Indiana State Parks mark 100 years
with much fanfare
Several events help commemorate
park system’s success
August 2016 Cover
(August 2016) – Just like the National Park Service, the Indiana State Park system is celebrating 100 years of existence this year. A total of 32 properties comprise a network that plays host to 16 million visitors each year who explore the natural beauty of the state from border to border.
“Indiana State Parks officially traces its history back to 1916, but the story begins long before that,” said Ginger Murphy, Deputy Director for Stewardship for Indiana State Parks. “In the late 1800s and early 1900s, what is called the ‘parks movement’ was under way across the country.”
President Abraham Lincoln signed a law in the 1860s to preserve Yosemite. In 1872, President Ulysses s. Grant signed a bill creating Yellowstone as the first national park, with land in Wyoming and Montana. In 1890, thanks to the work of John Muir and others, President William Henry Harrison signed a bill creating Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park and Gen. Grant National Park. Mt. Ranier became a national park in 1899.
Indiana State Parks
Centennial Celebration Events:
• Aug. 2-6: Harmonie State Park - Centennial Harmonie History Hunt
• Aug. 3: Falls of the Ohio State Park - Devonian to the Falls Today: A Walk Through Indiana’s Deep Time.
• Aug. 6: Raccoon Lake - Centennial ADA Bike Trail Peddle Parade Commemoration.
• Aug. 8: Tippecanoe River State Park - Centennial Hike and Birthday Party.
• Aug. 11: Shakamak State Park - Centennial Celebration and Activities.
• Aug. 13: Lieber SRA - Smokey Bear Party at the State Fair and Centennial Celebration.
• Sept. 3: Charlestown State Park - A Roaring ’20s Flashback Car Show and Candlelight Tour of Rose Island.
• Sept. 5: Spring Mill State Park - Centennial Celebration Program.
• Sept. 17: Brookville Lake-Mounds SRA - Centennial Celebration.
• Oct. 12: Charlestown State Park - Centennial Birthday Celebration.
As a result, “state park systems were also beginning to form,” Murphy said. Mackinac Island State Park in Michigan in 1895 was the first to have the designation of “state park.” San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in Texas was made a state park in 1897. Georgia has continuously operated Indian Springs State Park since 1825, even though it did not officially have “state park” in its name until 1931.
“In Indiana, state parks were still more than a decade away when the Indiana Department of Fisheries and Game was created in 1899, the first hunting licenses were required in 1901, and the Board of Forestry and position of State Forester were established in 1901. Clark State Forest, Indiana’s first, was established in 1903,” said Murphy.
In 1906, the Federal Antiquities Act was established to protect archaeological sites on public lands. It grew out of concerns related to haphazard excavation and commercial artifact looting.
The Act obligated federal agencies that manage public lands to “preserve for present and future generations the historic, scientific, commemorative and cultural values of the archaeological and historic sites and structures on these lands.” This act also gave the president the authority to designate National Monuments.
The entrance to Turkey Run State Park in Marshall, Ind., is pictured. The park, which opened in fall 1916, became the state’s second state park.
Murphy said that German-American Richard Lieber (Sept. 5, 1869 - April 15, 1944) is credited with being the father of the Indiana state parks system. By the time of his death, he was considered the most powerful spokesman in the United States for the conservation of natural resources.
Lieber was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, into a wealthy family. As a young child, he was tutored, due to having an illness following a chest injury.
He spent time in London, England, following his graduation from secondary education because his parents’ wanted him to learn the English language. While there he visited various museums and historical places.
He decided to visit Indiana in 1891, since two of his paternal uncles were living in Indianapolis. He landed a job as a reporter for the Indiana Tribune, eventually marrying Emma Rappaport, the owner’s daughter.
After touring Yosemite National Park in 1900, he became a conservationist. He spent a month and a six-week tour of the Rocky Mountains of Idaho and Montana. He went as a delegate to a White House conference about conservation by Theodore Roosevelt, and afterward started a series of articles promoting conservation.
The entrance to McCormick Creek State Park in Spencer, Ind., is pictured. Established in 1916, it was the state’s first park. Today, the park system boasts 32 properties and hosts about 16 million visitors a year, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Indianapolis was the site of the Fourth National Conservation Congress in 1912, and Lieber was chairman. This solidified his status as a major figure in the area of conservation. He also met Woodrow Wilson at this event, and from there, they formed a partnership for American conservation.
“Col. Richard Lieber recommended that a state park system be created as part of Indiana’s celebration of its centennial as a birthday gift to Hoosiers,” Murphy said. He encouraged Indiana Gov. Samuel M. Ralston to start the State Parks Committee, with Lieber as chairman.
Accompanied by a 20-man committee, Lieber began acquiring parks. McCormick’s Creek and Turkey Run both opened in 1916 without any state funding as the first two state parks. Madison’s Clifty Falls State Park was not far behind, having been founded in 1920.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Association was a major private donor for such endeavors, donating $5,065 for the purchase of Turkey Run.
In a report given on Nov. 25, 1916, as Chairman of the Committee on Indiana State Centennial Memorial, Lieber said, “I hope and trust that the small beginning we have made will have laid the foundation for a comprehensive system of State Parks, which will not only stand forever as a token of the past but which will bring health, wealth and happiness to our own generation and the many that will come after us.”
Photo by Patti Watson
Clifty Falls State Park is Madison’s top tourism attraction, entertaining hundreds of visitors each year. The entrance of Clifty Inn is pictured here. It features 163 rooms, a full-service restaurant, conference facilities, gift shop and swimming pool.
In 1917, Lieber was appointed Forestry Board Secretary, Indiana State Parks Committee Director, and Military Secretary to the governor, in addition to obtaining the title of colonel.
Lieber convinced Gov. James P. Goodrich to create a Department of Conservation to unite all the various state groups that were involved in various natural causes. As the Conservation Commission Chairman until 1933, he saw the creation of 10 state parks and five state memorials.
To his credit, hardly any state money was used. Lieber was able to inspire private citizens to contribute funds for the acquisition of park areas that would later be turned over for state park use. “In many cases for the early parks, a portion of the funding came from the state, but a portion also came from individual donations or local counties,” said Murphy.
Attendance at Indiana state parks rose to 623,000 in 1932, up from 33,000 in 1919. In 1934, despite a lack of people and wealth in comparison to other states, Indiana was rated one of the three best state park systems by the National Park Service.
In 1933 the Conservation Commission was dissolved, and Lieber was demoted to Division of State Parks and Lands and Waters Director. He resigned on July 15, 1933. He then served as an adviser to different sections of the National Park Service.
In 1940, Lieber wrote an account of his accomplishments stating, “In 1915 began my life’s work, creating state parks, and, subsequently, I became director of the newly established Department of Conservation. For 14 years, the happiest of my life, I worked at that task. Today, like an old pensioned fire-department horse, I am still at it (as consultant to the National Park Service and as a member of its Advisory Board), grateful that the government lets me.”
When Lieber died in 1944, he had been staying at McCormick’s Creek’s Canyon Inn. His ashes, along with those of his wife, Emma, are buried at Turkey Run State Park.
Indiana’s first parks: McCormick’s Creek
and Turkey Run
Photo courtesy of Yates Adventures
This rugged trail and wooden stairway leads to Clifty Falls.
The Hoosier Veneer Co. had a vested interest in certain Indiana land in Parke County for its timber business. Juliet Strauss, a native of the area, worked as a columnist for the Rockville newspaper and the Indianapolis News. By 1915, Strauss used her role as the voice of rural Indiana in an effort to preserve the old-growth forest at Turkey Run.
He has also presented “Origins” twice at Turkey Run; first for the re-dedication day and then on July 17. Additional presentations include The Limberlost State Memorial (Jean Stratton Porter’s home), Clifty Falls State Park on July 23, Pokagon State Park on July 30 and at Prophetstown State Park on Oct. 22.
According to “The Indiana State Park System: A Gift of Richard Lieber,” by Vicki Basman, “One woman in particular, Juliet Strauss of Rockville, was especially fond of a Parke County property known as Turkey Run. Having grown up near the area, she was well acquainted with the large stands of virgin timber and the spectacular gorges and canyons found there. Soon to be auctioned off, she knew that this unique site needed protection from the timber industry.”
“On April 20, 1915, Juliette wrote to Gov. Ralston appealing for help. She described the land as ‘a paradise of rocky gorges, glens, bathing beaches and waterfalls” and in imminent danger of being sold to the timber industry. Inspired by her plea, the governor charged the IHC to form a special parks committee and assigned Richard Lieber as chairman. Visiting Turkey Run on Feb. 3, 1916, Lieber noted in his diary that “the place must be preserved.”
Gov. Ralston appointed Strauss to the newly formed Turkey Run Commission. Turkey Run was brought to Lieber’s attention by his friend Richard Smith, editor of the Indianapolis News. Lieber saw the preservation of Turkey Run as the perfect opportunity to begin the state parks system.
Unfortunately, the land had to be bought back from the Hoosier Veneer Co., which had won the land at auction. Lieber gained an appointment to the State Park Committee, a larger group into which the Turkey Run Commission had been absorbed in 1916. This committee had wide public support and raised enough money to buy back the land for $40,200, with Hoosier Veneer maintaining a healthy profit of $9,000.
Lieber had described the merits of Turkey Run as, “a paradise of rocky gorges, glens, bathing beaches and waterfalls, a retreat for song birds and a garden of wild flowers. It has hundreds of magnificent black walnut, oak, poplar, and other stately trees, all growing in a primeval forest which the Lusk family carefully preserved from the lumberman’s axe.”
The State Park Committee had a second property in mind for a state park, McCormick’s Creek, an area of rugged canyons. The Committee combined funds with Owen County to purchase this land. McCormick’s Creek officially opened as Indiana’s first state park on July 4, 1916. Turkey Run became a state park later that year, thanks to the combined efforts of Strauss and Lieber.
A season of celebrations
Centennial Celebrations for the Indiana State Parks kicked off on Dec. 16, 2015, with special events across Indiana and the proclamation of Indiana State Parks Day by Gov. Mike Pence.
Murphy said that the Indiana State Park system has “grown from two state parks in 1916, to 24 state parks and eight big reservoirs in 2016.” Preservation is the key to keeping this number growing.
These areas “conserve unique ecosystems and historic features of Indiana for future generations to see and learn from. They provide places for people to relax, be restored, and make great family memories. They contribute to local economies as a part of the tourism industry. And they provide value to business and industry looking for places to locate - they contribute to the quality of life for present and future employees,” she said.
Indianapolis storyteller Bob Sander is very familiar with the history behind the founding of the Indiana State Park system. “Twenty-five years ago I was commissioned to construct a story that celebrated the State Parks’ founding,” said Sander.
A little over a year and a half ago, the parks department again approached Sander “to ask would I re-create something for the 100th anniversary of the parks’ founding. Some of the elements of the earlier show are there by historical necessity; other elements are new for this time around.”
The program he created is called “Origins.” He described it as the Foundational Story behind the entire State Parks system. “ ‘Origins’ celebrates our parks (and the visionaries whose collective will created them) by recounting the dramatic story of the parks’ historic beginnings.”
Sander relates this complex tale by using an intimate, live storytelling performance seasoned with stunning visual interludes. These video moments include images of Indiana’s varied natural environments, as well as short interviews with key individuals.
Public engagement is a component built into “Origins” through many “joining-in” moments for audiences to share and enjoy, which ranges “from a mock auction that recreates the original auction to buy Turkey Run, to facilitating informal sharing of personal State Park memories between fellow audience members,” he said.
Originally, Sander searched through “all the records the DNR and the State Library had to give me.” He also traveled to and spoke with anyone who was available that might have known Richard Lieber.
“Now, all these years later, all that research and records are still useful, but they have been augmented with on-line resources, as well as (for this particular version of the story) live video segments that we produced (interviews, on-site panoramas, etc.),” he said. “But mostly, as a storyteller, I was seeking the dramatic moment(s) that would not only elucidate the facts, but do so in a way that formed a compelling story.”
Sander has presented this performance several times. He has given it twice at McCormick’s Creek, the first time for a private group of Master Naturalists from around Indiana and beyond at their annual gathering. He presented “Origins” a second time for the park’s Celebration Day on June 25.
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