What is at the intersection of population, talent attraction, quality of life, and things to do in Wayne County, Indiana?

Exploring Wayne County Banner

What do you think that number represents?  If you guessed the population of Wayne County in 1970, you’d be right!  Yes, almost 80,000 people lived in Wayne County back then.  Did you know we’ve been on a slow population decline for several years?  Today, we have approximately 66,000 people in the county.  We will have more of an exact number once the U.S. Census completes its work. 

Which reminds me…… if you’ve not completed your census, please do!  Here is the link to the U.S. Census, go ahead, do it really quick.  I will wait for you. 

Glad you’re back! 

I did not realize until I started with working Forward Wayne County, how critical this small statistic is to everything we love about our community. Population drives everything, from the employers we attract to amenities we have, to the schools our kids attend, and more.  Population = a vibrant, healthy, community.

What Drives Population Decline in Wayne County, Indiana

Why are people leaving?  Well, that is a complicated question.  There are multiple factors that are driving our population decline.  One factor is people are having fewer children.  There is not much we can do about that.  People die. That is just a part of life. 

However, another factor is people leave for higher-wage jobs.  That is something we can change, and the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County works hard at that every day.   

High school students leave for college and do not return.  We can do something about that too.  When students feel connected to their community, studies show they are more likely to return.  So, as parents, we can help our kids feel connected to our community. 

Lastly, others leave because they are looking for a better quality of place; think, amenities that improve our quality of life.  That ranges from parks to housing, access to healthcare, and more.  We are doing something about that too!  Like investing in our local downtowns, Reid Health’s commitment to the community and much more. 

Forward Wayne County’s mission is to support organizations and initiatives that focus on improving the lives of our residents.  These initiatives are aimed at Human Capital Development, we call this Our People Pillar and Quality of Place initiatives, we call this work Our Community Pillar.

What does all this have to do with a Residents’ Guide: Things To Do In Wayne County, Indiana?

Great question!  As a lifelong resident of Wayne County, I thought I knew everything about Wayne County.  Spoiler alert…… I didn’t really know about all of Wayne County’s treasures.  

I was challenged to see the community from the eyes of visitors.  

Challenge accepted!

At first, I thought, “I’ve been everywhere in Wayne County, I don’t need to drive around and see this stuff.  I already know it.” Then, I started making a list and discovered I have not been to some of our BEST amenities.

I decided the places I would visit, not only need to be new to me but also meet at least one of these conditions:

  1. A place to reflect.  The best communities have places for residents to relax and recharge their mental health.
  2. A place to explore.  Physical wellbeing is important for everyone and great communities have places for people to be physically active.
  3. A place that represents Arts and Culture. This could be a museum, a neat place unique to Wayne County.

Staycation:  Residents ‘New To You’ List of Things to Do In Wayne County, Indiana

Cope Environmental Center

In full disclosure, I had been to the new building twice.  However, I drove there, walked in for an event, and left.  I have never walked the property or took the time to learn about how they contribute to the community.  Therefore, I could not tell a visitor or a new resident why they would love Cope.  I choose to explore Cope through the eyes of a visitor and WOW!  First, I visited their website to read through all the programs they offer, reviewed the trail maps, and read about how they started.  Then, Bear and I headed out for a long walk in the woods.  There, I reflected on this year, looked for wildlife, and simply relaxed.  Eventually, we found, hidden in the woods, a children’s wilderness play area, where Bear took some time to play. 

Ready to recharge your batteries?  Head to Cope Environmental Center.

Pro tip: Don’t forget the bug spray!  Time spent:  1 hour

Hayes Arboretum’s Mountain Bike Trail

I have driven by the trail hundreds of times but, never stopped to enjoy the trail.  So, I dusted off my Specialized Mountain bike, dropped it off at Spoke Easy for a tune-up, and then headed out to the trail.  Not only did I give my body an intense workout, but I also took the time to appreciate our local mountain bike trail.  The MTB Project ranks this trail, #9 in the state of Indiana! 

Pro tip: Bring your helmet.  Time spent: 45 minutes

Richmond’s Veteran Memorial Park

Do you have a list of places you want to go to “when I have more time”? This was on my list and I finally made the time.  What an amazing local treasure!  While at the Veteran’s Park, I took time to appreciate the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform and gave special thanks to my uncle who just recently received his stone. 

While there, I met Nick Rader with Boy Scout Troup 100.  Our interaction was so amazing I wrote a whole other article about their work.  The article walks you through Rader’s unwavering commitment to bringing a new monument to the Veteran’s park.  Not only does his story demonstrate dedication to see the project through but, it is also a story about how we all have a responsibility to make our community better. 

Pro Tip: Bring your camera.  Time spent: 30 minutes.

The Swinging Bridge

This is another example of knowing it is there but, never actually crossing it.  Well, go from thinking about doing it to doing it!  You don’t need to travel to Paris to see Locks of Love on a bridge.  Walk from the Veteran’s Park to the swinging bridge for a picture-perfect view of a waterfall.  You may be tempted to add your own lock but, don’t.  The locks’ weight adds up eventually weighing down the bridge and we want to enjoy our treasures, not destroy them.  

Pro Tip: Take time to get the bridge to sway just a little, you can’t help but laugh.  Time spent: 15 minutes.

Huddleston Farmhouse

Perfect for a Sunday drive.  Head west to Cambridge City for a quick game of volleyball in their local park and then take in a picnic at the Huddleston Farmhouse. Behind the red barn, you’ll find a picnic table under the large shade trees.  Perfect spot to relax. 

Pro tip: Grab an ice cream from Hilltop Drive-in across the street. Time spent: 30 minutes.

The Barn at Helm

After going back in time at the Huddleston Farmhouse, I stepped into present-day farming at The Barn at Helm in Williamsburg.  Located on 125 acres this fresh-cut flower farm is beautiful.  I had been invited to attend an event and was super excited to get see this place but, was not able to attend at the last minute.  However, I’m keeping it on my list and drove by to take a peek.  It did not disappoint.

Pro Tip: Plan to visit between April and October for peak flower season! They also host floral workshops, so look for those in the future. Time spent: 20 minutes

Cardinal Greenways (Jacksonburg Road)

Ready to hit the trails at your own pace? You probably already know about the Cardinal Greenways and how this trail connects a number of communities in East Central Indiana, but I was surprised to learn just how many trailheads are in our area. The trail is easy to ride and the scenery is beautiful. It’s an easy way to get out, get fit, and explore more of Wayne County on your own terms.

Pro Tip: Bring water, sunscreen, and your helmet. Time spent: That’s up to you!

Levi Coffin House

Atlas Obscura is a treasure trove of unique and cool places to visit while traveling. It’s my go-to for planning a trip. What did they feature? Our very own Levi Coffin House! This was a wake-up call that, I, a local, needed to get out to see the nationally-recognized museum.

While visiting this museum you’ll be amazed as you learn more about how Levi and Catharine Coffin helped more than 1,000 freedom seekers to safety.

Pro Tip: Due to social distancing restrictions, call ahead to schedule a walking tour. Time spent: 2 hours.

Seeing Wayne County through the eyes of a visitor changed my perspective of our community. If Covid-19 has you rethinking a vacation, I encourage you to take a staycation in our local community. Start with this Residents Guide to Things To Do In Wayne County and add your own list of never-seen but, must-see local treasures.

About the Author

Lauralee Hites is a lifelong resident of Wayne County, Indiana, and self-described wanderlust. After moving away 3 times and returning to Wayne County each time, she’s learned to see her community through a new set of eyes. This is article 1 of a 2 part series. Read, part 2, Veterans Memorial Park May Get Unexpected War Monument article to learn more about how one local boy scout’s ancestry discovery takes him on a journey of adding another monument to our local park.

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