WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — 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 (http://on.jconline.com/1apbBO9 ).
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.
Drawing a crowd to such an event may be easy, but forging an identity for a fledgling park is less straightforward.
Some consider an aquatic center a mixed blessing. That point was raised by Dan Eversman, who said he frequently cycles on Prophetstown trails.
"Different types of features in a park bring different types of users," said Eversman, who manages Hodson's Bay Co. in West Lafayette. He noted that bird-watchers are fans of Prophetstown because of its tranquil nature. Eversman said he's heard many clients mention that when they come in to buy a bike part or get a tuneup.
"They really like the quietness, and it's a great location to stay for Purdue games," he said.
For people like Eversman, camping or parking an RV at Prophetstown offers a more relaxing experience than staying in a hotel.
"It'd be a shame if they lost tried-and-true customers."
But the father of four also said the pool could be a major asset to the park, attracting families and getting more people through the gate.
"I think it's underappreciated," Eversman said.
With crowds comes a greater risk of noise and littering, Bloom acknowledged, but he said park rules are made to keep those problems to a minimum.
Moreover, the aquatic center was placed in a location that is least disruptive to the park's natural flora and fauna, Getz said.
"There was a housing development that once occupied that space," he said.
Getz doesn't think a manmade aquatic center sells short a park that always has touted its natural attributes. Instead, he believes that it will complement the park's educational aspects.
"It seems like the trend these days is that kids want to play video games, watch TV, go on the computer, and outside time has decreased a lot," he said.
The aquatic center will help get young visitors into the park, and other attributes will keep them interested, he said.
"So (naturalist) Angie (Manuel) can tell her story, they can hike trails, fish in a pond and see where the two rivers meet," Getz said.
The "story" to which Getz refers is an aspect of Prophetstown State Park that has received less attention than was planned in the park's beginning stages.
It's the story of Tecumseh, his brother the "Prophet," and the role they played 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.
Initial plans called for a Native American cultural complex consisting of two living history villages and a visitor and education center. But after construction of an initial log "council house" and a wigwam, no other portions of the plan materialized.
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 felt that the relationship between his tribe and the DNR is blossoming.
The goal of the dialogue and the long road ahead is to do the best job of interpretation possible for the public, he said.
"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."
Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com