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Good and getting better

Although Gov. Joe Kernan and First Lady Maggie Kernan could not be here because of dangerous flying weather, Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources officials went ahead and announced the renaming of Wyandotte Woods State Recreation Area last week. It is now O’Bannon Woods State Park, named in honor of the late governor Frank L. O’Bannon, who loved the Harrison-Crawford State Forest area so much that he and his wife, Judy, built a house next to it, and also his father and grandfather, State Sen. Robert P. O’Bannon and newspaper publisher Lew M. O’Bannon.
Lew served on an historic commission that proposed the creation of a state park system in 1916, which resulted in the first two state parks, McCormick’s Creek and Turkey Run. All three were servant leaders who gave much of their lives to improving life for Hoosiers, and Judy O’Bannon continues to do that now in a variety of ways.
O’Bannon Woods State Park is unique. It’s made up of almost 2,000 acres of recreation area ‘ including Wyandotte Caves, Horseman’s Hideaway, and 281 camp sites ‘ surrounded by 24,000 acres of state forest. The forest will still be available for hunting and timber harvesting. Hikers will still start and finish in O’Bannon Woods State Park but will trod over 100 miles of trails in the forest.
Now that the 2,000 acres are officially a state park, not a state recreation area, it can be marketed as such. The word park packs more punch for tourists and campers than recreation areas and forests, and once visitors see what a naturally beautiful spot the entire Harrison-Crawford State Forest is, they may be pleasantly surprised. Hopefully, the state forest will become self-supporting through timber sales and seedling sales.
But DNR Director John Goss, state forester Bernie Fischer, and state park and reservoir director Jerry Pagac had other good news when they made the O’Bannon Woods announcement at the Leavenworth Lang-Cole Haypress conference room next to the Nature Center and Pioneer Village. There are some plans for a new, scenically located, 100-room inn with its own entrance, a repair job on the leaky Olympic-sized swimming pool, an expansion of Horseman’s Hideaway and its trails, revamping the old Stage Stop campground into a place for youth group camping experiences, and a new road to the scenic picnic area that overlooks the Ohio River.
There is some money in the pipeline for these projects, but not nearly enough. All are expensive, and everything now depends on what the Mitch Daniels-Becky Skillman Administration and the 2005 Indiana General Assembly want to do. With the addition of O’Bannon Woods and the Prophetstown State Park near Lafayette, Indiana now has 24 state parks and 12 state forests. The last inn at a state park was built in 1939.
We are blessed to have such fine natural recreation areas so close to home. We hope that progress will continue to be made in these state facilities and that tourists will continue to visit this beautiful part of Southern Indiana.