News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 28, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Get frostbite, not sunburn, on spring break

Nothing wrong with spending the week exploring Indiana

Mark Bennett
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Avoid spring break envy.

It’s insidious. If you’re not among those vacating the Midwest during the next 10 days, certain terms may cause ulcers or facial twitches — “Panama City,” “tan,” “ocean,” “Aruba,” “umbrella,” “tiki,” “SPF,” “waves,” “hot,” “flip-flops,” “beach.”

Calm down. Yes, spring break begins Friday for 15,000 students in Vigo County schools. But rest assured, despite the kids’ claim that “everybody is going to Florida,” only a fraction will stick their toes into tropical sand. And, tempting as it may be, resist finding consolation in contrasting phrases such as “blisters,” “lost luggage,” “Atlanta traffic jam,” “jellyfish sting,” “cancel all my cards” and “allergic reaction.” Make peace with the Hoosier soil, damp and icy as it may be.

Indeed, there is a healthier, more mature response. First, stay off Facebook for the next two weeks. (Daily, visual reminders of friends frolicking in the surf at sundown only compounds spring break envy.) Then, get moving. For those able, use your feet to get outta Dodge (acknowledging the blissfulness of life in Terre Haute) for a day trip you likely haven’t considered. You won’t spend much money, and you’ll end up with far more unique Facebook pictures.

Ready? Here goes:

n Tour the Statehouse — You don’t have to be a protester to visit the Capitol building in Indianapolis. Guided tours are free and run weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and hourly from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. The 19th century structure brims with four floors of eye-catching architecture, artwork and history. Plus, the General Assembly is in session, so the Statehouse will be bustling next week. All three branches of state government — the governor, Legislature and Supreme Court — function under its dome, and tours give visitors a peek at each.

The experience is a civics lesson for average Hoosiers. “A lot of people don’t know how the [legislative] process works,” said Jennifer Hodge, Statehouse tours coordinator.

It also allows visitors to put a face with the names in the news. Occasionally, tourists cross paths with a state rep or senator, a Supreme Court justice or even the governor. If not, newcomers could score a seat in the gallery of the Legislature or the court. As for the governor, “if he’s out of the office, we can take tours in,” Hodge said.

Asked whether visitors could then sit in the governor’s chair, she said, “No. We don’t do that.”

It’s worth the drive, nonetheless. To plan a tour, call 317-233-5293 or email

n Rise above Indy — People run the popular Indianapolis 500 Fest Mini-Marathon to prove to themselves that they can. The city offers a similar, less-known, more vertical challenge: Climbing the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

Relax. This journey involves stairs, not grappling hooks and ropes. A majestic combo of Indiana limestone (from nearby Owen County) and bronze sculpture, the 112-year-old obelisk stands 284 feet tall, just 15 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty. It takes 331 steps to reach the observation level, “which is an amazing view of downtown Indianapolis,” said Ethan Wright, director of the monument’s companion facility, the War Memorial Museum, just three blocks away. “It’s right in the heart of the city, a panoramic view.”

After walking back down, visitors will find the Col. Eli Lilly Civil War Museum in the base of the monument, which is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the Civil War Museum, and the larger, 30,000-square-foot War Memorial Museum (three blocks north on Meridian Street), is free. “So it’s definitely cheaper than Florida,” Wright said.

You could skip the stair climb and take the elevator ($2 for adults, $1 for kids), but why not go for the gusto?

n Stroll the waterfront — While in Indy, do the Canal Walk. The promenade borders the refurbished Indiana Central Canal, dug in the 1800s. Various museums and memorials line the path, which bisects White River State Park. Again, it’s free, unless you navigate the canal by pedal boat ($30 for a two-seater). “If you haven’t seen the canal in downtown Indianapolis, it’s definitely worth visiting,” Wright said. The website is

n Get rugged — That’s right, live like a truck commercial, except you’ll need hiking boots instead of a cowboy hat. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources rates trails at the state parks as easy, moderate, rugged and very rugged. The Turkey Run and Shades state parks, and the adjacent Pine Hills Nature Preserve, in Parke County offer all four varieties. The actors in those truck commercials might struggle on the rugged and very rugged trails, but if you come prepared — with water, boots, grubby jeans, hat and layered sweatshirts — you’ll relish the test.

Turkey Run, Shades and Pine Hills feature cool ravines, streams, rock formations, trees, plants, ladders and bridges. One fee ($5 per car at the gate) provides access to all three sites. At Turkey Run, Trail 9 ranks as very rugged, and Trail 1 includes a bald eagle hangout. “So that’s a fun sight if people are wanting to see wildlife along Sugar Creek,” said Colleen Rennaker, an interpretive naturalist at the park.

The parks’ trails are open from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. You’ll get muddy, a good cardio workout and great pictures.

n A gearhead’s treasure hunt — Maybe the console of your 2007 minivan broke in 2009, and you’ve been meaning to order a replacement. Go get it yourself. If you’ve got older kids, load ’em up and drive to an auto salvage yard that allows customers to bring their own tools, find a similar vehicle and pull the needed part with a socket wrench, screwdriver, wire-cutters and good, old-fashioned elbow grease. Get your hands dirty.

Some yards send a guide with you to locate a like car or truck; others let you roam. There are several in the area, stretching from Mecca to Casey, Ill.

Even if your “new” console bears a few more scratches than the original and came from a van with a tree growing in it, you and the kids will also come home with a lesson in auto mechanics, more pictures and great stories for a fraction of the price of lunch at Disney World.

n Make a difference — Volunteer for the third-annual Operation Wabashiki, a cleanup of the wildlife refuge on the Wabash River’s west side. It begins at 9 a.m. April 7 at Dewey Point on U.S. 40 near West Terre Haute and runs until 1 p.m. The Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Sustainability Club provides coffee and snacks; you bring gloves, safety glasses and gumption. Contact the club by email at

At week’s end, you might need liniment for sore muscles instead of Noxema for sunburn, but your accomplishments will be enviable.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or