Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sign at Rising Sun

About a week ago, I took a day trip to the small town of Rising Sun, Indiana, population 5,000 or thereabouts. The trip may end up paying for itself. That part is out of my hands.

I was there to watch the christening of a new towboat – the Hoosier State of American Electric Power. The ceremony and the open house beforehand took place at Rising Sun’s riverfront park. Approaching the park from the land side, it looks like a lot of other riverfront parks built along the Ohio River in the past 30 years. From the river side, however, this one stood out.

The main thing that catches the eye is the large sign letting people in the river know they’re at Rising Sun. I didn’t measure it, just the disc of the sun on this sign must have been eight to ten feet high. At the top of the bank was a shelter that looks pretty good from the river.

The lower end of the park as a clock tower dedicated to the veterans of the area. The whole place the day I was there was neat. I saw maybe one piece of litter on the street along the river, and I saw no pieces of chewing gum that had been thrown on the sidewalk and left for days or forever.

My first thought on seeing the large sign and the ornate shelter was that Huntington, West Virginia, where I live, needs something like this. Huntington had one of the first modern riverfront parks along the Ohio for cities smaller than 100,000 population, if not the first. The park opened in the 1980s. It’s been expanded, and it’s a great place to spend an evening or a lunch hour.

 But there is no sign anywhere at the park telling visitors where they are. The smaller communities of Portsmouth and Ironton, Ohio, have at least painted something on their otherwise drab floodwalls to identify themselves, but Huntington has gone nearly 30 years without any such sign.

 Before I sound like I’m getting down on Huntington, I’ll pause and say Huntington is like other cities that had parks when it did. The first that comes to mind is Gallipolis, Ohio. That small town is about the size of Rising Sun. It does not have a floodwall, mainly because it does not need one. It has a riverfront park known locally and generically as the parkfront. There is no sign telling visitors they are at Gallipolis, Ohio. I guess the thinking at Huntington, Gallipolis and other communities is that if you’re smart enough to get a boat there, you’re smart enough to know where you are.

Still, if for nothing other than civic pride, a sign at Huntington’s Harris Riverfront Park would be nice.

There may be a reason Rising Sun could afford such a nice sign and to be such a clean town. This is it.

 It’s the Grand Victoria Casino, a riverboat gambling operation less than a mile above the park. Rising Sun can’t be more than 40 miles from downtown Cincinnati. The day I was there, there was a heavy flow of traffic on the two-lane road along the river from Cincinnati to Rising Sun. Once I passed the entrance to the casino’s parking lot – almost full, even on a weekday morning – I was the only person on the road.

 I’m guessing the casino brings Rising Sun enough money to make for some tourist-friendly amenities, such as clean streets and bright signs.

There’s another casino on the river between Rising Sun and Cincinnati. It’s at Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Below Rising Sun, in what city folks would call the  middle of nowhere, is a casino hotel operation near the Markland Locks and Dam on the Ohio River. The Bellterra has about 600 guest rooms and suites, and it must have 10 stories or more. Its location puts it a few miles from the bridge over the Markland dam that gives quick access to Interstate 71 and, therefore, Cincinnati and Louisville.

Please do not read this as an endorsement of casinos. I’m not endorsing or condemning them. I’m just stating facts and trying to add 2 plus 2. For now, I’ll have to let people who know more about southern Indiana than me to determine whether I got 3, 4 or 5.