Indy via Segway, in White River State Park

For years I’ve been a master at avoiding the Segway. Those little helmet-headed drivers would look pretty dorky, I decided, if their sets of wheels went AWOL, leaving behind bruised bodies and egos.

Mind you, it’s not like I ever witnessed somebody getting flipped off the machine, unless you count footage of President Bush in 2003, when he fell off a Segway because he reportedly forgot to turn it on.

Har-har, the world responded. Lord, that’ll never be me, I resolved. So I long demurred whenever invited to take a Segway for a spin.

But the two-wheeled device turned out to be an ideal way to easily, efficiently and (relatively) effortlessly tour White River State Park, 250 acres of green space, canals, art and other attractions in downtown Indianapolis.

Our tour guide, Bob Whitt, the park’s executive director, deadpans that Segways seldom end up sunk along the sometimes-narrow, three-mile Canal Walk Loop. (We meet before Segway Inc. owner Jimi Heselden died in September, after accidentally driving a Segway into a river in England.)

The Indianapolis canal is four feet deep, and the canal path extends to Buggs Temple, a former gospel concert venue that today draws many cocktail crowd and diners at the two restaurants (Euphoria and Creation Café) of the long-ago church.

Along the way, we see people in rented pedal boats and surrey tandem bicycles. Others take gondola rides, jog or walk.

Indiana’s only urban state park in Indiana also is home to museums, a zoo and a minor league ballpark. There are tributes to college sports heroes and Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. Dozens of outdoor sculptures dot the acreage, whose sidewalks follow the White River past park benches for people watching and blankets that fill lawns during concerts.

All are within a walk of each other, as are several hotels and shopping/dining/entertainment options that are being linked by bicycle path expansions.

The area easily could have turned into a Knott’s Berry Farm of the Midwest, with Ferris wheels and thrill rides dotting the landscape. That was one of the proposals on the table for this former industrial wasteland.

New this year is a 6,000-square-foot Slow Food vegetable patch, which replaces a flower garden. The area’s caregivers include Matthew Jose. Matthew, who operates Big City Farms, 1.5 acres of gardens in empty city lots that generate vegetables sold to local restaurants and as 40 community supported agriculture shares.

“A lot of customers can see what the range of produce can be in a small space, and that gets them excited about trying to grow food on their own,” he says. It is the same with the White River park setting, which exists as a teaching tool and inspiration to others. Second Helpings, a community kitchen and food pantry, gets the garden harvest.

For more about White River State Park, 801 W. Washington St., Indianapolis: www.in.gov/whiteriver, 800-665-9056.

Also inside the park are these attractions:

Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial – individually recognizing the 3,446 (and counting) Americans who have received the nation’s highest award for military valor. www.medalofhonormemorial.com

Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art – the only Midwest museum devoted to this subject’s traditional and contemporary art, culture, history. www.eiteljorg.org, 317-636-9378

IMAX Theater – larger-than-life views of life, history and world exploration through three-dimensional films. www.imaxindy.com, 317-233-4629

Indiana State Museum – interactive exhibits explain state history and project into the future, in a building made entirely with indigenous materials (including limestone, sandstone). www.indianamuseum.org, 317-232-1637

Indianapolis Zoo – known for its African elephant research/breeding and racing cheetahs. Accredited as a zoological park, botanical garden and aquarium. www.indianapoliszoo.com, 317-630-2001

NCAA Hall of Champions –test-your-skill exercise areas and exhibits that showcase and archive all the sports championships that the NCAA administers. www.ncaa.org/hall_of_champions, 317-916-4255

Victory Field – home of the Indianapolis Indians minor league baseball team. Sports Illustrated called the location “the best minor league ballpark in America” in 2001. www.indyindians.com, 317-269-3545.

White River Gardens – a botanical attraction with water garden, glass conservatory and walkways on 3.3 acres that is a part of the zoo. www.whiterivergardens.com

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Excursions on Segways, which operate on a rechargeable electric battery, are becoming more common in big cities that I visit. The “world’s first self-balancing human transporter” – those are the words of Dean Kamen, Segway founder – went on sale in 2002, and now at least 200 locations globally offer city tours on them.

The rider leans and shifts body weight to turn, accelerate and stop the two-wheeler, which – to the uninitiated – seems to have a mind of its own. Segways can travel as far as 24 miles – depending upon weight, terrain and riding style – before needing a recharge of battery.

Even skittish, slow learners like me can learn the basics of maneuvering a Segway within 15 minutes. Truly.

Segways are sold in 80 countries, and Wisconsin has one authorized dealer, which also leads two-hour rain-or-shine tours of Milwaukee’s lakefront at 10:15 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, until mid October. Cost is $80 for one person, $10 less when two or more people book a tour at one time.

Reservations are recommended, and operating instruction is provided. Participants need to be at least 4 feet tall and weigh between 100 and 265 pounds.

Tours resume in May, when organizers say they hope to add Segway tours in Madison, Green Bay and La Crosse.

The Segway averages 14 times less in greenhouse gas emissions than car driving. Although Americans get into cars 900 million times a day, the Environmental Protection Agency says solo drivers embark on one-half of these trips, driving no more than five miles.

For more about Segway of Wisconsin, 1000 Progress Rd., New Lisbon: segwayofwisconsin.com, 877-773-4929.

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