Lake Fernandez:
The Little Park That Couldn't

Bloomington's Miller-Showers Park at the north end of the city has split Ind. 37 into College and Walnut since the highway went four-lane through town. Now, after the Earth Day Massacre of 2002 in which every tree in the park was chainsawed or ripped from the earth, Lake Fernandez is the city's biggest unnatural gorge.

By Don Jordan
©2003. Jordan Communications

April 6, 2003....

Update 5/25/03: According to "Inside Outdoors'" sources, the cost overrun on the Lake Fernandez project has reached such large numbers that the mayor is allegedly ready to attempt scoring and hiding more money for his lake in the utilities department budget. Last figure I heard was $300 million! This project has been a disaster since it began on Earth Day 2002, when city workers were ordered to cut down every tree in old Miller-Showers Park to make way for the "improvement" pictured above. Some residents think it will be an eye-pleasing northern entryway to the city, and note that the Colorado Steak House (see wood colored structure on far left, just left of large pile of dirt) is betting on it and has built an outdoor deck which will overlook Lake Fernandez or Fernandez Gorge, which ever it turns out to

It used to be called Miller-Showers Park, after a couple of historic Bloomington fellows, and it served as the “entry” to Bloomington from Ind. 37 southbound from Indianapolis for as long as I can remember.  Now, just about everyone is calling it Lake Fernandez, after our mayor.

 The mayor is making a lasting and apparently never-ending impact on Bloomington with his lake project.  Lasting, because it has changed the landscape on the north side.  Never-ending because lots of residents are convinced the bottom of Lake Fernandez will be somewhere in rural China, or at least Cascades Park.

 You have no doubt read about problems the lake diggers have encountered.  I guess they hit a limestone shelf that was both hard to dig through and is prone to having holes eaten through it, over time, by percolating water.  Now, who could have expected that?  A limestone problem encountered while digging in Bloomington?  Imagine that.

 Last time I peered over the edge of Fernandez Gorge, it looked like it was going to be pretty deep on the 17th Street end, way too deep for a cane pole.  That must be the Chinese connection end, the deep end where the diving platform goes.  The gorge gets more shallow as it moves north, just like the gentle slope of a suburban swimming pool, to the wading end.

 But  the city doesn’t envision Lake Fernandez as a recreational facility in any way, shape or form. (Maybe picnics will be allowed, or walking around it if they can figure out a way to protect us from the vehicles buzzing past on both sides of the park or from jumping into the deep end and getting sucked to China.)  It is to be a scenic vista for folks entering Bloomington, a landscape painting if you will, that will please the IU Board of Trustees with a lovely French (oops, sorry, Freedom) Impressionist scene.

 The main justification of this multi-million dollar project is said to be controlling ground water run-off, and stopping said run-off from eroding Cascades Park which receives runoff from that part of town.

  I’ve been around Bloomington since 1962, and one of the first stories I remember covering as a 20-something reporter concerned stopping erosion at Cascades Park. Specifically, they wanted to maintain the limestone banks laid to contain the creek way back in the 1930s. The wall has been repaired many times, and the park is still there, after all these years, as pretty as ever.  Wonder how it made it without Lake Fernandez?

 There will be no swimming, no fishing at Lake Fernandez.  Recreational uses will be ad hoc, as on football game weekends.

 Although it is hard to find non-student residents in the Miller-Showers Park area, there are a few, and by visiting offices and just talking to people out working in their yards, I was able to find and speak with some of these folks recently.  The problem is that not a one of them wanted to be identified, but their reasons all sounded pretty good to me.  Here are a few samples:

 Resident 1:  “When they get it all done, it will probably be real pretty, but it will be full of beer cans after the first football game.”  (“I don’t want a bunch of city inspectors to start coming to my house, so don’t use my name.”)

 Resident 2:  “I am going to get one of those miniature submarines and float into the lake through the culverts.  I figure nobody will see me that way, and I can use the lake for secret boating.”  (“My wife works for the city!  Don’t say I said that!”)

 Resident 3:  “Wait until the first IU student drowns in there.  There’ll be a six foot, electrified fence around it right away.”  (“Don’t use my name.  I don’t want city police cars hanging around waiting for me and my family to leave to give us a seat belt ticket.”)

 If Lake Fernandez holds water, I am convinced it will make a beautiful entrance to the north site of the city. But the city is again treating a possible valuable aquatic recreation resource like something to be feared instead of nurtured and managed for public use.  

 You need look no further than Lake Wapahani and Lake Griffy to see what the city thinks about managing aquatic recreation facilities.  I guess we are lucky to be able to actually use a boat on Lake Griffy.  To our elected officials, water is a hazard, a bad thing, something to be avoided, moved along unseen, held or covered (see the Jordan River under downtown Bloomington). 

I think what we really need on the deep end of Lake Fernandez is a public dunking stool for politicians instead of a direct route to China.  Of course, this would be real public recreation and that is something that isn’t covered in the master plan for Lake Fernandez.

  ©Copyright 2003 through 2009. Jordan Communications.

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