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Carmel Clay Central Park

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Treats 11.9 million gallons of annual stormwater runoff from the Monon Community Center roofs and parking areas using a constructed lagoon and wetland.
  • Treats 2,271,000 gallons of greywater from the water park using the constructed lagoon and wetland, saving $8,539 in sewer charges annually.


  • Served over 590,000 visitors to the Monon Community Center in 2012.
  • Educated and/or entertained 1,298 participants in youth programs, summer camps, and adult outdoor education and recreation programs in 2012 and 2013.
  • Created 16 miles of continuous bike trails in the city of Carmel by adding 4 miles of park trails, which link 5.2 miles of the regional Monon trail to 6.8-miles of neighborhood trails.


  • Generated over $560,000 in net revenues in 2012 from the community center and water park, offsetting the cost of maintenance for the passive areas of the park.
  • Increased the Carmel/Clay Parks and Recreation seasonal full-time staff from 7 to 60 positions, which are financially sustainable for the foreseeable future.
  • Saves $56,000 in annual maintenance costs by introducing native plant species in open areas instead of turf.

At a Glance

  • Designer


  • Project Type

    Nature preserve
    Park/Open space
    Wetland creation/restoration

  • Former Land Use

    Park/Open Space

  • Location

    1195 Central Park Drive East
    Carmel, Indiana 46032
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    161 acres

  • Budget

    $10.5 million (landscape)

  • Completion Date


Carmel boasts the second-largest concentration of commercial office space in Indiana, but had no parks before the Park District formed 21 years ago. As density and real-estate pressures increased, residents expressed desire for a naturalistic park on the site of the last remaining local farm. Cost recovery (versus a tax funding model) was a primary goal. Called the “crown jewel” of the park system, Carmel Clay Central Park is now a 161-acre park that includes free access to 60 acres of woodland, 40 acres of restored prairie and native plants, 6.5 acres of wetlands, and over 4 miles of trails, as well as an active water park and sophisticated community center. A lagoon provides stormwater storage and treatment, managing runoff from the community facilities and greywater from the water park. Carmel Clay Central Park provides opportunities for recreation and relaxation for the city’s 80,000 residents and draws visitors from neighboring Indianapolis and other cities.


At Carmel Clay Central Park, the designers sought to transform an agricultural landscape into a dynamic new ecosystem. The challenge was integrating economic, environmental, and aesthetic aspirations, while simultaneously striving for maximum recovery of the costs for operation and maintenance. Moreover, the Carmel/Clay Board of Parks and Recreation required an involved and transparent planning process, particularly due to a recent controversial trail project.


The design achieved the Park Board’s objectives by creating a place that balances heavily programmed and intensively-used built elements (community center, waterpark, skatepark, parking lots, etc.) with landscape features for passive use (lagoon, trails, forested wetlands, etc). The program-intensive elements generate revenues that support the management of the open spaces, and the open spaces are designed to integrate, distribute, and buffer the hydrologic and social impacts of the development. For instance, the lagoon and wetlands economically treat massive amounts of greywater discharged from the water park. The relatively low cost of maintaining the native plantings also helps to keep park operations and maintenance costs low enough to be as much as 90% covered by revenues from the community center and water park. Designers actively engaged the community, convening advisory committees and meetings of over 5,400 people. As a result, the park received overwhelming support and voters passed a $55 million park bond to support the project and affiliated efforts, including the Community Center and water park.

  • The park preserves 60 acres of woods, including high quality stands of beech-maple forest habitat. Woodlands of this type, with their rich mesic soils, have some of the most diverse flora of any forest system with species such as bloodroot, scarlet trillium, and pawpaw.
  • The park restores 40 acres of farmland to prairie/native plants. To restore the pre-agriculture ecology and reduce irrigation water demand for ornamental plantings, the landscape architect specified 38 hardy, native trees, shrubs, forbs and grasses plus seed mixes containing 39 species as the primary restoration treatments for the formerly tilled acreage.
  • Visitors are encouraged to explore the woods and prairie/native plant areas on and off the trail system, providing opportunities to create memories and to avoid generations with “nature deficit disorder” as expressed in the publication Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.
  • The park features a 6.5-acre constructed lagoon and wetland, which store and treat the site’s stormwater runoff and the greywater from the water park before discharging it into Carmel Creek. Excavated soils create gently sloping meadows flanking the lagoon.
  • Over 1,000 feet of boardwalk provides access to the park’s lagoon and wetland for fishing, bird watching, and passive recreation.
  • Seven acres of meadows overlooking the lagoon accommodate daily first-come-first-served recreation such as soccer practice and kite flying, as well as social gatherings and special events.
  • Stormwater runoff flows from the parking areas through curb cutouts and into drainage swales or across vegetated open ground, allowing the water to infiltrate into the soil.  Similarly, runoff from the Monon Center roof flows through downspouts into bioswales. Any water that does not infiltrate enters the lagoon and wetland system.
  • Brush-layering and native stone riprap secure 80 feet of steep streambank along Carmel Creek as it passes through the park, mediating bank erosion attributed to increased stream flows from off-site urban development in the surrounding watershed.
  • The park promotes the use of non-motorized transportation through its 4 miles of asphalt and crushed stone trails that connection to the regional Monon Trail system.
  • Modern pit toilet latrines equipped with solar lighting serve trail users all year round.
  • Traffic calming features that complement the vocabulary of the landscape design include concrete ribbon curbs and faux bridge crossings along the east entrance road to give the pavement a narrower appearance.
  • Recreational facilities within the park’s naturalistic surroundings include the 146,225-sf Monon Community Center, a 2,098-person waterpark, 2 picnic shelters and a 10,000-sf urban-style skate park.
  • The park has approximately 55 acres of open area with 15 acres of turf and 40 acres of prairie/natural plants. By choosing prairie/native plants instead of traditional turf for 40 acres, the park saves $56,000 in annual maintenance costs.
  • A main design goal was establishing a high-quality forested wetland zone that could be periodically flooded but not hold standing water. However, the volume of stormwater entering the forested wetlands was greater than expected, resulting in extended periods of inundation and high tree mortality. Since then, tree species proving to be more flood-tolerant have been introduced. Due to the project’s large scope and rapid timeline, the hydrologic design was based on generic baseline information. In retrospect, more site-specific hydrologic data should have been collected. The experience at Carmel Clay Central Park led the landscape architect to acknowledge “the importance of conducting thorough studies of existing and proposed site hydrology and allowing us to customize our design approach for each site.”
  • The project was characterized by a spirit of collaborative experimentation and innovative partnerships. For example, native plant experts educated the contractor in how to identify and protect sensitive plant species during the construction process. The contractor embraced the design team’s efforts to minimize impact in the ecologically sensitive wooded area of the park, even though this meant confining construction activities to the width of the path and carefully staging and handling building materials.
  • Educational signs posted in native plant zones were more effective in keeping neighboring residents informed of changes to the landscape than mass media efforts, such as flyers and news releases. During the early stages of establishing native plantings, some residents thought areas of the park looked unkempt and unattractive. After the signs went up, comments from residents were more favorable, according to park management.

Project Team

Client: Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation District
Landscape Architect, Civil Engineer, Ecologist: SmithGroupJJR
Architect, Waterpark: Williams Architects
Civil Engineer, Structural Engineer, Surveys: Schneider Corporation
Building Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
Electrical Engineer: Oberlis Consulting
Owner’s Representative: Summit Construction and AJ Armstrong

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect led the public planning and participation process, worked side-by-side with scientific consultants and community stakeholders, and produced comprehensive documentation for proposed park improvements, including a detailed program for park facilities, design principles, guidelines, and an implementation strategy to guide future decisions.


Stormwater management, Other water, Recreational & social value, Educational value, Transportation, Operations & maintenance savings, Job creation, Other economic, Bioretention, Efficient lighting, Greywater reuse, Native plants, Onsite energy generation, Traffic calming, Trail, Wetland, Restoration

The LPS Case Study Briefs are produced by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), working in conjunction with designers and/or academic research teams to assess performance and document each project. LAF has no involvement in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the projects. See the Project Team tab for details. If you have questions or comments on the case study itself, contact us at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

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