A river running through a city seems a lot like the pulse of life. Just as veins and arteries push blood throughout the body, a river has the opportunity to elevate and enhance the energy sitting dormant in a community. I think cities that have taken the opportunity to embrace rivers that run through them are much stronger and interesting than those that simply let these bodies of water divide two sides of the same town. San Antonio, Texas, is a great example of one such destination where a riverwalk lining both sides of the water is vibrantly alive with restaurants and shops, lights and people.
A bit more subdued but no less convenient, foot friendly and accessible is the riverwalk in South Bend, Indiana. When I visited the city in late July for the Urban Adventure Games, I had a free morning the day before the race. Instead of hitting up some of the city’s more touristy sites, I opted instead to take a long run along the city’s riverwalk, which traces the St. Joseph River on its east side.
South Bend’s riverwalk is an extension of the paths running along the East Race, which is the city’s artificial white water rafting course. It runs three miles and is paved and wide enough for both foot and bike traffic. The riverwalk runs from near Howard Park in the north and, moving south, it passes by boat launches, fishing docks, amphitheater-like performance spaces and a bit of urban art until it merges with a sidewalk near Indiana University at South Bend. In most places, the path isn’t just bumped up against a road. Instead, it’s sandwiched between green spaces and the water, passing under bridges and through relatively quiet areas. During heavy rains, it may flood in some places.
It’s a well-worn path in the sense that members of the community definitely embrace it. On my mid-morning run, I passed fishermen hoping to catch something from the banks of the river, a mother pushing her child in a stroller, the occasional cyclist, an older couple carrying a bag of vegetables from the farmer’s market and a college-aged student jogging significantly faster than I was. During our race on the day following my run, many teams used the riverwalk to easily and safely get from one checkpoint to another.
As I ran along South Bend’s riverwalk, it dawned on me that, though locals use such pathways as a means to traverse their own cities for exercise and transportation purposes, an easily accessible, safe, clean and well-kept riverwalk also allows travelers to feel the energy of a city at their own leisure, without feeling the pressure to rush through or stop at every tourist site. On that Friday morning in South Bend, I let the heartbeat of my feet lead me through this otherwise easy-to-skip Midwestern town and into the pulse of the city and its people.