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"…We have tried in our State to educate the masses of our people to look upon conservation not merely as a means of self-preservation; a practical conserving of our resources, but also as a need for the appreciation and uplift of the soul of man.” – Richard Lieber, 1923, Founder of the Indiana State Park System
Hours: Monday - Friday, 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM (EST)
Location: Main Exhibit Hall - Indiana State Library (directions)
Cost: This exhibit is free and open to the public
Duration: On display from Nov. 1, 2010 - March 31, 2011
Special thanks to Professor Christopher Baas & the Department of Landscape Architecture at Ball State University, & the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Exhibit Coordinator: Brent Abercrombie, Manuscripts Librarian, Indiana State Library
The Indiana State Parks: Rich Storehouses of Memories & Reveries exhibit highlights the growth of Indiana's state park system into one of the nation's finest. The exhibit has a particular focus on Richard Lieber, conservationist and father of Indiana's state parks system, and the original 10 state parks dedicated during Lieber tenure as Chairman of the Indiana State Parks committee. The exhibit features a unique collection of architectural layouts for the first state parks and a collection of photographs depicting Indiana's state parks' original appearance and features.
The exhibit also gives historical overviews of the original parks and highlights the roots and significance of the Lieber family in Indiana. Specifically, as it delves into the life of a man whose vision and philosophies enhanced our state's and nation's understanding toward preservation of our natural treasures. Additionally, the exhibit showcases the 76-year history of Outdoor Indiana, the official magazine of the Department of Natural Resources. Outdoor Indiana has featured, raised awareness, and documented much of the history and growth of the Indiana's state parks system.
Indiana State Parks traces its history back to 1916. Colonel Richard Lieber, an Indianapolis businessman and German immigrant, recommended that a state park system be created as part of the State Centennial celebration. Lieber marshaled his considerable energy and political acumen to preserve the state’s rapidly disappearing forests, wetlands and other wild spaces. Inspired by John Muir, Stephen Mather and other prominent voices of the national conservation movement, Lieber became a national leader in the state parks movement and assisted other states in forming their own systems as well. From his appointment as chairman of the State Parks Committee in 1916 to his resignation from the Department of Conservation in 1933, Lieber oversaw the creation of 10 state parks, firmly establishing Indiana’s parks as among the nation’s best.
Lieber’s strong philosophy was that users of the parks should be charged a user fee and that money from all fees should be dedicated and used to defray the operational costs. This philosophy continues to this day and Indiana is one of the leading state park systems in terms of self sufficiency. The key to the success of the state parks has been the development of large parks instead of smaller little parcels of land that are more difficult to manage and maintain. While Indiana may have fewer parks, the high level of quality and sprawling acres of land is worth the tradeoff.
Indiana was also a pioneer in the use of naturalists to provide interpretive programs that enhanced attendees’ enjoyment and appreciation of these special places. In 1923 Lucy Pitchler, described as the “little lady in tennis shoes,” began taking people out on the trails of McCormick’s Creek State Park, enthralling them with her knowledge and appreciation for the natural world around her. Today, Indiana is a recognized leader in this field, as naturalists educate and entertain over 800,000 students, teachers, campers and other visitors annually.
Aiding Lieber in his quest for the nation’s greatest state parks system was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) – a New Deal public work relief program for unemployed men. CCC workers vastly improved the parks’ infrastructure by upgrading sanitation systems, roads and shelters, many of which are still in use today. Their craftsmanship and the simple, rustic design of these facilities are marvels still enjoyed by today’s visitors.
By the mid 1960s, though, Indiana’s state parks had begun to decline. A surge in the popularity of family camping after the Second World War, combined with the state’s hands-off approach to park management, left many of the parks in ecological turmoil. Thanks to the rise of a more professional approach to park management in the late 1960s, Indiana’s state parks soon rebounded and today are thriving once again. Ongoing conservation projects including deer management and research on invasive species of plants and animals have helped return the Indiana state parks system to elite status as one of the country’s best examples of conservation in action.
A goal of the state parks is to give Hoosiers the ability to experience what the Indiana landscape was like prior to settlement by featuring her mature forests, wetlands and vast prairies. Additionally, state parks interpret the historical and archeological context of our state. A more modern goal is to have a state park within a one hour drive of every Hoosier. This goal was met with the opening of Prophetstown State Park in 2004.
Today, twenty-five state parks encompass over 100,000 acres of land. Indiana’s state park system ranges from the windswept shoreline of Lake Michigan to the woods, hills and rivers of Southern Indiana once explored by a young Abraham Lincoln. The majority of the parks host old-growth forests that are unique from the regular woodland lots typically seen across Indiana today. Virgin timber, impressive hardwood forests, healthy wetlands and clean water make state parks a perfect habitat for wildlife. These parks are also a perfect recreational opportunity for millions of visiting Hoosiers each year.
Hoosiers can take pride in the quality of the parks themselves. Widely recognized among the best in the country, Indiana state parks are a great source of Hoosier pride. Anyone who’s visited Turkey Run, McCormick’s Creek, Indiana Dunes or any of the dozens of other Indiana state parks can’t help but marvel at their striking and diverse topography.