State park pins future on water park, history
WEST LAFAYETTE — The youngest Indiana state park is trying to make a name for itself.
Hoosiers know Turkey Run for its great hiking, Brown County for its forested hills and Indiana Dunes for its sun-drenched beach. But Prophetstown State Park? Well, there are 3,000 acres of prairie, a wetlands and a few border stands of mature trees — scenery not much removed from the Indiana landscape many park-goers drive to Turkey Run, Brown County and the Dunes to get away from.
That may change soon, however, as park officials get ready to open a water park at the same time they are putting more emphasis on interpreting the unique Native American history that gives the park its name.
Phil Bloom, communications director for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said it’s all part of the Prophetstown State Park master plan.
“If we want people to come to our properties, we have to provide them with places to stay and with things to do,” he told the Journal & Courier.
The aquatic center, which includes a tube slide, body flume, lazy river float, zero-entry pool, bathhouse and concession area, will open July 1 with a dedication by Gov. Mike Pence. On opening day, admission fees for the park and pool will be waived, park manager Jason Getz said.
History is an aspect of Prophetstown State Park that has received less attention than was planned in the park’s beginning stages.
Native American icon Tecumseh and his brother the “Prophet” played a in forging an alliance of tribes headquartered for a time in the area bounded by the park.
That settlement, Prophetstown, was razed in 1811 after the Prophet and his followers were defeated in the Battle of Tippecanoe while Tecumseh was away on a recruiting mission.
Angie Manuel, park interpretive naturalist, is excited about the prospect of attracting more families with children to the park so she can share the rich history of a once-thriving settlement and its inhabitants.
When Prophetstown State Park opened in 2004, it was with the understanding that a nonprofit group, Historic Prophetstown, would take on the responsibility of interpreting Native American history.
At the same time, Historic Prophetstown also was building a demonstration farmstead for the purpose of showcasing early American agricultural history.
The farmstead got off the ground and attracts visitors to the park year-round, but plans to develop a Native American interpretative center and village fell by the wayside.
In 2012, the Department of Natural Resources took over from Historic Prophetstown the role of interpreting Native American history, to the satisfaction of Native American groups frustrated with the scant attention their story was getting.
Manuel said she’s now looking to Native American groups as she studies how best to interpret Prophetstown’s past.
“For us, that means connecting with our tribal partners and finding out what their needs are, what their wishes are for the park, what they would love to see here, and what they would love to do here,” she said.
“All of our parks have camping, and all of our parks have trails, but not all of our parks have a story like Prophetstown.”
Members of tribes that inhabited this area in the late 1700s and early 1800s met with Manuel and other DNR administrators in late December to brainstorm what the future of interpretation might look like at Prophetstown State Park.
George Strack, tribal historic preservation officer for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, attended the meeting and said the relationship between his tribe and the DNR is blossoming.
“My take is they don’t want to be the interpreter of Native American history and culture. They’d rather tribes do it themselves.”
Restarting efforts to interpret that history is an important building block in Prophetstown State Park’s future. But like the aquatic center, it’s not the last item in the master plan. Future visitors will find additional trails, a lodge with rooms for rent, family cabins, a camp store and a boat launch for the Tippecanoe River.
Manuel said she hopes that a cultural center for Native American history at Prophetstown can be built within five years, but she understands that timetable depends in part on getting people through the gates.
“The campground and the pool will get them here, but then it’s my job to get them to fall in love with this park by learning about the seeps and springs, the natural waters, the wetlands and the river otters that splash in our creek,” Manuel said. “And, of course, the Prophetstown story.”