Poverty and the Christmas Spirit in Hamilton County

Good Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday are seen by many to be the launch of the Christmas season. For me, the launch of the Christmas season is seen more in an annual event done by Good Samaritan Network in Hamilton county; the Christmas Holiday Assistance Program.

I live in Hamilton County, which based on census data has over 323,747 people with 27.4% or roughly 89,000 of those being kids (people under the age of 18). With a low cost of living, the average home lived in by its owner (not rented) is valued at $230,000. The median household income as of 2016 was $87,782, well over the poverty level.

In such an area, it is not surprising that the level of poverty is low at just 4.8% (based on SAIPE, which is reported to underestimate). With poverty at this low level, most people don’t even notice those that are struggling, even though they might live in the same neighborhood. But to be clear, 4.8% still equates to 15,540 people.

In the City of Fishers, the poverty level is lower than the county level. Per city-data.com, Fishers has a poverty rate of 3.2%. When applied to the roughly 91,000 residents, this equates to almost 3,000 people. Carmel has a similar population with a poverty rate of 4.0%, which equate so roughly 3,600 people. Noblesville has a lower population closer to 60,000 residents, but the poverty rate is at 9.8% or over 5,800 people. These poverty statistics are for all people in each of these cities; however, more kids tend to be in poverty than adults. For example, while the Noblesville poverty level is 9.8%, 11.7% of Noblesville kids are in families below the poverty level. The other big town, Westfield, has a poverty rate of 8.8%, with 9.5% of kids being below the poverty level.

A discussion of poverty numbers might not seem like a way to get into the Christmas spirit; however, it is the best way to get into the real Christmas spirit.

Good Samaritan Network (GoodSam), organizes an annual Christmas Holiday Assistance program that help thousands of families in Hamilton County. They do this with the support of thousands of people throughout the year. It all comes together, however, the beginning of December. This year it comes together next week with the assistance being provided on Saturday, December 9th at the Noblesville Fair Grounds.

The holiday assistance program provides household items, clothing, toys, and food to thousands. The event relies upon donations of items that are both new and “like new”. For many of the families, a “like new” item is greatly appreciated because it is better than what they had. Having helped the past few years, I know that there are never enough new toys to cover every family, and I know that toys for older kids often run out first. I was told this week, that there was still a need for a lot of toys for kids from 6 to 13. When buying toys to donate, the 6 to 13 age is one of the most fun to shop. As such, for those looking to help, donating toys for this age group would be fantastic.

Did I mention this event is huge?

This event is so big that it will take several days to set up. This Saturday, December 2nd, a number of volunteers will sort and organize food boxes that will be given out at the event. Starting next Wednesday (December 6th) from 6:00pm to 9:00pm, the setup for the main “give-away” will start. The setup will continue all day Thursday through Friday evening. It takes hundreds of people to organize the items and get the setup ready to go for Saturday. On Saturday, families that have registered in advance with GoodSam will line up and work through the Noblesville fairground to receive the assistance. Last year, families started lining up Friday night.

To get these families through in a timely manner requires hundreds of volunteers. In fact, an email this week indicated there were over 500 volunteers still needed:

Wednesday – 54 open slots
Thursday – 190 open slots
Friday – 18 open slots
Saturday – 292 open slots

Volunteers are needed in all areas including assisting families with toy and clothing selection, which is the heart of the distribution. These volunteers help by either working with the items, or by walking through the giveaway area with families to guide them in picking items. There is also the area of helping with food boxes which is as simple as pushing a cart that has items for a family holiday meal as well as other items. There is also always a need as well for helping people get items to their car, helping cleanup, and other tasks.

I’ve worked primarily in the toys and clothing area the last few years on the day of the event (and all of the other areas on other days). Guiding families through the clothing and toy area provides a chance to help them pick out items as well as to chat and hear their stories. While most families are quiet, there are some very touching stories to be heard for those that do share.

I walked through one man who shared about his situation. He came through late in the day, so the choices for toys were very picked over. Even so, he wanted to take less than he was allowed so as to leave things for others. He as appreciative from the beginning to the end. His story was more than I can share in total for both privacy and simply because of how much there is to say. His story is, however, representative of many families in Hamilton County that are struggling now. His wife was the primary income driver for their family, and he primarily was qualified for low wage jobs. His wife ended up with a debilitating illness that put her out of work the past year. It was an unexpected life change that left them in a position where just paying the rent was a struggle. Because he was working jobs that were low wage, simply providing regular meals for the kids had become a struggle. Toys for Christmas were beyond their financial ability, so the holiday assistant program was providing him the chance to make sure his kids would have presents. The bad luck of an unexpected medical condition had spun their stability out of control. His appreciation for what was being provided was clear. The toys he did take were clearly going to help provide his family a Christmas they would otherwise not likely been able to have.

Helping this one person made the event worthwhile to me; however, he was one of thousands that had their own stories.

Of course, this event requires items to give out as well as volunteers to make it happen. If you want to help with the setup or on the day of the event, you can find a sign-up form at:


In addition to helping with the toys/clothing or the food, there is also tear down and cleanup. Not all of the families can make it to the fairground, so GoodSam also delivers some of the food boxes and toys. If you have a vehicle and driver’s license, then can help deliver these items to families. There is plenty to.

If you don’t have time to volunteer, then it’s not too late to donate. Good toys are always needed. In fact, this is one of the few events that will take “like new” toys. If you are planning to load your kids with new toys this Christmas, then now is a great time to take the toys they are not playing with that are like new and donate them. For kids with very little, a ‘like new’ toy will be “new” to them. Granted, new toys are important too! Toys can be dropped off at Good Samaritan’s office near 131st Street and 37, or (better) they can be dropped off at the Noblesville Fair Ground next week during the setup times.

As one of the people at Good Samaritan said this week, “Christmas is caring… Christmas is sharing.” This event is a way to share and care, which is great way to get into the Christmas spirit. For me, it is the realy start of the Christmas holiday. The Good Samaritan Assistant Program is a great way to help your neighbors here in Hamilton County; neighbors that have a huge need you might not have noticed.

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Paying for a Trail That Already Exists: The Fishers Nickel Plate Trail

The Fishers City Council approved an increase to property taxes to pay for the first phase of the new Nickel Plate Trail that has been proposed to replace the Nickel Plate rail. This tax increase is to help fund the $7 to $9 million cost for the first of three phases of the trail.

What is worth noting is that the tax increase is roughly double the initial cost estimate for the total trail, even though it is only for the first phase. At the time of this writing the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) site for the Nickel Plate Trail still shows an estimated cost of roughly 4.4 million for the Fishers section.

Figure: Trails and Tracks

The first phase of the Nickel Plate Trial will run from 106th Street to 126th. What hasn’t been stated clearly is that there are already trails that run from just north of 106th all the way to 131st Street. These trails are within two blocks of either side of the tracks where the new Nickel Plate trail is expected to be. In fact, parts of these trails run next to the tracks. This raises the question, that if existing trails already run from 106th near the tracks to 131st, then why will seven to nine million be spent building another trail?

The Existing Trails

Just north of 106th Street at the rail road tracks, you can find the Cheeney Creek Loop trail that runs through Cheeney Creek Natural Area. Not only does this park include walking and biking tails, but it also has a small lake (pond), lots of trees and a picnic area. The park and trails go from 106th Street to just north of 116th Street.

Figure: Cheeney Creek Area

North of the Cheeney Creek loop, the path crosses the road and winds through trees, around a pond, and through a neighborhood. In this area the trail winds through Big Wheel Park. This park on the path includes playground equipment, a hilly sidewalk for kids to have fun, more picnic tables, and other amenities. Next to the park are both a creek and a pond.

Figure: Big Wheel Park

The trail continues from Big Wheel Pond  across 116th Street and through the downtown area. You’ve likely noticed the cross walk just east of the tracks on 116th. Ironically, while the city expects to spend $2 to $5 million to build an underpass for a new trail where the tracks are located, there have been no comments about the crosswalk that is less than a stone throw away. What has been noted (but I’ve not confirmed), is that there are drainage issues in that area which could result in extra costs to try to build a trail that goes under the road.

If you continue on the path through the downtown area, you’ll find that forks around the library and Lantern Road. One part of the fork is a path that winds across Lantern Road and the railroad tracks and goes through the Tech center area. The path then follows (parallels) the railroad tracks going up towards and then past the Launch Fishers facility. You can see parts of this form in the next figure. The area near Launch Fishers includes a few more picnic tables just off the path.

Figure: Trial in the Fishers Tech Park area.

The other fork going from downtown goes from the library area north along Lantern Road. This is a newly updated trail  that follows Lantern Road all the way to 131st Street, where it turns West to Allisonville. At Allisonville, the path then turns North and goes to the entrance of Conner Prairie. Why the city build a path from downtown to a facility that charges admission is unclear, but the path has been built. Currently the construction on Allisonville at 131st Street disconnects the part of the trail that is in front of Conner Prairie. That part of the path has been built and torn up (the grass and landscaping) several times in the last 12 to 18 months as road work is being done. Hopefully it isn’t tax dollars paying for the repetitive task.

Figure: Trail from Lantern Road to Conner Prairie

Building New Trails

The existing trails from Cheeney Creek to 131st are within a block or two of the railroad tracks. These trails are all relatively new and paid for with previous tax dollars. As such, turning the rails into a trail between 106th and 126th as a first phase seems not only redundant with what is already there, but possibly unnecessary. The fact that the city is raising taxes to build a trail nearly on top of existing trails, should cause many citizens of Fishers to raise there voices in concern with how their tax dollars are being spent.

Figure: Trails from 106th to 126th

If the City wants to add trails, then, it would make more sense to build the trail from 96th to 106th connecting to Cheeney Creek’s trails and then build a connection from the 131st and Lantern trail to the tracks and go North. This would add new trail areas.

Of course, when a trail already exists in the same area, then there is the question of how much is this new trail worth. While the city posted $4.4 million as a base cost in the Nickel Plate Trail FAQs, I’m not alone in estimating a cost that is likely to go over $30,000 ,000. That, however, is a topic for another article.

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The Future of the White River

For those of you that live in Hamilton or Marion Counties in Indiana, you might be interested in the activity that is happening regarding the White River. There is a lot of noise about the Nickel Plate Trail project in Hamilton County, but the real story might be around the White River for those truly interested in getting outdoors.

There is a committee that has been working on a project that spans the 58 miles of the White River through Hamilton and Marion counties. On November 5th, they had their second public meeting regarding the White River Vision Plan.

The White River Vision Plan was kicked off earlier in 2018 and is working to build a plan vision for what could be done with the White River. The City of Hamilton County is working with Hamilton County to build a plan for using the river. This includes considerations for trails, water usage, access points, and much more. They are looking to promote:

  • Access to the river
  • Water quality of the river and the ecological/environmental value of the area.
  • Connections to things around the rivers such as biking trails, hiking, neighborhoods, arts, entertainment, and attractions.
  • Educational water experiences including history, nature, and more.
  • Get people outside

This WRVP is working to create a plan that will offer recommendations for what should be done with the river and the area around it. Once the plan is completed over the next year, the WRVP group will continue to stay involve helping support projects, support infrastructure, and provide recommendations for funding to help keep the plan moving forward. Funding for the plan would come from both private and public sources; however, the amount and details of the funding should happen after a plan is created. The current timeline is shown below. The second public meeting just happened.

In the second public meeting, there were a couple dozen attendees. Most were from the Northern part of Hamilton County and were there to express concern regarding any plans that might impede on their land that borders the river. While the River is state property up, the land next to the river is only public up to the flood lines. This means that in most areas along the river, the land is private property. This is something the WRVP group is aware of and working to help maintain.

Parks along the River

My daughters and I have canoed down the White River many times. While the WRVP goes as far north as 246th Street, we’ve only canoed from around 211th Street down to 116th Street. In addition to that, within Hamilton County, we’ve been to the parks within that areas as well as those down to 96th Street.

Potters Bridge Park

In Noblesville, Potters Bridge Park is a location we visit regularly throughout the entire year. This small park has a covered bridge that goes over the White River. It also has a canoe launching area. Most importantly, it has a trial with distant markers that go from the bridge area down to Forrest Park in Noblesville. It is great for walking, running, or biking. This is a place to fish as well as a starting point for tubers that use the river.

Forrest Park

Forrest Park is on the other side of a road next to the river. This part is full of activities, but related to the river, there is a public boat launch at the south side of the park off of Cicero Road. This is an area my girls and I have used as a launching point for canoeing. We go from this location down to 116th Street over the course of a few hours.

Downtown Noblesville

If you’ve not been to downtown Noblesville near the White River, you’ve missed a nice area to get out and walk. Noblesville has created walkways (that can also be used with bikes) along the White River. This includes a bridge that goes over the river to Forrest Park.

Conner Prairie

Conner Prairie is not public access, but the river goes along and through its property. Conner Prairie has been working to do more with the river.

River Road Park

River Road Park is on the Carmel side of the river. In addition to having walking and biking paths, that are near the river, there is access to get to the river for fishing and more. The bike paths go north of this park up to around River Road and the areas that are next to the river.

River Heritage Park

This is a smaller park with a fun playground and some rolling mounds that are fun to run on. This park is just north of 116th Street on River Road (Carmel side of river). While this is near the river, my girls and I have not managed to get to the river from this park.

116th Street

On the Northeast side of 116th Street and the White River is public access to the White River. This is an area where boats, kayaks, and canoes can be launched. This launch area is in a flood zone, so other than being able to access the river, there isn’t much here.

Riverside School

Riverside School has a park behind ti that is sued for sports and school activities. This area also has trails that go down along the White River that are used.

Hazel Landing Park

The Hazel Landing Park is one of the more secret parks along the White River. This park is accessible on the Carmel side at 106th Street off of Hazel Dell Parkway. The access road at Hazel Dell is gravel and down a small dip. Once you go back towards the river on the gravel road, you hit a nice paved area with a parking lot. This park has great access to the river for fishing. It is marked as a canoe launch, although it won’t be as easy as 116th Street or the areas in Noblesville. This park has a couple of picnic tables and lots of huge trees. More recently this part was updated with a frisbee golf course.

Heritage Park

On the Fishers side of the river at 106th Street is Heritage Park. This is not a large park, but it has quite a bit of parking. In addition to a historic house, there park has a paved circular trail that goes down next to the river. This park is not the best access for the river, but can be used for fishing. In the winter time, this part is great for sledding as it is primarily a large hill.

96th Street

At 96th Street on the Southwest side there is access to another park. This is in Marion County, but borders Hamilton County. This park has more rugged bike trails and also provides access down to the river.

So much more

The areas I’ve listed above are primarily in Fishers. As you go further north in Hamilton County, you come to Koteewi Park. There are also campgrounds and a number of other public areas for river access.

If you go south into Marion County, you’ll find there is more access to the river. Access goes beyond just Broad Ripple and downtown Indianapolis.

The objective of the White River Vision Plan is to review all of the above parks, plus all of the ones I have not listed. The plan also looks at adding additional access points, paths, and more. On their website, MyWhiteRiver.com, there is currently a survey where the public can provide feedback on existing destinations. You can say what you like, don’t like, or have used. The survey also lets you mark areas where you believe the river and area around it could be improved. Finally, the survey lets you say new areas you think should be created as a new destination.

What the Future Holds

The public meetings are a time when people are giving the WRVP committee feedback. Many people at the northern end of Hamilton County have made it clear they don’t want people that use the river to come onto their land. The committee plans to work with those land owners to help find a compatible way to tap the river while respecting privacy and ownership. Additionally, while the idea of trails along the river have been suggested, in areas where land is privately owned, such trails won’t happen. Where trails are possible, they are being suggested. While I’d like to see a trail similar to what is along the River from Potters Bridge to Forrest Park, the lack of public land simply doesn’t make this possible. A similar trail from 96th Street to 146th would be better than any Rail Trails that could be built!