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Why Indiana towns need amenities to attract families

Pond being constructed while 2 men watch
POND IN PROGRESS: Construction work is underway to construct a pond that will become the centerpiece of a new park for residents in North Vernon, Ind.
North Vernon, Ind., embarks on a park project that will provide residents with a great place to play, relax and learn.

The concept seems simple. Build it and they will come. And this isn’t a story about building a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield in Iowa, from the movie “Field of Dreams.” It’s about building a park with amenities where residents can relax, enjoy nature, take walks and even learn a little bit about agriculture and pollinator plants along the way.

North Vernon, Ind., is in the process of creating such a park from an old golf course that is no longer used. In reality, it’s not as simple as just “build it and they will come.” Such a project takes community members, most of them volunteers, to help plan it, government and other groups to help fund it, and people with a passion to help see it through to completion.

Andy Ertel is one of the people with a passion for the park. He is also director of the Jennings County Soil and Water Conservation District. “The real motivation behind creating a park for the town is to look ahead,” he says. “It requires thinking outside the box, and that’s what we’re doing here.

“Going forward, towns and cities that want to attract businesses to come there so there will be more employment, and so more families will come, need to think about things which draw businesses to a location,” Ertel says.

Attracting businesses and people is not all about access to roads, natural resources and help on taxes, Ertel believes. Part of it is about what the community has to offer for employees and their families. Families today are often looking for things like safe areas to jog, areas just to sit and enjoy nature, perhaps a dog park or a place where they can be outdoors with their family.

Building a new park in North Vernon has a historical twist. Vernon, its unincorporated neighbor to the south, boasts the oldest public playground in Indiana.

Pollinator education
Jennings County is the pollinator capital of Indiana. “I’m going to keep saying that until someone proves me wrong,” quips Ertel. Under his leadership and with the help of many volunteers, the Jennings County SWCD has established plots of plants that attract pollinators, including honeybees and monarch butterflies, everywhere from school lots to farm fields to even a small display at the entrance of the Walmart.

“We’re trying to make people aware that many different kinds of plants will attract pollinators, and that pollinators are important for pollinating various crops,” Ertel says.

One designated area of the new park will consist of a planting of various wildflowers and warm-season grasses. “It will be along walking trails, and we will have a display board which explains what the area is about,” Ertel says. “It’s all about education, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish. Besides, at various times of the year, depending upon the species of plant, these plantings are very pretty.”

The Jennings SWCD and volunteers will manage the plot so it becomes established and matures over time. That can involve mowing at key times or other implementing other practices that favor flowers and warm-season grasses over weeds.

Something is growing in North Vernon, and it’s not only plants or things made of brick and mortar. Part of it is spirit and passion. Here’s hoping more towns see the value of planning ahead.

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