Tim Maloney: Indiana’s parks continue to grow

By Tim Maloney

Wallace Stegner, an American writer and historian, called national parks “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” We can say exactly the same about our state parks and our other public lands as well.

Thanks to visionaries including Richard Lieber, in the early 20th century Indiana joined the national movement to protect America’s natural heritage with the establishment of our first two state parks — McCormick’s Creek and Turkey Run.

That first state park, McCormick’s Creek in Owen County – protected a small part of Indiana’s distinctive karst region of caves, sinkholes and underground creeks. At Turkey Run, along Sugar Creek, the splendid sandstone ravines of west-central Indiana with their glacial relict plant communities can be explored every day of the year.

Along the shores of Lake Michigan, a group of visionary women including Dorothy Buell came together under the banner of Save the Dunes Council and succeeded in preserving a larger landscape surrounding Indiana Dunes State Park, which became Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (now Indiana Dunes National Park). Progress was about to do away with the undulating sand dunes, bogs and wetlands, and savanna-like woodlands that are now protected in these two public parks.

Northeast Indiana is home to Indiana’s numerous natural lakes, a result of glacial retreat. Pokagon State Park boasts scenic Lake James and Snow Lake shorelines along with unique topographical features like kames, eskers and moraines. At Chain O’Lakes State Park, Hoosiers can enjoy a pleasant float trip between nine kettle lakes of northern Indiana.

To the south, Spring Mill State Park features more of Indiana’s cave country, where you can take a boat trip in Twin Caves where the endangered Hoosier cavefish lives and wander through the majestic old growth forest in Donaldson’s Woods. Farther south are the rugged hills of Harrison-Crawford State Forest, where the Blue River – a state designated natural and scenic river – flows to the Ohio River. One of Indiana’s most interesting and rare animals lives in the Blue River – the state-endangered hellbender, a giant salamander dependent on clean, undisturbed waters.

More recent additions to Indiana’s conservation lands include Goose Pond and Kankakee Sands. Goose Pond State Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County, a former glacial basin, is quite simply a bird magnet. Here, visitors may see thousands of sandhill cranes, American white pelicans, and the endangered whooping crane, along with over 250 additional bird species.

The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands project restored and protected a remnant of the great midwestern prairie that extended into northwest Indiana. American bison, once native to Indiana, have been reintroduced and roam this 8,400-acre nature preserve.

Our national lands include the rich hardwood forests and rugged hills of the Hoosier National Forest and three national wildlife refuges – Muscatatuck, Patoka River, and the largest at 50,000 acres, Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge north of Madison, a globally-important bird area where grassland birds including the Henslow’s sparrow live nearby deep forest birds including the Cerulean warbler.

Several state parks recognize the indigenous people who first roamed and settled Indiana. Mounds State Park in Anderson includes sites where the Adena and Hopewell people built great mounds. Near Lafayette, Prophetstown State Park recognizes Indiana’s earliest residents including the Shawnee people who had a settlement at the confluence of the Wabash River and Tippecanoe River.

If we want to leave a better Indiana for future generations, those of us here now must do all we can to conserve and protect more public parks, forests, trails, wildlife habitats, streams and lakes. Let’s embrace this “best idea” and resolve to undertake this action for the coming year and those after.

Tim Maloney leads the Hoosier Environmental Council’s programs on forestry, land use and public transit. This commentary previously appeared on indianacapitalchronicle.com. Send comments to [email protected]