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Aquatic Center will boost tourism

While most people were focused on the oppressive hurricane news from the Gulf Coast, we got some very good news here last week.
Congressman Mike Sodrel’s office announced that the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources had been awarded a federal grant of $883,852 from the National Forest Service for an ‘Aquatic Center’ at O’Bannon Woods State Park west of Corydon.
That came on top of the news that new DNR director, Kyle Hupfer, perhaps with a friendly nudge from his chief legal counsel, Adam Warnke, had already set aside $1.5 million for the Aquatic Center. Warnke is a 1990 North Harrison High School grad and former lifeguard at the old Olympic-sized pool at the Harrison-Crawford State Forest that was closed several years ago due to a persistent leak and old age. Warnke has a love for the state forest and a keen interest in the future of O’Bannon Woods State Park, which lies inside the forest. He said he understands the value of O’Bannon Woods and the state forest to the region.
The conceptualization for a new swimming/recreation center started during the O’Bannon-Kernan administration, after the aged pool had been closed, but nothing was done because the intense national recession and statewide budget crunch downsized many departments and brought programs to a standstill.
O’Bannon Woods Assistant Manager Bob Sawtelle said Hupfer visited the park and DNR officials are now looking at a modern pool that will be suited for family activities and entertainment rather than an Olympic-regulation lap pool. He envisions a lot of attractions like those at a few other state parks: body slides, ‘zero depth entry’ so parents can easily and safely walk toddlers into the water, sprinklers, cascading waterfalls, sand volleyball courts, food courts, sloped poolside lawns where parents can relax and watch their children, and so forth.
Sawtelle said the new recreation area behind the Falls of the Ohio in Clarksville is probably a good idea of what might be built at O’Bannon Woods.
Warnke said Sawtelle will lead a $3 million fund-raising effort that will involve park officials, the Harrison County Convention and Visitors Center and anyone else who wants to help out or raise money. Of course, this project is largely in the talking stage. Many decisions have yet to be made regarding the ultimate design, location and cost of the Aquatic Center, but we are thrilled that such a facility is a DNR priority. It’s bound to lead to a huge increase in the number of visitors and campers at the state park.