Jennings County Parks and Recreation is proud to announce a short celebration commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the creation of the Muscatatuck Park. Event will be 5:30 at the Muscatatuck Park at the shade structure area between the playground complex and new splash pad, south of the Dining Hall. The Hall will be an alternative site in case of heavy rain.
Dan Wright, Mayor of Vernon, Dave Shaw past president of the JCPR Park Board for 17 years, and Greg Martin, JCPR Director, will succinctly reflect on the history, natural wonder, and importance of the Muscatatuck Park. JCPR will then officially start the new splash pad/interactive water feature. 100 year anniversary cake will then be shared.
There will be an open house in the William Read Home afterward and the Walnut Grove School House will be open as well. New paintings commemorating the park, the William Read home, and significant history will be on display (pending completion).
The property known today as the Muscatatuck Park has a uniquely interesting and significant cultural heritage. JCPR will be commemorating this heritage all month with daily posts on Facebook, culminating in the above mentioned event.
Prior to the state park era, the Read family was doing many things that would stand out in Jennings county history. Samuel and three of his sons were awarded the contract to build the Jennings County Courthouse in 1859. William had already started quarrying limestone out of the Vinegar Mill quarry area. The date of his home creation is roughly 1850, which was built by nearby harvested oak and tulip, bricks baked on his property and limestone quarried just down the hill from his prominent home.
70 years later the property was being "Recognized for its beauty and recreational potential. Vinegar Mill state park opened in 1921 (May 17th) as Indiana's forth state park. Initially named after the stone-cutting mill here. It became the Muscatatuck State Park in 1922. The Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corp built shelters, stairways, a fire tower, trails, and retaining walls in the 1930's. The nearby home of William Read, owner of the stone-cutting mill, became an inn for the park." Early history accounts laud the fine meals created in the prominent inn. Cabins were built to the west and north. The inn, which had rooms upstairs, and cabin patrons were served in a bread and breakfast style experience.
"Quail were raised in the park from 1954 to 1962 and it was renamed the Muscatatuck State Park and Game Farm. A state youth camp began here in 1962. In 1968, the state returned the park to Jennings County for recreational proposes." Shortly after this the park took a turn for the worst when the "powers to be" and JC. highway department created a work sight out of the historic mill area. This, of course, was unfathomably short sighted. Much of this era was not documented, but the ciders do tell the tale.
Around 1990 through 1991, JCPR Park Board stood up to the issue, got IDEM and the EPA involved and was ultimately successful in the removal of the cinder operation that stained the once scenic area with heinous gross negligence. The large piles on the upper area, associated plastic and tires were removed in 1991. The huge left over debris covering a once natural cliff line lay in wait for another decade. "Walnut Grove Schoolhouse (1913) was moved here in 1990." Marshes were built in 1991 and 1992. This era saw the park being re-respected and we should give much thanks to the Park Board members of this era.
New trails and playground were added in 1993. Campground upgrades in 1995, 1996. The park was recognized in 1998 with a State Historical Marker, which reads directly the quoted material in this press release.
Perhaps the largest project of the Park's history was the renovation of the Vinegar Mill area in 1999-2000. Thanks to a Lilly Foundation Grant administered by the Jennings County Community Foundation, the area was reborn. The stone steps were redone. Seat walls replaced and new ones added. Trees and brush cleaned out of the ruins, overlook, and parking areas. Landscaping was added, roads widened, parking areas paved. A new shelter modeling the mid 1800 century stone cutting mill was erected, complete with restroom facilities. And yes!, the 65 plus triaxle truckloads of debris that covered the natural cliff line was removed, via clamshell cranes above and excavators below brought in from across the river.
Partnerships with local mountain bikers and the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, gave impetus to rework the trail system to modern standards. Muscatatuck Park annually became a racing spot for the DINO series, now getting ready for year 18! The Lowe's Foundation, stepped in and helped complete the project of nearly 10 miles of mountain bike friendly trails.
Local resident Gene Rudicel gave easement to an amazing trail sector along the river. Savvy hikers can find themselves at the historical Tunnel Mill in 20 minutes from the Park campground via level trail along the river banks. The Barlow Family donated three smaller tracts of land.
Perhaps the second largest improvement to the Muscatatuck Park, is mostly not even on the property. In 2016 the Muscatatuck Trail opened up. With the trail head on county property and the length of the trail primarily on city land garnered through progressive foresight, a partnership was created that helps the community daily. The EDC, the Steller Grant and committee, and many others fulfilled a 20 year project that's impact is hard to overstate. Campers from across the state and country visiting the Muscatatuck Park, can now safely travel north and tour North Vernon. A stop to the new Tripton Park, creates a great biking experience. Thank you North Vernon! Maybe JCPR can extend trail head to new bathrooms?.
New bathrooms gifted in 2020 by the Miller Family, thank you! New playgrounds assisted greatly by the Jennings County Community Foundation in 2018, thank you! New splash pad in 2020, partnership with the Jennings County Community Foundation and JCPR, again...thank you!
Many may not know, but rock climbing exploded over the past decade, largely to indoor gyms reaching 1000's of individuals, yet spilling over to outdoor areas. With the country's best climbing area just a few hours away. Climbers from the radius including Indy, Louisville, Cincinnati, and a bit beyond represent a huge recreational group. This past weekend even with light rain 5 or 6 groups of over 30 climbers came to visit and recreate on the limestone walls of Muscatatuck.
Muscatatuck Park is amazing. Along the nearly 10 miles of trails currently bursting in spring color, bikers, hikers, trail runners are seen daily. Nearly every day the local youth runners are also training on the roads and grass of the park. Regardless of season, the day to day beauty of the property and functionality of the park is Jennings County. Whether it's the wedding today in our dining hall/community building, the birthday party the day before in an open shelter, the kids roasting marsh mellows with their family near a warm campfire, the role playing in the playground or along the river, this is where we enjoy life. It is what makes our life great.
Because of the popularity of the Muscatatuck Park, attracting more campers every year, hosting more and varied events, the park is becoming increasingly profitable. Because of this, JCPR can reach out and partner even more. The 1.08 million dollar Next Level Trails Grant for Vernon and Muscatatuck Park is a profound statement for the future. Thank you Muscatatuck Park, and the many board members, elected officials, volunteers, and daily patrons who have assisted, we look forward to sharing with you another 100 years. It will be great thanks to your help!