TERRE HAUTE —
Maybe you drive the same route to work every day.
Shortest route. Saves time and a few dimes worth of gas. You’ve memorized the road signs, billboards, homeowners’ lawn-care habits and chuckholes along the way. But what about the sights on the streets not taken?
A wise friend recently shared a story from his boyhood, growing up on a farm. His dad explained how, after rains, vehicles get mired in the rut of a dirt path through a pasture. “The only way to get out of that rut,” he said, “is to make a sharp turn in a different direction.”
Nearly 200,000 people live in the Wabash Valley, the Terre Haute Metropolitan Statistical Area, the Land Around the Haute, or whatever you want to call it. Any longtime resident has heard others complain about what this community lacks, and some of those gripes are valid. (No Waffle House or Dunkin’ Donuts? Seriously?) But how many of us — content, or ready to pack up — haven’t taken a sharp turn to get out of a rut and see new and different sides of this place we love to criticize?
Summer presents a chance to explore Terre Haute and the surrounding towns and countryside.
In the process, you might discover some of long-held stereotypes aren’t really true. Pay a (respectful) visit to a neighborhood or institution you tend to bad-mouth. If you think this region lacks unique eateries or entertainment, prove it. Consider this your Put Up Or Shut Up Tour of Summer 2011. Unchain yourself from the Internet, walk into the sunshine or the star light and get acquainted with your community, face-to-face.
Then, once the research is complete, if the Wabash Valley disappoints, you know what to do.
No, I’m not invoking the ultimatum of a former mayor — “There’s a bus leaving Terre Haute every 15 minutes.” Instead, we at the Trib-Star would like you to share your stories, photos and reflections of what you experienced. (Submit those by email to mark.bennett@ tribstar.com or features@ tribstar.com. Put the words “summer tour” in the message line.)
Remember, it’s crucial to get a well-rounded view of the community. Use the check list below — “10 Things to Do This Summer to Get Closer to the Wabash Valley” — as your roadmap. (It’s not comprehensive, but a good starting point.) Afterward, with a well-informed opinion of the local shortcomings and attributes, you can offer constructive criticism. That’s the only real way to improve.
So, here goes:
n Tour a local college — Coffeeshop debates often zero in on Terre Haute’s uneasiness about becoming a full-fledged college town. With five local institutions of higher education, that niche seems like a no-brainer. Yet, we fear Indiana State University is taking over too much territory in the city beyond its traditional borders.
While that tug-of-war continues, why not actually see the campus up close and personal? ISU schedules daily tours at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. that are open to the public. Among its must-see elements are the new Student Rec Center and the classic stained-glass rotunda ceiling in the former Fairbanks Memorial Library. (Contact the Office of Admissions at 237-2121.) Ivy Tech Community College, a busy place south of the city, offers tours, too. (Contact Becky Miller, executive director of resource development, at 298-2361 or email@example.com.) If you’ve never strolled through the grounds of serene, tree-lined St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, do it. (Contact the Office of Admissions at 535-5106.)
n Attend a religious service — Terre Haute alone is home to more than 200 houses of worship. A Gallup Poll last year found that 45 percent of Americans seldom or never attended services. Meanwhile, 84 percent of people responding to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey considered themselves affiliated with some sort of religion. The difference in those two categories seems to present an opportunity for folks to reconnect with their faith through a local congregation.
Even if you’re unsure what or if you believe, spiritually, go and simply listen. To find a fit for you, contact Terre Haute Ministries by phone at (812) 234-7100, Ext. 215 or email at
n Check out one of the valley’s natural wonders — If you’re healthy and adventurous, climb the Devil’s Backbone at the Pine Hills Nature Preserve adjoining picturesque and remote Shades State Park in northeastern Parke County. It’s a 7-foot-wide stone path atop a gorge, with breathtakingly steep dropoffs on both sides. You’ll need hiking boots and guts. (For directions, go to www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2970.htm or call  435-2810.)
Those preferring to keep their heart rates lower, take in great views of the Wabash River atop majestic Merom Bluff in Sullivan County (on Indiana 63) or along the water’s edge at Fairbanks Park in Terre Haute. If you’re willing to get wet, paddle a canoe down Sugar Creek between Shades and Turkey Run state parks. (Go online to turkeyrunstatepark.com.)
n Get a library card, then use it — If you accomplish only two positive deeds this summer, acquire a library card and read a book. If you live in Vigo County, a card to access the Vigo County Public Library is free. Free. The library, on the corner of Seventh and Poplar streets, is air-conditioned, comfortable, quiet, expertly staffed and packed with books, films, music and computers. My recommendations — “Facing Your Giants” by Max Lucado (book), “Reign Over Me” (film on DVD), and “Desire” by Bob Dylan (music on CD).
Good grief, it’s not like a trip to the license branch. Do this.
n Eat different food — Walt Disney was right. It’s a small world after all, and some wonderful people from other locales on Earth live here now. Some of them re-create the meals of their homelands in one-of-a-kind local restaurants. Give it a try. Among many great options in Terre Haute, sample the pad Thai chicken at Exotic Thai (1295 S. Third St.), Lebanese stuffed grape leaves at George’s Cafe (627 Cherry St.), or something spicy at Taj Mahal Indian Cuisine (1349 S. Third St.).
Look, I like biscuits and gravy, too, but let your taste buds rotate their tires. Eat like an ambassador.
n Volunteer — Donating money to help folks in need eases burdens, no doubt. But showing up at their door with work gloves tucked in your jeans pocket creates a sense of hospitality, neighbors. Volunteer your time for an afternoon at a Habitat for Humanity worksite (call 235-5914 or email Habitat@wvh4h.org), through United Way of the Wabash Valley (call 235-6287 or go online at www.uwwv.org), or by serving meals at the Lighthouse Mission (1450 Wabash Ave., 232-7001).
You’ll gain enlightenment about your own situation, and that of others.
n Listen to live music — Hundreds of talented musicians of almost every genre reside in the valley. Some have performed in Nashville, Los Angeles, New York and abroad. Here, they sing and jam in so many different forums — clubs, bars, parks, festivals, churches, lodges — that nobody’s tastes are left out.
It takes skill and, more importantly, gumption to make music for an audience. The musicians do all the hard work. The least we can do is go and listen.
The absolute best way to find your kind of live music is to pick up the Tribune-Star’s Friday ’Bash entertainment section. (To get a copy, call 231-4274.)
n Walk the Heritage Trail — Even if you’re less than a fan of the emergence of bike and walking paths around the community, at least lace up your sneakers and tread this path. The National Road Heritage Trail got its start locally in 1996, and it’s grown steadily ever since. To start, park at the Twiggs Rest Area east of Glenn on U.S. 40, and walk the trail to the north side of the Rose-Hulman campus and back. The canopy of shady trees, wildlife and plants lining this former railroad bed settles most souls. Exercise is good.
Even if you still don’t like the trail, at least your doctor will be pleased.
n Get your picture taken with a work of art — The Max Ehrmann statue at the Crossroads downtown is an obvious choice. Artist Bill Wolfe’s bronze likeness of the famed Hautean poet sits on a park bench, pen in hand, with room for a visitor beside him.
If not Max, find a cool painting or sculpture at a gallery on Terre Haute’s Seventh Street Arts Corridor, or on the walls of a coffeehouse and pose with it. The murals in the Vigo County Courthouse and Woodrow Wilson Middle School would be a great backdrop, too.
You don’t have to be an oil heiress or know Van Gogh from Van Halen to enjoy art, crafted by many gifted local artists.
n Visit a farm — Few people work harder than those who feed us. Farmers produce all kinds of food right here in the Wabash Valley. One of the most unique and accessible farms is the Swiss Connection, an organic operation run by Alan and Mary Yegerlehner, and their daughter, Kate, north of Clay City and 1.4 miles east of Indiana 59 on County Road 550 South. The farm includes a store with incredible cheeses, meats and ice cream, all produced on that farm. The Yegerlehners offer guided tours by appointment. (Call 812-939-2813, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or go online at www.swissconnectioncheese.com.
The summer is young. The Wabash Valley awaits.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or email@example.com.