Writer / Joshua Deisler
The year was 1916. On West 64th Street sat the 80-acre country estate of local businessman and philanthropist John Holliday and his wife, Evaline. The land stretched to the banks of the White River, through woodlands, ravines, streams and fields.
To celebrate Indiana’s 100th birthday, he gave it all away.
“[Holliday] was so connected to it, he wanted to share it,” explained Adam Barnes, Holliday Park manager. “That’s why 100 years later, we’re still focused on [his] mission, the study of nature.”
Having grown up in Indianapolis, Barnes received his degree at Indiana University in outdoor recreation and resource management. After working in the Smoky Mountains, he eventually found his way back to Holliday Park.
“This is the dream job,” he said. “It’s a pretty fantastic spot to be.”
The park has seen many transformations since its inception in 1932. With help from Friends of Holliday Park, park officials built the Nature Center in 2000. Featuring classrooms, library, auditorium, wildlife observatory and exhibit hall, the Nature Center’s goal is to instill in others a greater sense of appreciation for Indiana’s natural beauty.
The Nature Center not only hosts field trips, workshops, scouting events and local environmental groups, but it also collaborates with local teachers to design curriculum aligned with state standards. In fact, the park welcomes over 6,500 students to participate in its school programs every year.
One such annual partnership presents students at Fox Hill Elementary the opportunity to study forest habitats. Beginning in the classroom, teachers introduce animal and plant habitats to first graders. When students arrive to the Nature Center, park employees bring out local plants, a snake or a box turtle and discuss the animal food chain, habitats and environment. Students soon hike the wooded trails to observe squirrels, frogs and birds living in Holliday Park.
“It’s a pretty cool experience to get those kids out in nature,” says Barnes. “We encourage them to come back to teach their families about nature and habitats.”
In 2008, the Friends of Holliday Park began a long campaign to renovate the Exhibit Hall of the Nature Center. Now the Exhibit Hall has transformed into the Nature Center’s new Habitat Hall. After years of surveys and studies, park officials decided to focus the new Habitat Hall on young children and their families, taking advantage of inspiring kids while empowering parents and educators. One exhibit presents opportunities to listen to and even create the music of crickets, frogs and birds. A White River Water Table exhibit allows learners to explore the habitat, animals and plants of a moving stream. Taking advantage of the center’s large windows, a two-story forest exhibit teaches lessons on the forest floor and canopy. From the second story, visitors peer down to the wildlife observatory as overhead speakers amplify the songs of the birds below.
“We’re really lucky to be focused on environmental education,” said Barnes. “Everything we do here revolves around getting people out into nature and teaching them about it.”
Now it’s spring break, and elementary school students gather in the Nature Center’s classroom as local naturalists lead them in a study of geology. Meanwhile, even more children and adults stand at the windows of the nearby wildlife observatory, watching cardinals and chickadees flying from feeder to feeder.
After 100 years, this old gift continues to give.