A Brief History of McCloud Nature Park
Hendricks County Park Boardmember Paul Miner has done extensive research into the history of what is now known as McCloud Nature Park. What follows is a very brief overview of some of his work.
Cut from glacial activity over 13,000 years ago, the area of Eel River Township – where McCloud Nature Park is situated – appears to have been part of the territory occupied by the Wea Indian tribe. The Wea people were one of six tribes of the Miami Nation of the Northwest Territory.
In 1818, a signed treaty ceded all Native American territory in Indiana south of the Wabash River to settlers, and the first settlers appeared in Eel River Township in 1824. We believe that multiple lines of the McCloud family – one family being the descendants of James McCloud of Virginia, and another family being the descendants of James McCloud of Ashe County, North Carolina – settled in the area at some point around 1830. Many members of the McCloud family owned parcels of land in the area that includes what is now park property.
Roughly 100 years later, a man named Robert Franklin Davidson, who grew up in North Salem, decided to purchase property in the area with the intent of creating a park and selling it to the State of Indiana. By the early 1940s, Davidson is estimated to have owned about 800 acres, of which only a small portion was open to the public.
Davidson built a summer residence on what is now park property, and then added trails, a tennis court, playground equipment, a swimming pool, rope and vine bridges, picnic ovens and tables, gazebos, a golf driving range, a sunken garden, and saddle horses. McCloud Park went on to become a popular spot for class reunions, dances, Easter egg hunts, Boy Scout hikes, picnics and more.
After Davidson’s death in 1951, the property passed through many hands until one parcel was owned by Brian Molloy and Kay Koch, and another parcel was owned by Glen and Mildred Harlos.
In March of 2000, the Hendricks County Council created the Hendricks County Department of Parks and Recreation, and shortly thereafter, the Hendricks County Park Board purchased the Koch-Molloy and Harlos properties.
On May 3, 2003, the 232-acre McCloud Nature Park formally opened to the public.
Big Walnut Creek divides McCloud Nature Park in two, and in the early years of the park, visitors had to leave one half of the park to access the other half by a different entrance. Meanwhile, in Pulaski County, a steel truss bridge that was built in 1913 across the Big Monon Ditch had been sitting neglected on an abandoned road for about 30 years.
At the request of Dr. James L. Cooper, a professor emeritus at Depauw University, John Camden of John T. Camden Construction Co. purchased the bridge from Pulaski County for $10 in 2006, disassembled it, and stored it in the company’s shop.
Indiana Landmarks recommended that the historic bridge be used in McCloud Nature Park for pedestrian and maintenance vehicle traffic across Big Walnut Creek. In 2009, Camden received a contract to relocate the bridge to McCloud, reassemble it and restore it. This work was completed in 2010 at a total cost of $817,000.
The truss bridge is now a vital, popular and much-loved landmark at McCloud Nature Park.
A Brief History of Sodalis Nature Park
What follows is information taken directly from a 2011 press release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:
In 1992, the Indianapolis Airport Authority (IAA) began working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to mitigate the consequences that development projects can have on roosting and foraging habitats of the federally endangered Indiana bat. Under the guidance of the USFWS, the IAA developed a Habitat Conservation Program that protects allocated land, allows scientific research, and establishes conservation and monitoring practices for both the bats and their roosting and foraging habitats.
Under the conservation program, which has become one of the most successful habitat restoration projects in the nation, the IAA acquired over 2,200 acres of land located in Marion and Hendricks counties. The permanently protected areas support wetland conservation in addition to providing a protected habitat for the bats.
In 2009, the IAA and Hendricks County Parks & Recreation (HCPR), working with the USFWS to ensure the proposed park would not be incompatible with the area’s core conservation mission, entered into a 20-year lease agreement to establish Sodalis Nature Park within the permanently protected area. The unique partnership allowd visitors the rare opportunity to enjoy a robust, permanently protected wildlife habitat – something they will not experience at any other park in the region, particularly one located in a major metropolitan area.
The park is named for the federally endangered Indiana bat, Myotis sodalis, which inhabits wooded areas in and around the park. Sodalis Nature Park is located on lands that have been protected for the Indiana bat under a Habitat Conservation Plan that was created to ensure that the colony of Indiana bats near the airport can survive in the midst of development in the area.
Sodalis Nature Park is operated and maintained by HCPR on property owned by the IAA. The park encompasses 209.5 acres of land that were previously closed to the public and that serve as a refuge for more than 100 species of wildlife, including the Indiana bat. The park was designed to provide visitor amenities, including trails, picnic areas, year-round educational programs, and a 5.5-acre pond with fishing pier, without detracting from the value of the area as Indiana bat habitat.
Sodalis Nature Park opened to the public on May 13, 2011.
On May 1, 2019, the Town of Plainfield assumed operations of Sodalis Nature Park. For any questions regarding the park, please contact Plainfield Department of Public Works Director Jason Castetter at (317) 839-3490.
PLAINFIELD ASSUMING OPERATIONS OF SODALIS NATURE PARK
PLAINFIELD, IN – Operations of the Sodalis Nature Park will transition from Hendricks County Parks to the Town of Plainfield on May 1, 2019. Sodalis Nature Park, which is named after the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), features over 3.5 miles of nature trails, picnic areas and a 5.5-acre pond. Hendricks County Parks developed the park in 2010 under a lease arrangement with the Indianapolis International Airport (IAA). The Town of Plainfield purchased the park land as part of a larger 1,800 acre acquisition of land from the Indianapolis International Airport (IND) in 2018.
Recently, the County and the Town negotiated a termination of the lease and began transitioning operations to the Town. As part of the deal, the Town paid the County for the value of the improvements that the County had put into the park over the years, including features like a park shelter, wildlife viewing platform, and fishing pier on the lake. The County will dedicate the funds to the development and construction of the new W.S. Gibbs Memorial Park.
“We are confident that the Town of Plainfield will successfully manage and expand Sodalis Nature Park, a unique natural area within which everyone can learn and recreate. Moving forward, we remain dedicated to the overall success of Park and Recreation Departments throughout Hendricks County,” Hendricks County Parks Superintendent, Ryan Lemley said.
The Town of Plainfield is excited to partner with the County for continued programming in the park. Plainfield is also working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in order to conserve the land for the betterment of the endangered Indiana bats.
“Our long-term vision for this land is to capitalize on the opportunity presented by the Sodalis Nature Park and provide additional recreational use by creating a larger regional park. We hope it can also be an opportunity to educate people about endangered species in Indiana and the methods for protecting them,” said Robin Brandgard, the Town of Plainfield Town Council President.
A Brief History of the Vandalia Trail
Following are tidbits about and links to the history of the corridor that inspired the Vandalia Trail. Many thanks to Hendricks County Parks Board member Paul Miner who helped compile much of this information from the Hendricks County government archives.
The Terre Haute and Richmond Rail Road was chartered January 26, 1847. The railroad was being built through Clay Township of Hendricks County in August, 1850. The first time an engine passed over the entire line was February 16, 1853.
It was later called Terre Haute and Indianapolis Rail Road, Vandalia Rail Road, and Pennsylvania Rail Road. The last spike in the railroad was driven between Fillmore and Greencastle. The grade for the railroad was built by men using wheelbarrows. The first iron horses, two Hinkley locomotives, arrived at Terre Haute from Boston by canal.
The Vandalia line ran through Coatesville, Cincinnatus, Amo, Pecksburg, Clayton, North Bellville, Cartersburg, Plainfield and Six Points.
On June 26, 2005, the NRHT opened a 1.25-mile section of the Vandalia Trail that spanned from Amo about halfway to Coatesville. At the time, hikers and horseback riders shared the same trail. Soon after, this section of the trail extended all the way to Coatesville.
In October of 2006, the 60-foot-long and 30-foot-tall trestle spanning Crittenden Creek was installed, and on May 18, 2008, an equestrian trail was constructed to run parallel to the hiking and biking trail.
In March of 2016, after 11 years as a volunteer-led not-for-profit project with strong support from the start from the towns of Amo and Coatesville and the Amo-Coatesville Sewer Conservancy, and then from Hendricks County Parks & Recreation since 2008, this section of the trail officially became a county park with the volunteers continuing in a supporting role.
In the summer and fall of 2017, Hendricks County Parks & Recreation paved a 10-foot-wide paved bike path along the entire 4.5 miles from Amo to the Putnam County line. Improved trailheads and modern public restrooms in both Amo and Coatesville were added, along with improved signage (both interpretive and wayfinding) and other important landscaping and drainage improvements along the length of the trail. In advance of those improvements, volunteers and Hendricks County Parks & Recreation crews also upgraded the parallel equestrian trail and horse trailer parking to improve its maintainability and resistance to wet weather.
A Brief History of W.S. Gibbs Memorial Park
The master plan for W.S. Gibbs Memorial Park, adopted by the Hendricks County Park Board on September 4, 2013, was the culmination of a lengthy community planning process establishing a collective vision for W. S. Gibbs Memorial Park as a centerpiece of the Hendricks County Parks system that will serve Hendricks County residents and visitors for generations.
The 140-acre parcel of land is located on Gibbs Road, south of County Road 200 S., in the southwest portion of Washington Township.
The master plan unifies a park designed in harmony with its natural systems, a place that accommodates a wide variety of community events and recreational activities unique to the region, a design that recalls the site’s rich agricultural heritage while looking to its future as a key community recreational asset, and a place that promotes active, healthy lifestyles for all ages.
In the spring of 2019, Hendricks County Parks & Recreation contracted with CECON and Green3 to design Phase I of W.S. Gibbs Memorial Park. Phase I will include a park entrance and drive, parking, a pond, some green space, and some trails. Construction of Phase I is tentatively scheduled to begin in the spring of 2020.
Future phases will likely include a nature playground, a disc golf course, a nature center, and other amenities.