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Great Outdoors

Visiting Indiana National Parks, The Crossroads Of America

Photo Courtesy Steven Van Elk

Lovers of the popular television series Parks & Rec may find themselves subconsciously thinking of tiny tidbits of midwestern Americana from time to time, planted there via entertainment-osmosis by the show’s main protagonist, parks department employee Leslie Knope. Maybe you see a covered bridge or a kid’s peewee basketball game, or hear the word “Muncie” or “Hoosier” and picture the rolling hills, beautiful forests, and lush lakes of the great state of Indiana that serve as the backdrop for the NBC sitcom hit. Sometimes you might wonder if that image of Indiana, in the heart and mind of its most loyal and reverential fictional resident, fits with reality. Well, it’s closer than you think.

Set nearly dead center of the nation’s early geography, Lewis & Clark blazed their famous trail through the young territory while on a mission to reach the Pacific. While Indiana shares 40 miles of coastline with Lake Michigan, it is also well-known as the boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln, and has as much to offer as its relative geographical convenience implies. 

Among the beautiful terrain, Indiana’s 3 National Parks offer quiet and solace, an oasis set between the bustling metropolitan hubs of Chicago and Cleveland, Bloomington, and Indianapolis. 

The most visited of Indiana’s three national Parks is Indiana Dunes National Park, set against the shores of Lake Michigan, originally enshrined as the Indiana Dunes State Park in 1926. By 1966, Congress created Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and then Indiana Dunes National Park in 2019. Popular activities include hiking, driving along the scenic coast, or just hanging out on the beaches of the great lake.

History buffs will enjoy soaking up the history of the area by visiting Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm, named for the fur-trader that helped develop Northern Indiana. The homestead property showcases several architectural styles as it was added on to over a number of generations.

Photo Courtesy National Park Service 

The next two parks are historical monuments, one dedicated to one of America’s most well-known and revered presidents — Abraham Lincoln — and the other was the lesser-known but still vitally important Colonel George Rogers Clark. 

Located in Vincennes, along the Wabash River, the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park is a memorial to the American colonel during the Revolutionary War. Col. Clark led his army, with assistance from French residents in the area, to capture Fort Sackville and assure the United States’ claim to the frontier in 1779.

The park hosts a visitor center with a small exhibit area and a 30-minute movie. Be sure to watch the film as most have likely never heard of Clark’s remarkable victory that nearly doubled the size of the United States.

Photo Courtesy National Park Service 

Another popular national park spot in the Hoosier state is a memorial to one of America’s greatest mid-westerns, President Abraham Lincoln. While Lincoln is often identified with neighboring Illinois, he spent his formative years in Southern Indiana.

The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial offers informative exhibits, a short film, and a recreation of the Lincoln family childhood farm. While you’re strolling the beautiful grounds, be on the lookout for various stone markers, especially the one from his famous address at Gettysburg. 

Finally, as you travel through Indiana, you will notice beautifully romantic covered bridges dotting the countryside. In fact, Indiana is known as the covered bridge capital of the world!

In Historic Parke County alone there are 32 covered bridges. These bridges have been featured in movies and television shows as well as providing a romantic landscape to many marriage proposals.

This quiet drive through the country offers so many man-made and lovely features for your viewing pleasure. And even though school isn’t in session there are quite a few fun and educational activities available too when passing through the majestic 19th state of the Union.

Photo Courtesy National Park Service

 

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