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Back to nature: Couple visits all of Indiana's 25 state parks last year as their New Year's resolution

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NATURE — Michael and Cathy McDermott take a photo at Indiana Dunes State Park, the last of Indiana's 25 state parks they visited last year.

One Howard County couple made a New Year’s resolution last year to visit all of Indiana’s 25 state parks – and they kept it.

Starting last March, Michael and Cathy McDermott began trekking through all of the Hoosier state parks and wrapped up their goal in November at Indiana Dunes State Park. Atop one of the sand mounds, the couple, for the 25th time in a state park, snapped a selfie, marking an end to their 2019 journey.

“I’m ready to do it again,” said Cathy. “It got us away. It gave us an excuse to say we’re going to do this and forces us to get out of our comfort zone sometimes. It gave us a challenge.”

Ahead of making the resolution, the McDermotts had been regulars at some of Indiana’s state parks, but they hadn’t been to a large portion of them. It was at the end of 2018 when the couple was at Pokagon State Park in Angola when they decided, for 2019, they should visit all of them. Of course, they’d have to return to Pokagon since it wouldn’t count.

That Christmas, they asked for an Indiana state park pass, and they received it, setting the wheels in motion.

The first park they visited was Tippecanoe River State Park in Winamac in March. The weather still was chilly, so they decided to head south after that to complete those parks. They marked off Harmonie State Park in New Harmony in the southwest portion of the state next.

Once they got into the groove, they started planning three- or four-day trips where they would rent Airbnbs or camp and make rounds through neighboring state parks. The couple took up various activities at the different parks, which included camping, hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, and boating.

They invited their family on many of the trips, as well. They turned their trip to Turkey Run State Park in Marshall into a birthday celebration for Michael’s mother who was turning 87. Their hope, they said, was to show her that people at any age can do almost anything they set their minds to.

“It’s a challenge for her to be able to do things, but we’re trying to get her to do more just to see that you can do this,” said Cathy. “That was something [she and Michael] used to do all the time when he was a kid, hike and all that kind of stuff.”

For their visit to McCormick’s Creek State Park – which was one of their regular parks – in Spencer, they rented a large house and invited all of their family.

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“That was fun. We’ve been to that park lots of times, so it’s fun to show them things we enjoy and just having fun and exploring,” Cathy said.

The couple took their kayaks to Potato Creek State Park in North Liberty, got up close and personal with bison at Ouabache State Park in Bluffton, and saw wild turkeys at Brown County State Park in Nashville.

O’Bannon Woods State Park in Corydon had Michael, who’s an engineer, fascinated. The park was home to a hay bale press that’s more than 100 years old, and the press is used today in demonstrations to show how animals once were used to raise and drop a large rock to compress hay bales.


HISTORY — Cathy McDermott takes a photo with a trail marker on her way to visit Rose Island.

Though the McDermotts had been to Shakamak State Park in Jasonville before, they picked a different season this time and visited it in the fall, which Cathy said provided an entirely different experience.

Charlestown State Park in Charlestown provided a trip back in time for the couple as there were able to explore a once-popular theme park along the Ohio River. Rose Island, which opened in 1923, was taken out by a flood and destroyed in 1937.

Today, a large bridge allows visitors to walk to the former Rose Island, which sits on the south side of Fourteen Mile Creek and north of the Ohio River, to view the remnants left behind. Signs identify the remains of what once was, and large pillars still stand where the entrance used to be. With its location along the Ohio River and popularity among tourists, a ferry once ran to transport visitors across the Ohio River.

“We read stories about the different things people would do. They would get up at 4 in the morning and fry their chicken and make a picnic lunch and go to the bank where the boat paddled them across and spend the whole day (at Rose Island),” Cathy said. “It was a big thing back in the ‘30s.”

After the park was destroyed, the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant owned the land. After the plant closed, the land was donated to Charlestown State Park in 1995.

Having visited all of the state parks, the McDermotts said there’s something unique at each one and encouraged others to see what all Indiana has to offer.

“You don’t go to one and expect it at another. They all have their different, unique environment that you can really enjoy,” Cathy said. “I think that’s what we like about it, just getting out and enjoying nature and just getting connected with the outside. It really forced us to do it because we made that goal.”