Sugar Creek Nature Park Opens Tuesday

Sugar Creek Nature Park Opens Tuesday
Journal Review
By Jay Heater

The announcement of Tuesday’s grand opening of the Sugar Creek Nature Park heralds the project as one that took “16 years in the making.”

In fairness, though, it didn’t take years of labor for the idea to come to fruition.

Once Mayor Charlie Coons came into office in 2008, it was a quick sprint to the finish — or the beginning.

“I am very proud of it,” Coons said of the Nature Park, which sits on approximately 64 acres that run across Sugar Creek from the CEL&P power plant and then along Sugar Creek, under U.S. 231 to the
Elston softball complex. It has4,000 feet of trails, two large shelters and 12 outdoor classroom workstations.

“We started it as a pet project of the mayor’s office,” Coons said. “It was one of the two or three things we wanted to get done for kids.

“So we put together a good group. We got together the Friends of Sugar Creek, our MS4 and Parks and Recreation departments, and Crawfordsville schools.”

With private businesses and organizations, such as Nucor Steel, the Montgomery County Community Foundation, Vectren, Indiana American Water, Big R and the League of Women Voters supporting the project, things took off.

“This was a great example of the community working together,” Coons said.

Ground was broken for the first “shelter” in the Nature Park on Aug. 18. With volunteers from the community helping with clean-up projects, everything zoomed forward.

“The education piece was something we had thought about so we got in contact with (Tuttle Middle School teacher) Shannon Hudson,” Coons said.

“This lady is great. If you need somebody to get something moving, go get Shannon Hudson.”

The opening on Tuesday will be held at 10 a.m. at the East Shelter, which is located on the east side of U.S. 231 N. just across from CEL&P.

“This is an educational, usable place, and it will be kept in the eye of the public for years to come,” Coons said. “It’s close enough that it takes only two minutes to drive down there. It is a family-friendly site and there is going to be a lot there for everybody. If the public takes care of it, and doesn’t trash it, we will be fine.”

The idea came about early in 1989 when Rita Hamm was head of Parks and Recreation.

“Plans for development in Elston Park were discussed,” Coons said. “There had been a lot of research and studies done by Purdue students. They had planned for a canoe passage around the dam, and the rehab of the Coke plant. There was talk of adding a primitive campground and a crossing over Sugar Creek. Rita wanted to get the city behind it, but the city ran out of funding. We did get a canoe launch and the Nature Park was included in the Parks and Rec’s five-year plan.”

The Nature Park, however, took a back seat to other projects and was shelved. Years later, Coons was elected mayor.

“I love Sugar Creek and I love the outdoors,” Coons said. “This was something I thought should be looked at ... perhaps not to the extent they were looking at (in 1989). I talked to Rita about it and asked her if she thought I would have many problems.”

Coons met with new Parks & Rec Director Roger Neal and with city employee and Sugar Creek Nature Park committee member Troy Mitchell.

“We did our research,” Coons said. “We made a presentation to Nate Mullendore of Friends of Sugar
Creek and they got on board.

“We all sat down and started talking. We had 64 acres of somewhat unusable ground. We started to look at grants. The key component was the educational piece. Shannon has gotten grants to benefit the schools for their part.

“People always say we can’t all work together. But we are. Everyone has been going for one common goal. I have heard nothing but good words about this project. We have gotten something done. Everyone has done their share of work and has gone about their business.”

Coons said the park should require very little maintenance and he said the MS4 department and volunteers should handle most of it.

“We do want to see about a canoe portage at the dam,” Coons said. “First, we want DNR to look at the dam, which has a bow in the middle. If we build a portage, that would allow the people in the Darlington area to come down.

“I also would like to build a deck across the ravine by the East Shelter to allowed handicapped people to get back there.”