When you think of Bloomington, Ind., you wouldn’t be faulted for immediately thinking of the classic sleeper, “Breaking Away,” which was filmed there in 1979. But there’s much more to Bloomington than that film and Indiana University. Here’s something else to consider.
Griffy Reservoir, more commonly known as Lake Griffy, is a reservoir in the city, created by a dam on Griffy Creek, which was built in the 1920s. Originally, it served as the main source of drinking water for Bloomington — for several decades — until Lake Lemon and Lake Monroe replaced that position in the 1950s. Even so, the city still considered Griffy Lake as its potential “emergency” water supply source, and it needed protection. Through the years, more than 45 separate parcels of property have been acquired: presently, 1,180 acres known as Griffy Lake Nature Preserve surround the lake. Adjacent to the GLNP is the 185-acre Griffy Woods, part of the Indiana University Research and Teaching Preserve. Griffy Woods was created a little more than 20 years ago in 2001, and it occupies parts of the Griffy Lake watershed to the southeast of the lake (this watershed includes University Lake).
In 1984, the Long Range Use and Management Plan, which is part of the Bloomington City government, “recommended a boardwalk that would allow people to walk the trails on the north and south sides of Griffy Lake safely,” said Steve Cotter, natural resources manager for the city parks department. “For many years, visitors have had to walk on Headley Road. Now there is an accessible route from the parking lot to the new walkway.” This walkway also features a guard rail, further improving safety.
Beginning in late July 2021, the lake was temporarily lowered — not as drastically as when it had been nearly emptied in 2012 for dam repairs — for the survey work, regarding a new fishing pier and the proposed walkway. Construction began later in the fall and continued through the summer of 2022. It was completed and a ribbon-cutting ceremony opened it to the public on July 29, 2022, while simultaneously celebrating 50 years of management by the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department, which hosted the grand event. Guest speakers at the event included Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton, Board of Park Commissioners President Kathleen Mills, City Councilperson Ron Smith and parks and recreation staff.
Representatives from architectural design firm Mader Design presented the parks and recreation department with a canoe they purchased and donated to the Griffy Lake boathouse for the boat rental fleet. Mayor Hamilton took the canoe on a ceremonial first paddle on Griffy Lake, while BPR natural resources staff led a walk along the accessible side path and the first half mile of trail developed as part of the Griffy Loop Trail project.
Cotter said, “The Griffy Loop and Pier project includes a separated walkway along the entire length of the Headley Road causeway, as well as an accessible fishing pier and four additional fishing spots along that walkway. There is also a sidewalk from the east side of Headley Road to the new crosswalk that leads to the fishing pier.”
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources stocked the lake with bluegill, red-ear sunfish, largemouth bass, channel catfish and crappie, all for the taking — within approved limits — if the fisher has a valid Indiana fishing license.
As most city governments know and have experienced, Cotter said, “Funding, design and permitting were the biggest challenges to this project. The only bid we received came in about $500K over the original $1.6 million budget, so the total scope of the project was reduced.”
A compromise was reached with the contractor, and the agreed-upon new budget was $1.85 million. “With change orders, the final total came to about $2 million. Bids, in general, were going higher at the time, because of supply and labor issues.” Despite those all-too-familiar issues, Cotter added, “But the project was substantially completed on time.”
With all that was completed by July, there’s more to come. Cotter explained, “The project also included bridge improvements, a wooden staircase and a new section of natural surface trail on the south shore. The new trail will eventually be extended around the lake.”
He added, “The reaction to this has been positive, and people are using the new amenities. The natural surface trail follows the contour of the hillside and connects to the existing trails — the Nature Trail, the Hiking Trail, Griffy Creek Trail, Lanam Trail, Cascades Park Trail, Wetland Trail, North Shore Trail, North Shore Loop Spur and South Shores Trail — on the nearby IU Research and Teaching Preserve. Trail users are reminded to stay on marked trails and keep dogs on a leash; it’s also expected that hikers will follow safe hiking procedures and leave no litter behind.
“Public input was taken at an Environmental Resources Advisory Council Meeting. A local hiker made the suggestion for a trail around the Griffy Lake watershed, and it morphed into a 6-mile loop around Griffy Lake.”
This project was funded with a combination of Parks General Obligation Bonds and city of Bloomington Bicentennial Bonds. The contract was awarded to E&B Paving for the construction work. Additional funding was found to cover the difference between the budget and the actual cost of the project, a common thing with supply shortages and delays resulting in higher costs than quoted, which is happening everywhere. There will also need to be future funding to maintain the retaining wall and the crushed limestone trail surface. While the area has always been in use, there was more activity there in the last two years, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Outdoor walking was one of the safer pleasures allowed everywhere. Cotter said the improvements have put the preserve and lake in better condition, essential for surviving future decades.