- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

SPENCER, Ind. (AP) - A century ago, Richard Lieber argued that Indiana’s natural beauty had not only ecological and spiritual benefits, but was of historical significance as well and should be preserved for generations to come.

Lieber lobbied for the establishment of state parks that would include public forests, rivers, canyons and cliffs where people could explore the wonders of nature. He advocated “easy and pleasant paths through the woods” that would be accessible to everyone, The Herald-Times reported (http://bit.ly/1MkaTks).

As Indiana’s 1916 centennial celebration neared, Lieber and members of a state park committee sought suitable land for the first state park. An area in Parke County known as Turkey Run, with primeval forests and sandstone canyons, was up for auction.

But the Hoosier Veneer Co. outbid the state and bought the land for logging for $30,200.

Undaunted, Lieber’s committee found another option. Dr. Frederick Denkewalter, who had established a mineral water sanitarium for the wealthy in the McCormick’s Creek canyons, had died, and the site was for being sold for $6,250. The state provided 75 percent and Owen County residents donated the rest.

On July 4, 1916, McCormick’s Creek State Park was dedicated, “a gift to Hoosiers for the state’s 100th birthday,” Lieber said, the first in a system that now has 24 parks that span 170,000 acres and have 700 miles of those trails Lieber envisioned.

The second park was Turkey Run, purchased later in 1916 after months of negotiations with the veneer company.

Lieber believed park visitors should have a stake in the upkeep and future, and as the first head of the state parks system, he established a 10-cent entry fee. Today, the $7 per-car fee funds about 70 percent of park costs.

Wednesday morning, state park officials and Owen County residents - from local author James Alexander Thom to fifth-graders from nearby McCormick’s Creek Elementary School - gathered in the Canyon Inn’s Oak Room to kick off the 100th anniversary of Indiana’s park system. Special events at all state parks will be happening throughout 2016.

“Look what happened to his dream. It became our state park system,” Frederic Lieber, Richard Lieber’s great-grandson, said to the children sitting up front. He said his great-grandfather’s fight should encourage them to not get discouraged if they encounter obstacles to their own dreams.

He said Richard Lieber’s legacy is not only the importance of conserving public lands, but the recognition of the value of the strength and renewal in nature that people can use to cope with the daily trials of life.

After the ceremony, the fifth-graders followed park naturalist Sam Arthur down 10 steps from the inn parking lot onto a wide gravel path toward the canyon falls, a gem of the state park system. They ambled along an easy and pleasant path through the woods, sunlight slanting through bare tree limbs, to view a tranquil waterfall on a wintery day.

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Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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