Editorial: Spending on state parks, trails is welcome at time when talent attraction is crucial

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

IBJ has urged boldness and strategic thinking when it comes to spending the federal stimulus money allocated to the state and local governments, as well as unexpected tax revenue that lawmakers learned in April the state would receive over the next two years.

But while it might not be the boldest of moves in and of itself, we heartily applaud investments the state is making in its state parks, forests and trails. In fact, we think the state should probably spend even more in this area.

The allocation in the state budget—approved in June by the State Budget Committee—means $57 million for improvements at nearly 50 state properties and design work for what would be the first new state park inn in more than 80 years.

IBJ’s newest staffer—Emily Ketterer—reported last week that money for general maintenance and improvements at the parks came from a $150 million fund the General Assembly added to the 2020-2021 budget during the 2019 legislative session for deferred maintenance projects across the state.

Money for the inn comes from the $2 billion revenue surplus the state found itself with two weeks before the end of the legislative session this year. With that money, the General Assembly set aside $550 million for capital projects, including the swine barn you can read about on page 16A.

So why, when we’re pushing for boldness, do we think spending on state parks is important? Because we believe bolstering the state’s recreational opportunities can be part of a larger strategy to make the state a more attractive place to live, work and play.

We know that, as more companies move to remote working opportunities—and examples of that are all around us—employees will be able to more easily choose where they live. For Indiana and central Indiana to compete, we must step up our game. And a big part of that is creating amenities that are attractive to all types of people, including those who want to enjoy boating, fishing, camping, hiking and more.

It’s easy to fall into the trap that Indiana can’t compete in this way because it lacks mountains and oceans. But Indiana has its own magical places, including the Lake Michigan shores at Indiana Dunes National Park in northwestern Indiana; the gorges and ravines at Turkey Run and Shades state parks in western Indiana; and in southern Indiana, the rolling hills and fall leaves in Brown County State Park, the Hoosier National Forest, and the 58-mile Knobstone Trail that some have dubbed the Little Appalachian Trail.

Work to enhance and expand those places—and probably better market them—will be money well spent in an effort to make Indiana a more attractive place to live.

And to that end, we urge state and local officials to consider spending some of the federal stimulus money—and state money—to enhance recreation along the White River. Plans are in place that would turn the largely ignored river into an asset that could serve urban and rural areas of the state. Let’s not let the opportunity get away.•


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