The Times photo by Betsy ReasonAl Patterson
The Times photo by Betsy Reason

Al Patterson

I remember when Cool Creek Park's Haunted Trails debuted 25 years ago. You squeamishly walked through the woods, where goblins lurked to scare you. It wasn't meant for the young or faint of heart, but there were less-scary activities for the little ones.

Tonight's Hamilton County Parks' Halloween event, "Little Haunt on the Prairie at Ghoul Creek Park" is only in its second year. But based on attendance and guest feedback from 2016's inaugural program, I am told that the one-night Halloween event that replaced Haunted Trails at Cool Creek Park is expected to become a popular tradition thanks to a staff committee formed to create a new approach for the event.

While I'm thinking back 25 years, I want to give kudos to county parks director Al Patterson, who came to the parks department on April 7, 1992. The Purdue University grad, with a forestry degree, who arrived after serving as park superintendent for Connersville, credited his parents, Jim and Jane Patterson, for preparing him for "life, work and how to treat people."

Over the past quarter of a century, under Patterson's leadership, the parks properties have grown from 191 acres to its current 1,589 acres. And it's still growing, said Patterson, who shared with me more about the past, present and future.

He is proud of the "amazing park staff," who is highly regarded locally and nationally. He is proud of the groundwork laid "that serves as a working model for the development of other park departments in the county." He is proud that Hamilton is listed among the top counties in the United States in which to raise a family, much due to "our enviable parks and open space." He is proud of the thousands of dollars in donations, by being a responsible steward of contributions, that have led to the agency's growth.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Cool Creek Nature Center at Cool Creek Park (open year-round).

"When it was first built, our focus was on creating a facility in which our nature programs could be staged, allowing for an enriching guest experience," Patterson said. The nature center now welcomes more than 50,000 visitors a year.

Speaking of 50, this year also celebrates the 50th anniversary, "The Big 5-Oh!" of Hamilton County Parks Department, which began in 1967 and acquired its first park, Noblesville's Potter's Bridge, in 1970.

"A good number of people have invested their blood, sweat and tears in an effort to get this department up and started," said Patterson, who credited the foresight and support of parks boards and elected officials.

So what does Patterson consider as the parks department's greatest achievements? Restoration of the historic Potter's Bridge, the only remaining original covered bridge in the county, built in 1870-71. Coxhall Gardens, which will eventually include a conservatory and museum. The parks' first-class educational, natural resource and natural history programs. The continued development of Strawtown Koteewi Park. And the historic bridge project -- "a destination in and of itself" -- that connects Koteewi Park to the-county-owned White River Campground in Cicero (closes for season on Wednesday).

Koteewi Park continues to evolve and improve in response to the community's needs, he said. Koteewi Range, a world-class archery destination (open year-round), opened in 2015, with famous archers showing off their skills. Koteewi Aerial Adventure Treetop Trails opened in 2016, to daredevils who wanted to zipline through the trees (through October). K-Trails Equestrian Adventures opened in 2017 for horseback trail riding at the new Koteewi Stable & Trails (open through this weekend).

But there is still more to come at the 800-acre Koteewi Park, which "is much closer than perceived" (a 10-minute drive or six miles north of Noblesville on Indiana 37) and "offers adventures in nature like no other destination."

Two more large-scale projects in the works at Koteewi Park are a manmade lake and tubing hill. Any inkling of opening dates?

"We are currently working on the final stages of the recreational lake," Patterson said. "The bulk of the digging is completed, and we are now working on what the finished, usable product looks like. We hope to have it open next summer."

And the tubing hill? "Construction continues," said Patterson, who hopes to announce the parks' operations partner within the coming week. The sledding and tubing hill would open "as soon as temperatures reach the point where we can start making snow and have enough built up."

At Koteewi Park, Patterson said, "Financial profit takes a back seat to the goal of providing new and unique experiences for our residents and visitors. If we accomplish that objective, the financial part will take care of itself."

For all of the community support, he said, "We are truly blessed."

"Little Haunt on the Prairie at Ghoul Creek Park" is open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. today at Cool Creek Park, 2000 E. 151st St., Westfield/Carmel. Tickets are $3 at the door. Visit

-Contact me at