Reynolds Reno ASNE Reynolds HSJ Institute at the University of Nevada-Reno Reno, NV
Issue Date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 Issue: Volume 6, Issue 1 Last Update: Friday, August 17, 2012
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At-a-glance

Elizabeth and Maka live very close to the River Walk and use it night and day. They often run or bike with Jack London, their Husky mix, along the trails. - Gordon Lang
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The dogs come out at night.

So do the kids, their parents, young couples, older couples, skateboarders, walkers, runners and musicians. In short, the lifeblood of Reno, the pulse of the city can be felt most every evening along the River Walk.

And now, with Art Town events as a magnet, this effect is amplified several fold. Take a look.

Digging the cheap seats

Last Saturday Nicole and her son Dante drove in from their home in Sparks just to see the Pops on the River concert. They weren’t sure if there was a charge for the event (there was), but they were content to listen from the north bank, the free side of the river.

Just up the way, Elizabeth, 34, and Maka, 47, were enjoying the same concert with Jack London, their Husky mix. They live close to the river and get down here once in a while on weekends, usually to bike or run with the dog.

Keep walking upriver.

On a warm summer Saturday, tubers and rafters are still out on the river well into the evening. Davis Francis, a 19-year-old chemistry major at the University of Washington, was busy flattening an inflatable raft while the Pops concert was finishing up.

Though this was his first run of the year, Francis is lucky. He lives on the river, three miles upstream, the raft is his own, and he has a ride home. His cousin stayed behind and would be by shortly to pick up Francis and his four passengers.

Francis said he uses the River Walk regularly when he is home from school. He also comes down to play basketball on Sundays at the courts nearby.

Designed fun

Reno’s River Walk is a two-decade-old project. Copying similar successes in other cities, designers created a safe, attractive recreation walk, while also rebuilding the riverbed to prevent erosion and help control flooding.

Locals John and Kimberly Crisp remember acting as consultants some twenty years ago, when they were pioneer tubers on a wilder (and more dangerous) Truckee River. Kimberly described a particular hole where she once found her self stuck, upside down, with her head bouncing on the river bottom like a pile driver.

The Crisps have been in town 24 years now and have become fixtures in the community. Together they make up the band Sweet Revenge, with John on guitar and Kimberly on harmonica, playing classic rock and their own blues compositions.

Their six kids are grown now and they can give more attention to Wyatt, their border collie mix. 

Kimberly says she comes down to the River Walk once a week during the summer. John jokes that he comes down when his wife drags him.

“It’s better now the crazy people are gone,” he says. “A few years ago ICP, the Insane Clown Posse, was a real problem.”

Family friendly

The Reno police, city officials, and Art Town coordinators do what they can to monitor the River Walk to keep it safe without turning the park into a police state. The City of Reno has hired ESI Security to patrol the entrance to Wingfield Park for public events during Art Town.

On Movie Night (Friday), Stephen Tiffany was on duty to ensure that the Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera” remained an alcohol-free, family-friendly event. That meant he had to check backpacks, and ask that dogs be kept out of the park and on leash, to the north side of the park bridge.

That was no trouble for Peter and Renate Neumann, who have lived in Reno since 1969. They walked their Weimaraner Kate a little farther up river. Peter picked up trash along the riverbank while Renate used a dog toy to play with Kate.

The Neumanns say they split their strolls between morning and evening walks, doing a “semi-regular” cleanup of the River Walk.

Citizen ownership

This sort of citizen responsibility for the River Walk—and for Reno itself—is reflected by many of the folks along the river. Fred, 47, has only lived in town for three years, but he speaks passionately about what city officials and the casinos could do to rehabilitate the downtown.

Fred, a former slot repair technician, lives very close to the River Walk and is down there both morning and night. While listening to the Pops from the bridge, he shared his take on the state of the city.

 “I got laid off last year,” he said. “I’m one of those lucky people.

“The casinos won’t wake up to do the right kind of marketing,” he went on. “They should return to two and three dollar tables, the old Vegas.” Another way to react to the sluggish economy, he suggested, would be to allow open alcohol downtown.

“Instead of shutting down events at 10, let them go till 12. On Friday and Saturday nights it makes no sense. It’s a 24-hour town.”

The barbecues at the Silver Legacy and Eldorado shut down at 8 p.m., he complained.

“I love the River Walk,” Fred said. “They did a wonderful job. But they need real restroom facilities. These port-a-potties are only available during Art Town. I love Reno, but there are things they could work on.”

Who uses River Walk and when

The homeless are not a significant issue on the River Walk, Fred said. “They have St. Vincent’s.”

Fred sees local people every day working out beside the river, but not many out-of-towners.

In the early morning, it’s the kayakers. “Mid-day it dies down,” he said. “Then, from around 3 or 4 p.m. to around 7:30 it’s packed.” Fred attributes this to the warm weather.

“In the afternoon there are more high school kids, say 14 to 18-year-olds. Later, it’s the 18 to 25-year-olds. From 7:30 on,” Fred said, “you see the 50 to 70-year-olds and older. It’s really diverse.”

Youth on the fly

Randy, 25, is one example of that diversity. A skateboarder, he’s one of a dozen or so young people hanging out in the courtyard at the end of West Street. One of his friends has a bulldog cross with him.

Randy has no job this summer. Fortunately, he’s living at home. He spends his days skateboarding, either here on the River Walk or at the ice rink.

“It’s OK till the cops come,” he says. “Skateboarding on the River Walk is OK. Just not on the city sidewalk.”

Randy indicated that the city police cut them a little slack, as long as they stayed within certain parameters.

Taking it lying down

Most of the homeless along the River Walk describe a similar relationship. As the evening wears on and they claim a park bench for the night, they expect to be able to sleep through the night undisturbed.

Perry Keefe, 58, is such a homeless man. He admits his is “a very uncomfortable life,” but he feels he needs to stay out of the shelters.

It’s not because he wants to drink. “I can’t drink. I was treated last year at St. Mary’s for internal bleeding,” he says, describing his stage 2 liver problem. ”If I drink I’ll die.”

Keefe avoids the shelters because of his temperament. “I’ve fought a lot of people—black, white, Mexicans. I defend myself,” he says. “I’ve never been a pushover.”

Keefe still has a wife back in Redding, California, but she is staying there with her ailing mother. He thinks about going back, but keeps putting it off.

“My stepson is violent,” he says. “So is she. Plus my wife talks 24/7. She has diarrhea of the mouth.”

The new beat of the city

The vast majority of River Walk users, it seems, come from somewhere else. Even the majority of Reno residents who use the park along the river seem to have come from somewhere else.

Lisa and John were in town for the evening with their dog, Bajanka. Though they live in the mountains, they came down to listen to the concert.

In the meantime they saw their two kids in town.

“Reno is a good town if you’re young,” John said.

He grew up on a ranch in Nevada. His nearest neighbor was two miles away. At that time, Las Vegas only had 40,000 people.

Much has changed in the interim, he said. “Ranches are still the same today.  They don’t change. Cowboys can still wear guns and do.”

But the implication is that everything else around us is changing, and needs to continue to do so. To be sustainable in the past Reno has had to adapt. The River Walk is a good example of this, and a good model of the kind of innovation the city will need in the future.

The River Walk is where we come together. The collective movement of the people there reflects the pulse of the city, the beat of who we are and what we care about.

Back to the articles list
 
  • Fred, recently laid off from his job as a slot repair technician, loves Reno and the River Walk, but thinks the casinos and town administrators are missing the boat on how to survive this weak economy.
    By Gordon Lang
  • Kimberly and John Crisp, of Sweet Revenge, play original blues and classic rock. As pioneers of tubing the Truckee, they had a voice in designing the reconstruction of the riverbed.
    By Gordon Lang
  • Nicole and Dante came in from Sparks expressly for Art Town Pops concert in Wingfield Park.
    By Gordon Lang

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