Riverwalk celebrates 20th anniversaryOctober 23, 2020
By ALLEN LAMAN
JASPER — It all started with a path through the woods.
Just over 20 years ago, Dave Buehler’s vision for the Jasper Riverwalk became a twisting, turning and scenic reality. The expensive 2.1 mile project — which was privately funded by Buehler and later donated to the city by the Jasper man — has since become a highly-traffic staple of the local park and recreation department.
It has also served as a catalyst for modern downtown development.
“That was a start, 20 years ago, of an area along the river down through there that was really not the most presentable,” said Ken Buck, director of the Jasper Parks & Recreation Department. “And not the best looking area of town. And what this Riverwalk did was clean up that area very, very nicely.”
At 10 a.m. Saturday, the storied walking path will be honored with a 20th anniversary gathering at Dave Buehler Plaza. Speakers, snacks, drinks and music will be part of the event. Guests will receive free T-shirts that recognize the Riverwalk’s two decades of influence.
“The Riverwalk was the start,” Buck said of the path’s impact on the city’s downtown development. “There’s no doubt about it.”
The idea came to Buehler about a decade before construction began. He later walked through tall brush alongside the Patoka River with engineers to mark the path the trail would one day follow. After receiving support from then-mayor Bill Schmitt and his administration — and working through the necessary permits — the building process began. It ended in July 2000.
“It was so gratifying to me that so many people used it right off the bat,” Buehler said. “Because it was unique.”
Feedback related to the pathway led Buehler to form the Redevelop Old Jasper Action Coalition in 2003. That led to the construction of the Spirit of Jasper Train Depot and the Jasper City Mill, as well as the relocation of the Schaeffer Barn and nearby one-room schoolhouse to a slice of land that borders the path. Recently, the area has also become home to the Jasper River Centre and Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, and it will soon host the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center.
The Riverwalk also laid the way for more walking paths to pop up across the city — in Bohnert Park, around the Habig Center, and now, outside the parks as the northern end of the Riverwalk’s path extends out of the forest and onto city streets.
“There’s a lot of walking areas in Jasper at this point, that this was the catalyst, and this was the start of all that kind of stuff,” Buck explained, later adding that Buehler “must have had a very good vision on what was going to happen in the future. And we’re happy for it — it really was a great addition to our parks system, which we feel is a very good parks system.”
Buehler said he appreciates the ROJAC board of directors, the group's hundreds of members and the many others who have supported the local organization over the years.
When speaking about the Riverwalk project, he said he received great support from city administrations, and he also spoke of the important support of the 35 property owners along the river who gave him right of way to bring the Riverwalk to life. The support he has received from the city as a whole has also been important.
With all the new development that has come to the area in recent years, Buehler said ROJAC board members feel like they’ve “died and went to heaven.”
“All the dreams that we had have come out better than we ever expected,” he said.
And it all began with the Jasper Riverwalk.
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