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Page last updated on September 19, 2022 at 1:13 pm

As we stand here under the trees of Bloomington's first city park, we acknowledge that we are far from the first people to be here and appreciate this place. Native people, like us, sought the sight and sound of clean, running water long before this land ever became a city park. 


The land we now call Lower Cascades Park was, is, and will continue to sit on 

Native land. The city as well as City administrative buildings are on the traditional homelands of the  Miami, Delaware, Potawatomi, and Shawnee people and we acknowledge they are the past, present, and future caretakers of this land. 


We also acknowledge that much of the economic progress and development in Indiana and specifically Bloomington resulted from the unpaid labor and forced servitude of People of Color - specifically enslaved African labor. We acknowledge that this land remains home to and a site of gathering and healing for many indigenous and other people of color and commit to the work necessary to create and promote a more equitable and just Bloomington.


We are here today to Celebrate Lower Cascades Park. Not just the park itself, but the people and memories that make this place special.


As you might imagine, public records from the early 1920s are a little incomplete - but we have been able to discern a few important details. First was that the Board of Park Commissioners was founded in 1921 for the sole purpose of protecting this piece of land. 


In the early part of this century there was a lot going on in Bloomington and in this valley. A gas station was located just down the road by Clubhouse Drive and the road itself was the Dixie Highway, a main thoroughfare that was routed through Bloomington in 1915 and completed in 1917. Picture travelers stopping here under the trees to take a break from the car, throw rocks, and wade in the creek. They would even dip from the creek to fill their vehicle's radiators, and drive into the creek itself to wash their cars before they continued on to destinations like Chicago and French Lick. 


There was also a slaughterhouse located in this valley, as well as a raucous dance hall with a somewhat questionable reputation. Members of our fledgling Park Board had a lot of conversations with the State Board of Health and the then Department of Conservation over effluent and other detritus that was washing downstream into Cascade Creek. 


The dance hall known as Cascade Gardens was destroyed by a fire, and the Park Board finally helped close down slaughterhouse operations. Then the real work began to identify funding and start purchasing small parcels of land all along Cascade valley.  Although the land may have become an official park prior to 1924, our records show there was a dedication ceremony in 1924, for which the park board approved the purchase of $3 worth of cut flowers.


By 1924 the Park Board was turning its sights to potential park land farther south, to the area that is today called the Waldron, Hill and Buskirk Park. 


Although the records show this park was officially named "Cascade Park" - singular Cascade - it was never really called that, and has been known as Cascades Park until the upper part of the park that includes Cascades Golf Course and now the skate park was purchased and developed in the 30s through the 50s.


Passive recreation that included driving under the towering sycamores, and leisurely walks to the Cascade were the primary activities here in Lower Cascades. The Works Progress Administration in the 1930s left their mark on the recreational amenities of Lower Cascades with the construction of the two native limestone shelters - the only examples of WPA work in our entire park system. 


The WPA built these massive limestone picnic tables for our enjoyment, and created the retaining walls that channelized Cascade Creek with the intention of preventing erosion and protecting the new shelters and the road from flood waters.


The peaceful, passive nature of recreation in Lower Cascades remained for many years. In 2007, the face of Lower Cascades changed once again as the city invested in a new playground, which was at the time the city's largest and most accessible. The intention was to re-introduce Lower Cascades Park to a new generation of residents. The playground helped do exactly what was intended: brought people back to Lower Cascades Park for exercise, escape, and recreation.


A major project over this past year has once again changed the landscape of Lower Cascades Park, and has made the park and its magnificent natural features more accessible to all who wish to enjoy them. The 70-year-old limestone walls that were constructed with such care by the WPA were just as carefully documented as historic structures, then removed to allow a whole new creek bank. This time instead of a steep dropoff, the limestone blocks are a stair step feature that not only protects the bank from erosion but also allows us to meander down to the water. 


The Parks and Recreation Department is even hosting a duck float today, so your rubber ducks can take a float down the creek this afternoon. We will take care to collect all ducks just as the people that made this park happen took care to protect the Creek. 


We now have a beautiful new boardwalk to the waterfall for which this park was named. People of all abilities can now make the trek to see the Cascade, along an 800 foot accessible boardwalk, and spend some time reflecting and enjoying the sights and sounds and smells of this small part of our Indiana forest.


We've also planted trees. More than 110 new trees were planted in Lower Cascades Park and the surrounding areas, to replace the 23 trees that were removed to allow us to build the new accessible features.


When we say we are here today to celebrate, it means a lot. We are celebrating the land of water and waterfalls that has been cherished by people here for hundreds of years. We are celebrating the way city leaders a hundred years ago saw the need to protect this area and maintain it for the people of Bloomington. We are celebrating the project that has resulted in the park's designation on the National Register of Historic Places, and in the built environment like picturesque limestone shelters and a stunning boardwalk that allow people of all abilities to see and experience Lower Cascades Park in a way that has not been possible before. This place allows us to celebrate Bloomington’s past, which gave us a foundation upon which we can enjoy the present and envision the future. The recent work as Cascades is very future-thinking in its inclusivity and accessibility as well as its care and consideration of the environment. [future road use /trail]


We hope you stay here in the park for a while this afternoon, enjoy time with your friends and family, listen to live music, take a guided tour of the boardwalk and waterfall, and decorate your own duck for the duck float. And, we hope you are inspired to return, and return often, to your first city park.