Year of the Outdoors Shows Growing Need for Public Outdoor Spaces
Did you know that only 4% of Indiana’s land is public and accessible to anyone who wishes to spend time outdoors? With 96% of Indiana’s land being private, little space is left for protected wildlife and areas where people can recreate. Indiana ranks 43rd out of 50 states in terms of percentage of public land. One of the INRF’s main priorities is to increase the public lands available to Indiana residents, and the need for more land has been made clear in the last several months.
Quarantining and social distancing led many families and individuals to seek the great outdoors. Indiana’s state parks have seen a much higher than average number of visitors, crowding and limited parking. We spoke with a few interpretive naturalists at various state parks to gain their perspective on the 2020 outdoor scene and to gather tips to share with park visitors.
Aaron Douglass, from Turkey Run and Shades state parks said, “June was a record amount of visitors for Turkey Run and Shades. In modern times, Shades has never had parking capacity issues. However, in June it ran out of parking a few times. Part of that was due to Turkey Run filling up by noon almost every Saturday.”
Turkey Run boasts many outdoor opportunities, including a saddle barn and local liveries that offer services for canoe, kayak, and tube rentals. The campground within Turkey Run is all electric. The park offers multi-level hiking trails, including one of the best in the state, which goes through Rocky Hollow Nature Preserve. That trail is rugged, with ladders and the famous, echoing Punch Bowl.
Another wonderful location for a hike is Brown County State Park. Patrick Haulter, interpretive naturalist there, said the park offers hiking opportunities for all skill levels, as well as camping and more than 70 miles of trails dedicated to equestrian activity.
“We have seen an increase of park visitors. Camping has been super busy. Usually as the weather begins to get hotter we see our camping go down a bit. Not this year. We have been full almost all summer long,” Haulter said.
The park provides various other activities, such as guided interpretive hikes, climbing to the top of the fire tower, fishing, and enjoying a meal at Abe Martin Lodge. Viewing sunrises and sunsets at one of the scenic vistas is a must.
Marie Laudeman, from Indiana Dunes State Park, said there has been a significant increase in visitors there as well.
“The Indiana Dunes is always a busy park, especially on weekends when the weather is warm and sunny. However, this year, some of our weekdays have also felt like weekends,” she said.
Visitors flock to the dunes for beach activities, kayaking, boating, birding, picnicking and interpretive programs that the park’s staff offers. Many visitors are venturing to state parks for the first time as they search for new things to do in a world made smaller by social distancing. An increase in visitors has meant the current park staff are working hard to ensure everyone is safe. The naturalists offered some tips for first-timers.
“Hiking in sand dunes can be more of a workout and also just wear you out a bit faster, so hydration is really important—wear closed-toe, comfortable hiking shoes for the trails,” said Laudeman of Indiana Dunes.
Proper footwear cannot be stressed enough, no matter where visitors decide to trek. Douglass experiences this issue at Turkey Run.
“Wear proper footwear that fits the rugged and wet trails,” he said. “The amount of broken flip-flops we see is astounding. Visit outside the hours of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m to avoid crowds. Evening hikes are underrated.”
Each of the naturalists emphasized that one great thing about participating in outdoor activities is that they’re easy to enjoy while social distancing. Visitors should be sure to have a mask on hand in case they find themselves near a crowd or in an area where it is difficult to social distance. Wherever you and your family choose to explore, be sure to check ahead of your visit to see what the latest COVID information is at on.IN.gov/DNRcovid19.
Spending time in nature has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety in people of all ages, and at this time of heightened fears and stressors, it is a gift to have public lands available to Indiana residents. As the necessity for public outdoor space increases, it is important to acknowledge that there is a need in Indiana for funding to maintain, as well as acquire, new public land. If you enjoy having access to nature, whether that be at a state park, a state forest, a nature preserve, or a fish & wildlife area, please consider making a donation to the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation. Your contribution will make nature available to those you love as well as future generations.