Indiana State Parks

Updated on March 26, 2020
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Ed Pope has visited many of Indiana's state parks, and hiked numerous trails. He visited many state parks while bicycle touring.

The Falls at McCormick's Creek State Park
The Falls at McCormick's Creek State Park

Colonel Richard Lieber was the mastermind behind the Indiana State Park system. 1916 would be Indiana's centennial year, and at that time about one third of the states had state parks. Lieber thought dedicating Indiana's first state park would be the perfect way to celebrate 1916.

Colonel Richard Lieber was the father of the Indiana State Park system
Colonel Richard Lieber was the father of the Indiana State Park system | Source

1916: Indiana's First Two Parks

Lieber convinced the governor to establish a centennial committee and appoint him as chairman. Their first meeting was on March 18 of 1916, and it initiated a very busy year. The Turkey Run area was to be auctioned off just a couple months later. Lieber was able to raise $20,000 from private donors to purchase the property and bid on it, but lost out to the Hoosier Veneer Company.

After the failure to obtain the Turkey Run property, Lieber and his committee were contacted by citizens of Owen County who informed them that the McCormick's Creek Canyon property was up for sale. An arrangement was worked out whereby Owen County came up with a quarter of the purchase price and the committee came up with the rest. McCormick's Creek State Park became Indiana's first state park.

Lieber never gave up on obtaining the Turkey Run property, and began negotiating with Hoosier Veneer immediately after the auction. They were willing to sell the property after they had harvested the timber they wanted. This was not acceptable to the committee, so they eventually agreed to purchase the land at a premium over what the lumber company paid for it. Turkey Run became Indiana's second state park in November of 1916.


Lieber was named head of Indiana's Department of Conservation when it was created in 1919. Indiana continued to add parks under Lieber's direction. In most of these, local groups pitched the idea and raised some of the funds for purchasing land:

  • Clifty Falls (1920)
  • Indiana Dunes (1925)
  • Pokagon (1925)
  • Spring Mill (1927)
  • Shakamak (1929)
  • Brown County (1929)
  • Mounds (1930)
  • Lincoln (1932)

Lieber believed in keeping the state parks as natural as possible, so there wasn't a lot of building in the parks under his administration. He also felt that entrance fees should be charged and that money should be used to maintain the park. In 1927 Indiana began naturalist programs at state parks.

Lieber was a Republican, but was apolitical in his hiring, asserting that one's politics had nothing to do with his ability to do conservation work. Lieber left in 1933 after the new Democratic governor dissolved the Department of Conservation. In 1934 the National Park Service recognized the park systems of New York, California and Indiana as the best in the nation.

Colonel Lieber visiting the future Indiana Dunes State Park in 1916 with National Park Service Director Stephen Mather
Colonel Lieber visiting the future Indiana Dunes State Park in 1916 with National Park Service Director Stephen Mather | Source

Civilian Conservation Corps

During the Great Depression, as unemployment skyrocketed, the Civilian Conservation Corps was established. They built shelters, bridges, and other structures in many of Indiana's state parks. They also built roads, trails and planted many trees to control erosion. Later, the Works Progress Administration performed similar tasks.

The Recreational Demonstration Area program under FDR identified areas which were poor farmland but had potential as public recreational areas. Under this program, 46 public parks were created. Two state parks were created in Indiana in this manner. Tippecanoe River and Versailles both entered the system in 1943.

World War II - Present

After World War II, new parks were added slowly. Shades entered the system when the property became available in 1947. Whitewater Memorial opened in 1949 as a tribute to the World War II veterans of Fayette, Union, Franklin and Wayne counties. All four of those counties contributed land for the park. No parks were added during the 1950s.

In the 1960s four new parks were added:

  • Chain O' Lakes (1960)
  • Ouabache (1962)
  • Harmonie (1966)
  • Potato Creek (1969)

No new parks were added in the 1970s except for White River State Park. I have no idea why they call it a state park, since it is mostly buildings. In recent years, most state parks were created when properties became available. Summit Lake became a state park when the property was purchased from the Big Blue River Conservancy in 1988. The Falls of the Ohio State Park was created within the Falls of the Ohio National Wildlife Conservation Area in 1990. The Charlestown State Park, which opened in 1996, sits on land of the former Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. The federal government turned that land over to the state in 1993. Fort Harrison also opened in 1996 and was created in a similar manner after the Fort Benjamin Harrison Army Base was closed.

O'Bannon Woods State Park was originally Wyandotte Woods State Recreation Area. In 2004 it was renamed for the recently deceased governor, who died in office. Also in 2004 the Department of Natural Resources finally achieved its goal of having a state park within one hour for everyone in the state. After years of trying, they finally opened a park in the Lafayette area. Prophetstown State Park is named after the Prophet, brother of the great Indian leader Tecumseh.

Prophetstown was originally proposed in 1989, after other potential locations in the area were opposed by local citizens. It took another ten years to purchase the land, and five years later it was dedicated by the Governor. One unique feature of Prophetstown is that it has a 1920s living history farm. The non-profit Farm at Prophetstown rents 125 acres within the park from the Department of Natural Resources. They operate a farm as it would have been operated in the 1920s. The farm has a variety of animals including horses, cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, rabbits and more.

The Historic Prophetstown Farmstead
The Historic Prophetstown Farmstead | Source

Muscatatuck - The Lost State Park

Indiana's fourth state park was created in 1921 and named Vinegar Mills State Park. Despite its name, no vinegar was made at the site It was a stone cutting operation that was first operated by William Read in 1840. The original mill was operated for seven years, after which a second mill began cutting stone. It was situated at the edge of a cliff, which collapsed in 1875, ending operations permanently.

In 1922 the name was changed to Muscatatuck State Park. The area is scenic, but the park breaks from Lieber's views on state parks in two fundamental ways:

  • Lieber believed it was better to have fewer but larger state parks. Muscatatuck State Park had only 86 acres when it was first formed.
  • The park never charged an admission fee. Lieber believed that a state park should charge entrance fees and that money should be used to maintain the park.

The park used the William Read House as its inn. As in other state parks, structures were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration during the Depression. At Muscatatuck these included:

  • The main road into the park
  • Fire tower
  • Shelters
  • Bridges
  • Steps to the area which overlooks the Muscatatuck River River

In 1956 the state began using the park to raise pheasant and quail for reintroduction into the wild. The game raising program was terminated after six years. In 1968, the state turned the property over to Jennings County, which renamed it Muscatatuck County Park. Under Jennings County management, the 1912 Walnut Grove One Room School was moved to the park in 1991. The state added a historical marker for the park in recognition of 80 years of operation in 2001.

The William Read Home served as the Muscatatuck State Park Inn.
The William Read Home served as the Muscatatuck State Park Inn. | Source

© 2013 Ed Pope


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