In 1993, the area on the east end of the Indiana State Fairgrounds was a parking lot. It was the vision of a dedicated group of volunteers to create a place to showcase soil and water Indiana conservation practices. Acting State Conservationist Roger Kult says, for the past 20 years, the Pathway to Water Quality has reached an estimated 50,000 fair visitors each year with the message of conservation, “The pathway brings so many different tools together in one place to present to all Hoosiers.” He added that all 8 members of the conservation partnership can contribute and be represented in one place, each displaying their own particular conservation message.
Kult says Pathway gives many Hoosiers their first hands-on experience with soil and water conservation, “And get the personal attention they need to get their conservation questions answered, and be directed to local resources back home that they can follow up with.” During the State Fair, the Pathway is manned by volunteers from all of the agencies and organizations that make up the Indiana Conservation Partnership.
Mark McCauley, with the Hamilton County SWCD, has been involved in the project since the beginning, “It started as a 1/40th scale exhibit where everything was 1/40th actual size. But as the trees have grown over the past 20 years, we have had to increase the scale of the rest of the exhibit.” The Pathway has also changed as new conservation technology has been developed. Pervious concrete was added, and several structures have been built in the exhibit.
McCauley says most of those who visit the exhibit live in urban areas and, as a result, have a lot of questions about conservation, “Most don’t know what a watershed is or that they live in one.” The exhibit stresses what urban homeowners can do to improve soil and water conservation on their own property. “We get a lot of questions in the soils area; people are interested in the Indiana state soil. We have also added prairie plants, and people have a lot of questions about prairie plants,” McCauley told HAT.
To celebrate its 20th year, Pathway will be undergoing to changes, including a renovation of the lower pond area. Also new this will be living history interpreters who will interact, in character, with visitors in character about conservation issues. Kult praised the Indiana State Fair Board of Directors for their continued support of the Pathway.