As Indiana nears its 200th birthday, citizens statewide are embracing environmental stewardship by supporting the Bicentennial Nature Trust. This program joins public and private funds to purchase properties to be maintained as parks and natural areas.
Hoosiers believe in conserving open spaces where their children and grandchildren may hike, fish and catch glimpses of Indiana wildlife. In this regard, they follow proudly in the footsteps of their forebears. A century ago, in conjunction with another milestone, an earlier generation of Hoosiers resolved to save Indiana’s forests, prairies and wetlands.
The greatest legacy of Indiana’s 1916 Centennial Celebration remains the creation of our first state parks — McCormick’s Creek and Turkey Run. From these beginnings grew a parks system that today is arguably the best in the United States, operating 24 state parks and eight reservoirs that occupy 170,000 acres of Hoosier landscape. During the most recent fiscal year, these properties drew more than 16 million visitors.
Richard Lieber, the visionary who started Indiana’s state parks, once said, “It is the land on which we all depend in the last essence. It is the land and the very soil, the trees and waters, the dales and glens which we love.”
On Nov. 5, Gov. Mike Pence voiced similar themes while dedicating Indiana’s latest Bicentennial Nature Trust project — the Fox Ridge Nature Park in Vincennes.
“The commitment to conservation has been part of Indiana’s legacy,” he said. “The Fox Ridge Nature Park is going to be a great place for families to come and enjoy and share and experience the great richness of this part of the state.”
Natural parks, recreational space and trails are now considered top-list priorities by people looking for homes. Conservation yields economic benefits in addition to aesthetic ones — attracting businesses along with residents.
In less than four years, the Bicentennial Nature Trust so far has exceeded expectations.
The Indiana Bicentennial Commission has approved 156 land acquisition projects that benefit all regions of the state, touching 64 counties. So far, 90 acquisitions are already completed, covering more than 8,600 acres.
Wherever you live in Indiana, there is a project a short drive away. Information on every project can be found online at in.gov/dnr/7577.htm. (And for more about the State Parks Centennial, see INStateParks100.com.)
Just as Lieber raised private donations to purchase the first state parks, so Bicentennial Nature Trust operates as a public-private partnership. The trust has committed $26 million to approved projects, but this investment is only part of the financial picture.
This program works by providing dollar-for-dollar matching grants, so local communities raise the same amounts they receive from the state. In addition, generous community organizations such as the Lilly Endowment and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust have made contributions.
The trust started with $20 million in public funding and another $10 million from the Lilly Endowment. Today, whole communities are rallying around these projects with a sense of pride and a sense of place. The total combined public and private investment, including matching funds from local communities, now totals more than $61 million.
On Dec. 11, 1816, President James Madison signed a congressional resolution admitting Indiana to the Union as the 19th state.
In Vincennes last month, Gov. Pence recalled words spoken by another president, Teddy Roosevelt: “Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children.”
In this spirit, we invite all Hoosiers to help make the Bicentennial Nature Trust a legacy that our descendants will still be celebrating in 100 years and beyond.
Indiana Nature Conservancy Director Mary McConnell and Best Way Express Chairman Emeritus Jim McCormick are members of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission.