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Officials seek ideas for 200th birthday

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GREENFIELD — Though Indiana is still two years shy of its 200th birthday, Hancock County residents are already looking forward to a bicentennial celebration and thinking about how the local community can get involved.

A group of about a dozen nonprofit and government officials met last month with representatives of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission to look ahead to 2016. While ideas for local ways to celebrate are all preliminary, excitement is building for statewide festivities.

“All the counties are celebrating – it’s the celebration of Indiana becoming a state,” said Brigette Jones. “It’ll be a big birthday party.”

Jones, involved with the Hancock County Historical Society and the James Whitcomb Riley Home, was among the group of local stakeholders who gathered last month to hear about the state commission’s plans and brainstorm what to do locally.

Plans could include the 2016 Riley Festival, Jones said, especially because the state’s bicentennial coincides with the 100th anniversary of Riley’s death.

Locals are also brainstorming how to put a Hancock County spin on the statewide torch relay, which will use various modes of Hoosier transportation to pass an Olympic-style torch through all 92 counties throughout the bicentennial year. Perhaps the torch could come through Greenfield during the Riley Festival, Jones said.

Representatives from Greenfield Main Street, the Hancock County Visitors Bureau, Hancock County Arts Council, Shirley Historical Society and more were also at the meeting.

“It’s sort of like, ‘Wow, we’re only beginning 2014, and you’re talking the end of 2016,’ so it was hard for us to wrap our heads around it a little bit,” said Barbara Roark, assistant director of the Hancock County Public Library.

The library will get involved, Roark said, but just how is uncertain.

That’s the common thought among many of the nonprofit and government officials who attended the meeting, said Dave Scott, director of the visitors bureau. Scott will be chairman of the local bicentennial committee, and he said the group will reconvene sporadically, meeting more often as 2016 gets closer.

“The whole project is really in its infancy at this point,” Scott said. “Folks are trying to feel their sea legs, so to speak.”

Scott said at this stage, as many ideas as possible are encouraged. But at some point, the group will need to narrow down what can realistically be done in 2016.

And just how Hancock County’s history can be incorporated with the state’s history is unknown, especially since the county is younger than the state.

“Hancock County didn’t exist as a county in 1816; we were still part of Madison County at the time,” Jones said. “We didn’t become our own county until 1828; but we had people living here in 1816; we were settled.”

But the bicentennial celebration won’t just reflect on what the state was like when it was founded Dec. 11, 1816. It will be a year-long commemoration of the state’s entire 200-year history.

Last month’s meeting was one of dozens that have been happening throughout the state. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed a 15-member commission in late 2011 to oversee the planning of a statewide celebration of Indiana’s 200th birthday.

Chris Jensen, director of the commission, said in the last year he’s met with officials from 43 counties, and he plans to hit all 92.

The commission has identified four pillars to celebrate the state’s history. One is nature conservation, where grants will be offered to local communities expanding parks and greenways. Since the state’s parks system was the legacy of the 1916 centennial celebration, the bicentennial commission hopes to expand on that concept.

“Our goal is to have at least one project in all 92 counties in 2016,” Jensen said. “The best gift we can give generations is conserving our land today.”

Another pillar of focus is youth and education. While Indiana history is taught in the fourth grade, the bicentennial committee will look at ways to promote education to high school and college students, hopefully encouraging them to become lifelong Hoosiers, Jensen said.

Community involvement is another focus, where the state commission will endorse and promote local community projects and events that fit the mold of the bicentennial celebration. The fourth pillar is historical celebration; the commission hopes already established festivals throughout the state will have a bicentennial focus.

“Every community across the state has a festival or two that’s unique to them,” Jensen said. “We don’t want them to have a new festival, but brand their festivities around the bicentennial.”

While Hancock County’s projects and celebrations surrounding the bicentennial are up in the air at this point, Jones said it would be interesting if every town in the county could celebrate its roots while looking forward to the future.

“Everything that makes us Hoosiers is going to be celebrated, so icons and stuff we were known for, everything will be celebrated about the state,” Jones said.

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