I am mid-way through eight regional meetings with local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) across the state. I was contracted to challenge local leaders and managers to 'think outside the box' and ultimately, 'do outside the box.' Additionally, I get to travel across the state which enables me to continue wandering Indiana.
The State of Indiana has dedicated more money to protect and enhance natural resources than ever before. With this new money comes great responsibility and accountability and an opportunity to pursue big ideas. I love scenarios like this where I can challenge cultural norms and rethink how local leaders can serve differently. Under the guidance of the State Soil Conservation Board and direction of the Indiana Division of Soil Conservation (IN State Department of Agriculture), local SWCDs are tasked with delivery of education, cost-share, protection, partnerships and other local efforts. Ultimately, I try to make local leaders uncomfortable so they will pursue new opportunities by looking with new eyes, connecting with new people, and asking new questions.
Last week I attended an evening meeting at the Putnam County Fairgrounds in Greencastle. After neighboring Parke County's 32 bridges, Putnam County has the second-most covered bridges in Indiana with nine. Last New Year's Day, I drove this direction to visit Big Walnut Nature Preserve and visited nine covered bridges, including three in Putnam County. Today's target, the other six. Headed out on the interstate I-465 to I-70. Talked with colleagues on my drive, which is my modus operandi. Drove with chaotic traffic including one very reckless driver who put a lot pf people at risk, but obviously didn’t care about anyone else. Thankful to exit at SR243 near Putnamville. Turned south and then back west along hilly and rough roads searching for Dick Huffman Bridge (1880), the longest Howe Truss bridge in Indiana (265'). It is closed due to structural concerns and was difficult to get a decent picture, but I did what I could.
L to R: Dick Huffman Bridge, Dan Houck Bridge, Big Walnut Baptist Church
While the northern 1/4 of Putnam County is flat and fertile, this area is the exact opposite. The northern area was shaped by two glaciers, the middle by one glacier and much of the southern part was unglaciated and it shows. It seems as if every road has a sign, 'Road my be closed to to flooding' and they just kind of beat me up as I bounced on very rough rural roads. Big Walnut Creek is like a spine through the county although it is not straight at all. I drove north from Huffman Bridge upstream to Dan Houck Covered Bridge. Stopped for a picture of the Big Walnut Baptist Church which was established in 1905. Continued north crossing US40 in Reelsville and traveled onto reach Houck Bridge from the west. It is off limits to vehicle traffic but is well-positioned for pictures which I enjoyed taking.
Next up was the Oakalla Covered Bridge just 5 miles away. Stopped for a picture of a red painted barn which is leaning from age. It sat adjacent to a large, modern on-farm grain elevator. I appreciated the contrast. Like others I would see this day, Oakalla, built in 1896, was closed due to structural issues. I was able to drive to its entrance and stop for a picture and the turn around and back track.
The next bridge was beyond Greencastle so I followed country roads to Limedale, so named for nearby lime quarries. There is still a large cement plant here, owned by an Italian firm, that towers over the landscape. I turned north on Manhattan Road/N. Jackson Street which enters Greencastle on the SW edge of Depauw University. I drove around the courthouse square capturing a picture of two courthouse statues - Spirit of the American Doughboy honoring WW1 veterans and a German V-1 Buzz Bomb from WW2. Created by sculptor E.M. Viquesney from Spencer, Indiana, the Smithsonian Institution says there are 159 'doughboy' statues, installed across the country and eleven of them in Indiana. Drove around a second time to capture the facade of the courthouse building.
L to R: Rustic Barn, Oakalla Bridge, Courthouse Square (German V-1 Buzz Bomb & Doughboy Statue)
Headed WNW to Dunbar Bridge which was drivable. I could have backtracked, but what is the fun in that? I continued winding every which way and got near Clinton Falls where I visited on New Years Day 2023. On that trip, I visited three other bridges in Putnam County -- Rolling Stone Covered Bridge, Pine Bluff Covered Bridge, and Edna Collins Covered Bridge. I eventually came out onto US 36 at the red-brick clad Union Chapel UMC, established in 1896. I headed east on US36 and was watching the clock as I headed to the northernmost part of the county, away from my evening meeting. At the US 231/US 36 intersection, there were significant construction markings for the direction I eventually need to take back toward Greencastle.
L to R: Putnam County Courthouse, Dunbar Bridge, Union Chapel United Methodist Church
Heading north on US 231, I drove through Fincastle, passed SR 236, and then turned east into the village of Raccoon. Last time I was here, I didn’t know where to go to find the bridge, but this time I did. I followed a dead end road for two miles through Cornstalk Creek valley which was dotted with large cement silos from a different era when cattle were king. I finally arrived at Cornstalk Bridge (1917) which was also closed. Got my picture and returned the way I came. Returning to US 36, I headed east through Bainbridge and then south to Bakers Camp Covered Bridge (1901). I was finished and with it have visited all nine of Putnam County's covered bridges!
L to R: Cornstalk Bridge, Bakers Camp Bridge, Bainbridge Dari-Ette
I drove back through Bainbridge and south on US231 to the Putnam County Fairgrounds. This was the meeting site of the SWCD Regional Meeting. We had a great crowd, my remarks went very well, and we generated a lot of project ideas. I was very pleased. I returned to Indianapolis on US 36.
As I left the Fairgrounds, I had an idea that I called and shared with Don and Darci Zolman. What if we created a program with sponsored canoe/kayaking trips for high school students. The sponsors would be local farmers. The water portions would be led by conservation professionals who can help them observe the stream system and understand the practices and challenges that affect the immediate landscape and the broader watershed.. Then an event would be held at the trip’s conclusion during which the students would meet with their sponsor-farmer and share what they saw and experienced. This last step ingrains the experience as each student becomes a storyteller.
My last stop was the Bainbridge Dari-Ette, a local, family-owned restaurant that specialized in ice cream (and everything else as I learned). I captured an interesting picture of the establishment, its people, and its warm glow against the darkening sky. I talked with a business colleague and my daughter Rachel as I drove home along a familiar stretch of highway.
I have now visited eight covered bridges in the last ten days. I am considering an effort to visit them all. There are 98 historic bridges in Indiana and I have already been to many of them. Beth would have enjoyed this adventure too!