Parks and Recreation

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You may have noticed that the Indianapolis Museum of Art has a new arrangement on its campus. Apart from the 100 Acres, the formerly wide-open 52 acres of lush gardens on the museum's grounds are now open only with the price of admission. Which also means that they are not accessible to those who aren't members or paying visitors.

While some in the community, from members to cyclists, are raising concerns about this change, my family will keep its membership updated and continue to go to a museum we really love. It's probably the only membership we actually use. As for all the opinions swirling around current policy changes, I'll sit this one out. Being a communications director, it's a little too close to home to vent.

So instead I offer another viable option. I say let's take this as the perfect chance to explore other spots where constructed beauty and natural beauty overlap.

Here are a few of the sometimes under-celebrated green spaces in our city, all still free and open, all with a mix of cultivated and wild charms. Some are perfect picnic spots, some are ideal locales for leisurely reading, and some are great for speedy jogs and long bike rides. They all deserve our love, and the best way to love a park is to get into it as often as possible.

Holcomb Gardens is named after James Irving Holcomb, one of Butler's biggest boosters in the middle of the last century. - PHOTO BY BEN SHINE
  • Photo by Ben Shine
  • Holcomb Gardens is named after James Irving Holcomb, one of Butler's biggest boosters in the middle of the last century.

Holcomb Gardens -- Just down the towpath from the IMA on Butler University's campus is Holcomb Gardens, with its manicured botanical plots, the Holcomb Carillon Tower (that's a bell tower that can be played like an instrument), the Holcomb Observatory, observation pond and easy access to one of the prettiest walks in town on the Canal Towpath. Chance of turtle-sunning-on-a rock and gigantic koi sightings: 63%

Garfield Park -- Indy's oldest currently operational municipal green space, Garfield Park occupies a huge, meandering stretch of the southeast side. The amazing conservatory and sunken gardens are worth spending an afternoon perusing tropical and rare plants by yourself, but they also have events and programs for the entire family. The park has its own art center with classes and exhibits, an amphitheater perfect for summer Shakespeare or classical performances, an aquatic center and hidden pockets of beauty spread out over 120-plus acres. Chance of heading over to Fountain Square afterward for food, drinks, galleries or shopping: 71%

McCord Park -- Like the tiny house of Indy's park scene, McCord Park ranks as a niche favorite for those whose interests naturally align with its existence. Just under an acre and filled with hydrangeas, peonies and lilacs, and tucked away in an oft-overlooked neighborhood of hills and historic houses, it's an oasis in an urban sea. It's also a great place to take your 2-year-old and his tricycle to ride around and maybe climb on the sundial/memorial/sculpture in the middle of the park. Chance of said kid wanting to practice jumping off the three in the sundial, because that's how old he'll be this summer: 99%.

ArtsPark -- I'm not just fond of this space because I walk through it every morning to get to my desk at the Indianapolis Art Center, but because I grew up exploring the train tracks and untamed wilderness of the south shore of the White River where it now exists. And I have fond memories of jumping off the trestle on hot summer days. [Note: Editor of Sky Blue Window does not condone said jumping.] Like the IMA's grounds, its 10 acres respect the space where nature and design converge, as originally envisioned by the late, great architect and Broad Ripple export Michael Graves. The ArtsPark is bordered by the Monon Trail on the east side and the White River on the north side, and it contains sculptures by local and national-level artists, including the Art Center's first NEA-funded sculpture, Crescendo. Chance of selfie in front of the Twisted House: 87%

Holcomb Gardens is a hidden gem of Butler University, but Indy Parks operates 192 parks and natural resource areas in Marion County. - PHOTO BY BEN SHINE
  • Photo by Ben Shine
  • Holcomb Gardens is a hidden gem of Butler University, but Indy Parks operates 192 parks and natural resource areas in Marion County.

Holliday Park -- In addition to the just-renovated, wildlife-hand-puppet-packed Nature Center and arguably the city's most thrilling playgrounds, Holliday Park features great trails, a pretty cool set of ruins (get the backstory on them in this story by Emily Hinkel) and riverfront access to wildlife. Pro tip: We like to park on the east side of Meridian and 64th streets and follow the river into the park. Chance of muddy boots: 59%

Eagle Creek Park -- The sixth-largest city-owned park in the country that also includes a former Lilly-owned home (which now houses Peace Learning Center's programs and staff, but was once the home of the collection that became the Eiteljorg), this close-to-wild park is a hiker and lake-lover dream land. My family and I visited its beaches and trails when I was young, and as an adult, I've enjoyed time on the reservoir, thanks to friends who dock their boats at the park's marina. Chance of blue heron sighting: 86%

This summer those are places you'll find me, my family and friends searching for solace in nature or fun in some of Indy's prettiest outdoor venues. Did I miss your favorite outdoor spots in the city? I'd love to know.

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