Seems like each year that I offer my state park program, there’s always one event where I need to make the difficult decision of whether to go ahead on the scheduled date (usually a Saturday) or wait until the next day (usually a Sunday). Last year, Indiana Dunes presented this dilemma, although I’d already booked a hotel just in case. This year, the remnants of Hurricane Harvey threw a very soggy wrench into my plans, forcing me to decide whether to risk a five-hour roundtrip drive that might have been in vain.
Based on the weather forecasters’ best guesses and my previous experience with every hurricane’s notorious unpredictability, I decided to postpone my Labor Day Saturday event at O’Bannon Woods State Park until Sunday. And even when Harvey’s rain did end on Saturday morning in southern Indiana after a 24-hour drenching, the day actually became colder with a damp north wind. Sunday, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more beautiful, as often happens after a hurricane passes through, and I was assured by staff and visitors that I’d made the right choice.
Located west of Louisville in extreme south central Indiana along the Ohio River, the 2,294-acre park was originally established in 1980 as a recreational area called Wyandotte Woods, and renamed in honor of Indiana’s late Governor Frank O’Bannon and his family in 2004. This secluded and beautiful park is nestled within one of Indiana’s largest state forests, the 24,000-acre Harrison-Crawford, which is a timber source that also offers canoeing, hiking, hunting, fishing, birding and swimming.
I spent my day at the charming Hickory Hollow Nature Center, which houses one of the best nature and wildlife collections and exhibits of any park I’ve visited so far. Directly behind the nature center, visitors will find an outdoor wetlands pond, living-history demonstrations in a pioneer farmstead, and a restored, historically accurate 1850s hay press and barn with its own museum. On special weekends throughout the year, demonstrations of the hay press using one of two oxen housed at the farmstead are offered, as well as numerous interactive demonstrations that include tomahawk throwing, archery, rope making, blacksmithing, yarn spinning, log sawing and even panning for gold.
In the morning, I painted the hay press barn where the beautifully crafted stonework on the ramp leading up to the main barn doors caught my eye. Situated along the main path to the pioneer farmstead and all the activities, I had plenty of chances to engage with not only park visitors but also the friendly volunteers who spend many hours sharing their talents and expertise for the love of the park and what they do. In fact, my husband and I were welcomed with hot coffee and blueberry pancakes fresh off a cast iron griddle over an open fire as soon as we arrived. You can’t beat that!
Around noon, I set up for my painting activity in the sunny courtyard between the nature center and the barn where the hay press demonstration takes place. Almost immediately, visitors were lining up to try out my water brushes and paint supplies. Ann, one of the volunteers from the pioneer farmstead, joined me to offer frames for completed artwork as part of their children’s craft. The paper frames glued to regular copy paper could be decorated with crayons and stickers, and some participants even used watercolor paint! The frames really added to the artistic experience, and I was very grateful for Ann’s idea that could be a great creative option in the future.
Even during the hay press demonstration, with 400 visitors in attendance, there were still plenty of artists outside painting on the convenient picnic tables while the sun shone, the birds called and butterflies landed on flowers in the wetlands pond. In total, O’Bannon Woods broke all the Paints in the Parks records so far, with over 200 interactions and 85 painting participants! It was so gratifying to watch entire families painting at picnic tables, with multi-generations peacefully sharing paints and water brushes, chatting and laughing. Several parents remarked on how easy and natural this activity is, but how seldom it seems to happen at home.
Since I ran out of almost all my supplies after such a tremendous turnout, I was able to wrap up with enough time to tour the farmstead myself, interact with the artisans who were demonstrating their own skills, and admire the many forms of creativity and art offered. In fact, the hay press itself is a marvelous piece of art in my opinion, with its hand-carved wood and practical beauty. Of course, I need to return one of these days so I can see this art put into action!