might need.

Tim Maloney, the council's senior policy director, said similar trails elsewhere in the U.S. have made those areas more attractive to both families and development by providing for recreation and new links to city centers and parks.

"If we want to have a successful community where people want to live and work and raise families and attract young professionals and businesses this is the kind of quality of life amenity communities should have for a lot of reasons," he said Tuesday.

The trails envisioned along the river between Anderson and Muncie would cost an estimated $15 million to $40 million, depending on which route it might take, according to the study.

The Mounds Lake reservoir would create a 2,100-acre lake in Madison and Delaware counties. The project hit a setback last year when officials in Daleville and Yorktown voted not to join a 12-member commission that would plan the reservoir, but economic and water-need studies are underway that will help answer questions local officials raised about the project, said Rob Sparks, who is leading efforts to build the reservoir.

"There's still an interest in those communities among elected officials and certainly they need more information before they can join the commission and go forward," said Sparks, executive director of the Corporation for Economic Development of Anderson and Madison County.

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