A park with something for everyone, and a landscape design and custom site elements that invite gueststo linger, play, stretch, and relax.
Not long after the last train left the station (literally) in 2004, the City of Bloomington, Ind., purchased 18 acres of abandoned railroad right-of-way and created the B Line Trail. The trail’s success made clear to city leaders the potential of the entire switchyard property. With support from the community, the property was purchased in 2009. Before it could be transformed into a focal point for the community, however, landscape architecture firm Rundell Ernstberger Associates (REA) had to remediate a host of environmental challenges at the site.
“Our vision initially focused on ecological restoration,” says REA Principal Kevin Osburn. “We needed to restore wetlands, daylight streams that had been buried, remove hazardous materials and invasive species, and restore the floodplain as much as possible.” While the challenges were significant, city leaders also saw the potential of Switchyard Park to become a signature destination urban park for the city and region.
The 65-acre Switchyard Park offers something for everyone, from dog parks, court games, and a custom playscape to an amphitheater, event lawn, and plaza space. “The design and amenities give people reasons to stay longer,” says General Manager Hsuing Marler. Custom site elements from Landscape Forms’ Studio 431 are themselves focal points within the park. Custom shade structures (several with swings), long communal tables with benches, amphitheater seating, and benches of various lengths are “functional and character defining elements, both artful and whimsical,” says REA Principal Cecil Penland. Hsuing Marler notes the popularity of the shade structures with swings, which “give adults a piece of their childhoods back.” The swings were strategically placed near the dog parks and play area, with one overlooking the performance stage. “People love to sit on a porch swing,” Osburn says. “They are a nostalgic design feature hidden within the park’s contemporary design.”
Organic is a word the REA designers and Hsuing Marler use frequently when describing Switchyard Park. The landscape design emphasizes native landscaping, a daylighted stream now visible, and the pavilion features a green roof and LEED Silver certification. “The B Line Trail is a straight line,” explains Marler, “but the rest of the park meanders in different ways to create movement throughout the park.”
The site elements, architecture, and choice of materials reflect the park’s organic character and its history. REA did not want to replicate railroad themes, but instead pay homage to the site’s railroad heritage through design and materials. “We selected stone, wood, and steel, the kinds of raw materials you’d see transported along the rail lines,” says Penland. “The bleachers near the game courts are reminiscent of stacked lumber and the communal tables in plan view carry a subtle design of a railroad track.” A palette features several bright, cheerful colors in the plaza and area with custom communal tables that add pop and contrast to the browns and grays.
Opened since November 2019, the park has been popular with the Bloomington community. “A park helps create a sense of community and improves mental and physical health,” explains Marler. “And we see that it is helping revitalize the southern end of the city.”