Starting in 1892, a bustling railroad switchyard made the south side of Bloomington a hub for the railroads that criss-crossed south central Indiana. This weekend, the 57-acre area of land will officially open to the public as Switchyard Park, the largest public park in Bloomington.
From 6-8 p.m. on Saturday, programming consists of a ribbon-cutting ceremony with several guest speakers, including Mayor John Hamilton, followed by a presentation in the amphitheater. Starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday, there will be golf cart tours available and the entire park will be open for the first time since the ground-breaking ceremony in May of 2018. There will be food trucks, a three-on-three basketball tournament, live music from local bands and tours guided by parks department staff. Both days are free and open to the public.
Paula McDevitt, Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department director, said the process of converting the switchyard to a public park has spanned four Bloomington mayors and decades of planning to strategically purchase the land.
“This is the largest park project we have ever undertaken,” McDevitt said. “The whole plan was developed to build something for everyone and to put features in the park that would encourage visitors to stay for a while.”
McDevitt said since Switchyard Park is so large, it accommodates new features, some of which aren’t available in existing parks. These include a skate park, a splash pad, a playground, an outdoor fitness area, an amphitheater, a community garden, walking and biking trails, basketball, pickleball and bocce ball courts, two dog parks and open green areas that offer free-standing tables and chairs. Also, the entire park has free WiFi.
McDevitt said Switchyard Park’s amphitheater and pavilion areas will increase the events the parks department puts on, while current performances and activities planned at other parks will remain the same as they have been in the past.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of interest from a lot of community organizations that are interested in partnering with us to produce new events, which is exciting,” McDevitt said.
Julie Ramey, Bloomington Parks Department community relations director, said Switchyard Park was built with sustainability in mind.
“Parks and recreation is very well positioned to be at the forefront of mitigating climate change,” Ramey said. “We minimized the amount of asphalt, we increased the amount of grass, we used trees, we used native plants and all of those things help us position ourselves to mitigate some of the effects of climate change.”
Ramey said the department has uncovered Clear Creek, which used to be buried to accommodate building structures over the creek. She also mentioned the use of solar panels on roofs throughout the park as well as a water recycling system that uses storm water to hydrate the community garden.
Freshman Caleb Waugh, member of Students for a New Green World and Parks and Recreation employee, said he will be working at the event this weekend.
“There’s a lot of things that should interest students about this park,” Waugh said. “It’s a good way to just be involved in the community by going to the events there. I think it’s a nice way to get off campus but still be in Bloomington and still have something to do.”
McDevitt said she encourages community members to come see the new park despite the November weather.
“Just encourage people to dress accordingly; there will be plenty of options for physical activity to keep you warm, but also our pavilion will be open for warming,” McDevitt said.
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