Giving Thanks for Indiana’s Natural Wonders

November 23, 2009

Giving Thanks for Indiana’s Natural Wonders

For release noon Tuesday Nov. 24 and thereafter (685 words)

by ANDREA NEAL

(Note to editors: This column is written for publication on Thursday, Nov. 26: Thanksgiving Day. If published prior, please use alternate opening graf found at bottom of column)
 
My children and I woke up this morning in tents pitched along Bright Angel Creek at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It is our first Thanksgiving away from Indiana, our first without turkey and pumpkin pie. I see it as a last-gasp bonding opportunity with my college-age sons before they start their own lives and create their own Thanksgiving traditions.
           
Acquaintances who have hiked the Grand Canyon assure me this will be a Thanksgiving to remember. If a mile-deep gorge carved from Precambrian rock by rushing water over millions of years doesn’t inspire awe and thanksgiving, nothing will.
            
Ironically, I had to book air travel to Arizona to appreciate Indiana’s own landforms, themselves a reason to give thanks this day.
           
My training — organized by some fit and nature-loving friends — began with one-hour jaunts through Holliday Park in Indianapolis, a neighborhood park known as much for its 20-foot slide tower as its 3.5 miles of trails through woodsy ravines along White River. I had been visiting this park for years without recognizing its watershed value to Marion County and its habitat value to bass and bluegill, great blue herons, owls, beaver and red fox.
           
I broke in my hiking boots at another city park, Southwestway, 10 miles south of Downtown along Mann Road. Prior to this visit, all I knew of the neighborhood was the wastewater treatment plant, which discharges 125 million gallons a day of sanitary wastewater into the river.
           
The park isn’t pretty, in large part due to the 100-foot-wide power line easement that dissects it from north to south. Yet, according to IUPUI’s Center for Earth and Environmental Science, it “contains some of the most outstanding geological features in central Indiana.” To be specific, its major landmark — Mann Hill — was formed during the last glacial period when ice melted and mounds were formed at the edge of the retreating glacier.
           
Next stop was the loop trail along the banks of Fall Creek at Fort Benjamin Harrison, newest in the state park system. This property was part of the military base decommissioned in 1991. Fortunately, its hardwood tracts and three lakes were saved as a recreational resource for citizens. I sought more rigorous trails at Shades State Park near Crawfordsville, recommended by a neighbor as the best possible practice for the canyon because of its staired ravines and sandstone cliffs overlooking Sugar Creek.
           
The piece de resistance of my training was Morgan-Monroe State Forest — home to what the Department of Natural Resources considers our “finest hardwoods” — where a cold night in a tent followed by a 12.5-mile wilderness hike convinced me I could tackle the canyon. I had not been to this forest before and for the first time imagined what pre-settlement Indiana looked like. What I didn’t know at the time of my hike was that Morgan-Monroe and the adjacent Yellowwood Forest were the subject of a heated controversy over logging.
           
On Oct. 29, the General Assembly’s Natural Resources Study Committee declined to recommend legislation that would protect the backcountry area of these forests from timber sales planned by the state. Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, says he will try to get such a bill through the 2010 legislature even without the committee’s blessing.
           
An argument is made that clearing timber enhances the health of the remaining woods. That may be true. But logging the backcountry means laying access roads, hauling in heavy equipment and displacing plant and wildlife. After seeing what power lines did to Southwestway Park, I can’t imagine wanting to disturb the undisturbed beauty of Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood.
           
Prior to settlement, 87 percent of Indiana was forest. Today that number is 19 percent. Only 4 percent of the state’s forested land is publicly owned. It must be preserved.
           
Sadly, it took me a planned trip to the Grand Canyon to care about this forest less than two hours from my home. It’s not the Grand Canyon, but it’s breathtaking in its own way. For it and all the other wonders of the earth, I am more mindful and more thankful to God.

Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar and columnist with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.org.
 


ALTERNATE LEDE IF COLUMN RUNS BEFORE THURSDAY

My children and I will wake up Thursday in tents pitched along Bright Angel Creek at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It will be our first Thanksgiving away from Indiana, our first without turkey and pumpkin pie. I see it as a last-gasp bonding opportunity with my college-age sons before they start their own lives and create their own Thanksgiving traditions.



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