Marking 100 Years
Madison, Ind.’s Clifty Falls State Park moves celebration online
Facebook videos will highlight the park’s
100th Celebration Event
• June 27: Clifty Falls State Park plans to hold a public celebration of its 100th anniversary. Cake, ice cream, reunion of present & past employees, guest speakers and music.
Call the Nature Center at (812) 273-0609 for more information.
(May 2020) – Following the devastation of both the 1918 pandemic and World War I, the citizens of Jefferson County, Ind., came together in a unique way to honor the veterans of that Great War. They raised $15,000, half of the purchase price for the original 570 acres that included Clifty Canyon. The State of Indiana paid the other half of the purchase price.
At that time, the population of Jefferson County was listed as just 20,709. That $15,000 in 1920 is the equivalent of raising more than $203,000 today.
As a result of their generosity, Clifty Falls State Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. “We see close to 500,000 individuals a year in visitation,” Property Manager, Brad Walker said.
In addition, the Nature Center hosted 35,603 visitors, including 9,000 participants in 367 Nature Center programs. The park was Indiana’s third state park, following McCormick’s Creek State Park in Spencer, Ind., and Turkey Run State Park in Marshall, Ind.
While it is not possible to have a big party or celebration at this time because of the coronavirus, Kayla Leach, the park’s Interpretative Naturalist, is reaching out to the community through Facebook. She posted a video about the history of the park on April 18 and plans to post another video about park wildflowers in May. Leach adds a new post almost every day, including some virtual hikes along favorite trails.
Leach offered several options for current visitors to Clifty Falls State Park. “I usually recommend new visitors start with Trail 7, located near the north entrance. It is an ADA, fully paved path to Big Clifty Falls, the only waterfall that is easy to access. It is a short walk – about a quarter-mile.” (This is the only section of Trail 7 that is open during the Covid-19 restrictions.)
“When the trails completely re-open, visitors can continue another short walk to Little Clifty Falls. Since there are stairs on that path, it is labeled as moderately rugged,” Leach said. “On the way, visitors will see unique historical features.’
A rock wall surrounds the overlook, built by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. They also built the stone steps to the lower overlook and another rock wall. The Clifty shelter with restrooms was another CCC construction project. This trail is a loop. “It is a nice walk that can normally be completed in about an hour,” Leach explained.
Trail 9 (one-mile moderate trail, campground to Nature Center and Clifty Inn) and Trail 10 (three-quarter-mile easy trail, starting in back of swimming pool parking lot and features old field ecology,) are also open at this time, Leach said.
“The other trails are more adventurous,” she said. Trails 4 and 5 take visitors to see Hoffman Falls and Tunnel Falls. “This hike features the big cliff face and unique geological features. These cliffs are layers of limestone and shale, which can be seen up-close. Some large rocks have fallen and are now part of the trail. Trail 2, voted in 2019 as one of the top three trails in Indiana, runs through the center of the park, down to the creek bed where visitors can find many unique fossils. No fossils, rocks or other finds may be removed from the park. The motto is: ‘Take only photos, leave only footprints.’ ”
The sedimentary rock exposures are among the oldest surface bedrock in the state at 400-450 million years old with abundant and diverse marine fossils. These formations are much older than the coal-bearing deposits of southwestern Indiana. Water from Clifty Creek is constantly reshaping the land and topography of Clifty Falls State Park. Annually, tons of eroded sediment is washed down stream to the Ohio River, shaping the land as it goes.
Photo courtesy of Liz Brownlee
Clifty Falls has many fossils to explore.
There are two woodlands: the upland woods and the canyon woods. Each has its unique environment. Water is more abundant in the rolling upland, and while drier conditions prevail in the slopes of the valley. Some very rare Indiana plants are uniquely located at Clifty, as well as 54 species of trees. Wildlife at the park include white-tail deer, wild turkeys, bluebirds, black rat snakes, pickerel frogs and cave salamanders.
Weekend programs and waterfall hikes, including hikes to the old railroad tunnel, are normally offered every weekend from May through October. Leach also presents live animal programs with snakes, turtles and birds.
She reminded visitors to wear sturdy shoes or hiking boots. “It is possible to find a snake sunning itself across a trail. It would not be good to accidentally step on a snake wearing only flip-flops or sandals, she said.
“The only venomous snake in the park is the copperhead snake. They usually like to hide in the crevices of rocks. That is the reason rock climbing is not available at this park,” Leach explained.
Leach has a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Science from Purdue University. She has previously worked at O’Bannon Woods State Park, both on a trail crew and also as a seasonal naturalist. She joined the Clifty Falls State Park staff in 2017.
“You have to come to see Clifty Falls State Park,” said Walker, who was promoted to Clifty Falls in 2018. He had previously worked at Versailles State Park and Harmonie State Park. “You have to see that canyon – it’s almost five miles long. The canyon will always be ‘a thing.’ On the trail to Little Clifty Falls, visitors will see a formation called Cake Rock. It looks just like a slice of cake.”
Big Clifty Falls and Little Clifty Falls are both 60 feet high. Hoffman Falls is 78 feet high, and Tunnel Falls is 83 feet high. “We are opening a fifth falls that is not yet named,” Walker said. He explained that falls are judged by the width and the amount of water spilling over the falls. When summers are dry, the amount of water is reduced because of the small watershed.
Winter and spring are the best times to view the waterfalls. Even the frozen falls are beautiful, Walker said. He recommends Trail 1 from the Nature Center as the best place to view a sunrise. The observation deck is 20-25 feet over the tree line. The vista from the back side of Clifty Inn has also been opened. Another park motto that Walker cited is: “Take pictures to die for; don’t die for a photo.” Visitors are cautioned to stay safely on the marked trails.
“Clifty Falls State Park is one of the top hiking destinations in the state, with very unique landscapes,” Walker continued.
The park offers camping as well as accommodations at Clifty Inn. “It is a great park with neighbors in the best small town,” Walker said. “Madison offers visitors a fantastic downtown, music and food. In my career, I have never before been that lucky to be so close to a town.”
There are now 32 state parks in Indiana. The goal has been achieved to have a state park within an hour’s drive of every Hoosier.
Clifty Falls State Park is only a very short drive for local residents. Liz Brownlee grew up coming to the park with her family. “I have been hiking here since I was a kid. In the winter, we stayed at Clifty Inn, where we could swim and play board games at night, she recalled. As owners of Nightfall Farm in Crothersville, Ind., Liz and her husband, Nate, have most of their downtime in the winter. They have continued the tradition of hiking in the park.
“The longest, most rugged trail goes down the center of the park to Clifty Creek,” Brownlee said. “That trail is especially good in summer because it is cool in the shadows at the bottom of the canyon. Nate loves fossils, and Clifty Falls Park is a great place to hunt for fossils – some from 450 million years ago.”
Liz also teaches a Hanover College class with Ruth Turner about how the community manages natural resources. They bring students to the Nature Center for a guided hike.
Historical records show Clifty Canyon played a role in the Underground Railroad since former slaves were housed at the home of John Todd, who lived near the mouth of Clifty Canyon. With the help of his brother in Kentucky, Todd was able to assist slaves who crossed the Ohio River in their journey to freedom.
Another story explains the unfinished railroad tunnel near Trail 5. Back in 1852, John Brough started to build a railroad line through this area. The tunnel for the proposed railroad line was excavated by a crew of 700 men using only gunpowder and hand-driven star drills. The opening created ranges from 4-6 feet high. After spending $300,000, (the equivalent of $5.6 million today), Brough was bankrupt.
“Fortunately, this beautiful space is now a park, not a railroad hub,” Brownlee said.
Those tunnels are now home to hibernating bats and cave salamanders. Portions of the park’s hiking trails follow the original grade. Several piers and trestle abutments are still visible. “It is so interesting to study how people related to Clifty Falls area over the years. There is so much history at the park. We enjoy sharing it with the students,” Brownlee said.
Clifty Inn opened in August 1924. The construction of the Inn was also funded by local residents who raised $35,000 to build a 32-room brick facility with a dining room, lobby and a large porch overlooking the Ohio River. The funds were to be repaid to the community through the hotel receipts. During the Depression, Company 1597 of the CCC also built roads, trails, shelters, stone and timber gate houses, stone entrance walls and barns to enhance the property. The crews worked at Clifty Falls State Park from November 1933 until 1938. The men, ages 18-25, were paid $30 per month. They were allowed to keep $5, and the remaining $25 was sent back to their family. The construction used native rock and timber, creating designs that blended with the natural surroundings. The men learned many skills, including drafting, architecture and masonry. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the park in 1934 to view the work in progress. She and two friends stayed overnight at the Clifty Inn.
In 1974, sections of the Clifty Inn and the saddle barn were destroyed by a tornado that also destroyed much of Hanover and Madison. The Inn was closed and rebuilt, opening a year later in April 1975. The park view side, which includes the lobby and gift shop, is part of the original facility, while the river view side was rebuilt.
Subsequent additions included conference rooms and an indoor pool.
In 2006, the Clifty Inn was part of a multi-million-dollar park upgrade that included the restaurant and a new conference center. Recent renovations now provide 71 rooms: 40 rooms (including two suites) in the river view building, some with balconies, and 31 rooms (including four suites) in the main building, which includes the indoor pool and hot tub.
“It’s the best view of the river and downtown Madison,” said Renie Stephens, Clifty Inn General Manager.
State parks in Indiana are primarily funded by user fees, which account for approximately 70 percent of a park’s budget. At $7 per car for residents and $9 per car for non-residents, an entire family can spend a day at the park for less than $10. Annual permits are also available at $50 per car for residents and $70 per car for non-residents. Indiana residents who are over 65 or are Social Security disability recipients may purchase a Golden Hoosier Passport for $25 per year. Entry to the park is free during winter months.
There are two entrances to Clifty Falls State Park – one on Hwy. 62 on the Madison hilltop and another on Hwy. 56 just west of downtown Madison.
• For more information on Clifty Inn, visit www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/inns/clifty. For more information on the park, visit the Internet website www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2985.htm.
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