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This year we saw our parks rediscovered. When there were few places to venture, people turned to our spaces. Park visitation was higher in Indiana than in our neighboring states, which I believe is a testament to the incredible opportunities available to Hoosiers — especially here in Carmel and Clay Township. Thanks to our team’s out-of-the-box thinking, we continue to support our community. When the Monon Community Center’s doors closed, we took our fitness virtual. When programs canceled, we created educational videos. When playgrounds closed, we encouraged park users to explore parks in new ways. In response to this year’s challenges, we continue to make the health, wellness and recreation resources available to our community a priority. We hope you feel as supported as ever whether you’re joining us as part of your fitness journey, attending a recreation program, or out enjoying our parks. Within the pages of this edition, we share stories of nimble and creative thinking community members who push forward through these challenging times. We hope as you read these stories you find yourself inspired and hopeful. Regards,

Michael W. Klitzing, CPRE Director of Parks and Recreation

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We encourage you to share your stories!

FALL 2020

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Nature programs create lifelong naturalists promoting a love of the great outdoors.


Virtual fitness classes keep MCC members connected and their fitness on track during COVID-related closure.


Beloved Carey Grove Park undergoes renovations and enhancements ensuring memorable outdoor fun.


Adaptive programming creates a nurturing and safe environment for continuing skill development.


Native seed collection through Project Wingspan boosts the monarch and rusty patch bumblebee population.



Nature programs are instilling a lifelong sense of wonder

Go ahead, ask Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation’s resident naturalist Karen LaMere. She’ll confirm what our mothers have been saying for years — a little dirt never hurt. You’ll most likely get the same answer from LaMere’s 2020 summer campers who were literally “hands-on” playing in the soil, taking time to unplug and be outdoors, and discovering how to make mud. And, you guessed it, getting good and dirty in the process. “Today all of us are suffering from ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’. We spend more time inside plugged into electronic devices. All of us need to get outside and experience the natural environment. It’s very calming and energizing at the same time,” shares La Mere. “At CCPR, we’ve put in place a wide variety of interactive nature programs for all ages from tree identification and birding to tagging monarch butterflies. We need to continue to create opportunities for exploration and connection to nature and how it affects our lives.”

LaMere has always been connected to nature and the great outdoors. She grew up in Michigan on the Kalamazoo River. Her father would take his Saturday morning fishing excursion and was forever bringing home a snake, a jumping mouse, turtles, and anything else he might have found interesting on his fishing trip. She began to wait. excitedly for his return each Saturday to see what creature he would bring back home. Her own family can attest to the fact this tradition continues. Today, many creatures call the LaMere home “their” home including American toads, tree frogs, a sand boa, a red-footed tortoise, a hedgehog and a garter snake. Lucky critters. “Maybe the connection to nature has continued through the generations,” says LaMere. “My grandfather was HoChunk and was born in a wigwam in Wisconsin. The HoChunk cultural ways — which are obviously very prevalent in my life still today — are songs and stories that guide us with values of how to respect the land, the animals, and live in balance with nature.” Beyond her personal connection to nature, should you be looking for a naturalist subject matter expert, look no further than LaMere. Her bachelor’s degree in biology and master’s degree in fisheries and wildlife coupled with her childhood experiences growing up in nature centers is the perfect education and a real asset for both CCPR and the community. When she first came to CCPR in 2012, nature camp offerings and programming were struggling to fill out attendance.

“We had to cancel some of the camps in 2012 but now we have 25 kids in the morning and 25 more kids coming in the afternoon sessions — our nature camps and classes are really growing,” says LaMere. “With the pandemic, more than ever, we all need to be outside exploring. We need to be excited about the very first acorn our kids find because that translates into a love of nature discovery and allows for an excitement in learning about new things right in our own backyards.” During a Knee High Naturalist program after tapping a tree to get sap, LaMere spotted a kiddo licking his plate after the homemade syrup had been added to a batch of fresh, hot pancakes. She heard the kid’s mother say: “We don’t lick our plate.” The student was unsure at the time, but LaMere assured the mother that we do when we make the maple syrup ourselves. To this day, LaMere says, there is still “syrup plate licking” going on in that home. From digging in the mud to beginner discovery classes like knee-high naturalists or adult learners taking the Indiana Master Naturalist course, CCPR is committed to a focus on nature, nature programming and reconnecting the community back outdoors. “What is really amazing is that I’ll sometimes have a knee-high naturalist start their nature learning journey with us at a really young age,” LaMere says. “And, then I see them still involved with discovering nature and taking classes and camps years down the road. That brings me joy as we’ve hopefully instilled in that young naturalist a lifelong sense of wonder for all things around us.” Sounds like a mud pie is a great place to start.


Virtual fitness classes connected members during COVID closure.

BRITTANY IGNAS The workout lifeline

Consistency and routine vs. change and uncertainty. Should this be a tug of war or a linear lifeline? Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation’s fitness supervisor Brittany Ignas says the physical closing of the Monon Community Center due to the pandemic this past March put in motion an out-of-the-box transitional response that allowed members to keep their fitness on track. That response — taking the workout classroom right into the homes of its members — embraced a plan to take the change and uncertainty now invading their normal workout lives and provide the consistency and routine so many needed. It provided a virtual lifeline to staying fit and maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit. And, that virtual lifeline looked a lot like Brittany Ignas. “The minute we knew we were going to close, the conversations began about options,” says Ignas. “I am a trained dancer and had lived in New York City working at a small fitness studio for a while and I was seeing the virtual workouts becoming very popular on social media. We quickly put together

a schedule based off of our most popular group fitness classes and launched our virtual workouts almost immediately.” Ignas, the face of CCPR’s virtual workouts, offered four to five varied-level classes every day and shares she probably completed around 300 classes over the course of the MCC shutdown. Knowing the MCC provided a sense of community and connectivity, Ignas was intent on providing a virtual lifeline so members could still feel like part of a group fitness class and continue their workout routine. “We have so many people who tell us their workout class is more than just a physical experience,” Ignas shares. “They say they come for the workout but get so much more out of the community experience. So, it was a priority for us to find a way to strengthen that community feel even from afar. I set up my own camera and off we went.” This past summer, the MCC re-opened to members with a commitment to new and improved processes including wearing masks when entering and exiting the facility, preregistering for class spots, an above-andbeyond approach to social distancing during group fitness classes and at workout stations, and keeping equipment clean and safe in all workout areas. Over 450 members have returned to their consistent workout routines but

there are many who have chosen to remain a part of the still-offered virtual classes. “Being ‘together’ no matter what that means during this new normal really shows our dedication to strengthening that community feel the MCC is known for,” says Ignas. “As we head into the winter months, staying connected with options to stay healthy and active with fitness routines tailored to each individual’s needs will be an impactful benefit.”

LYNN RODIBAUGH Staying virtually motivated

Like all of us, Lynn Rodibaugh’s day-to-day routine changed this past March. Beyond being a wife and mother, she became an in-home teacher for one of her sons and a 24/7 support system for her entire family. She knew taking care of herself and sticking to her workout routine was going to be difficult but crucial for her physical and mental health. When the MCC offered virtual group fitness classes she was all in. “We’ve been members at the MCC for years and it just feels like home to us,” says Rodibaugh. “I am a big fan of any classes promoting cardio and strength. I knew that with the whole family at home, I was going to need to find the time to make working out a priority with all the changes. At first, I wasn’t sure what that kind of workout routine was going to look like.” Rodibaugh says once the MCC closed, it wasn’t always easy finding time to work out with her son’s virtual school schedule, but she was intent on staying connected to her usual routine and found time four or five times a week to catch a virtual class. She credits MCC fitness supervisor Brittany Ignas and her ability to connect during the workouts with keeping her coming back for more. “The virtual classes were a lifesaver for me,” Rodibaugh says. “I’ve always worked out even when I was working and traveling quite a bit. And, now that I am home with the kids, the

childcare option at the MCC has really made my life easier and allowed me to venture into more class options. My kids love going to the MCC and seeing all of their friends as much as I do. The family membership is invaluable to us and we enjoyed the pool so much this past summer. It was a place we really felt safe and that they had all the right safety precautions in place. I’m very grateful for that option to get us all out of the house and outdoors.” Now that the MCC has re-opened, Rodibaugh has returned to some semblance of normalcy for her workout routine at the facility but feels relieved that there are still virtual options as well. She says she’s never felt safer taking a class at the MCC and loves the addition of online class registration. “Everyone is at a different place in their life and questioning what is safe for them personally,” says Rodibaugh. “As long as I have options I feel as though I can take a holistic view to my health and adapt as I need to. The virtual class options have made me accountable and kept me motivated just the same as going in person and has been so beneficial to my schedule and life. We don’t know what is around the corner so being able to feel confident that the MCC community will find a way for us all to stay connected is a real benefit to members. They’ve put a way to maintain my health and wellbeing first and foremost.”

TERRI AND TOM SMITH A virtual team

Terri and Tom Smith aren’t usually “sit at home” folks. Their usual routine included almost daily workouts at the MCC, walks with their doggie, working jobs even in retirement, and volunteering in the community. In March, much of their usual activity was put on hold or transformed into something new. But, don’t picture either one of them slowing down much or changing their personal commitment to staying healthy, fit and active.


the online group fitness classes and continued their workout schedules taking as many classes as they could. “Terri would do her classes upstairs and me in the basement,” says Tom. “Like everyone else, the feeling of isolation was starting to sink in, and this was an incredible way to stay virtually connected and feel engaged.” Once the MCC re-opened, Terri and Tom were back to their regular schedules taking classes and using the workout equipment several times a week. They share that it felt wonderful to see friends and re-establish that sense of community. “We tell our neighbors all the time that they should try the MCC,” says Terri. “They have done a phenomenal job going above and beyond making people feel protected and safe. The classes are in an open, high-ceilinged space with more than the six-foot socially distanced requirement. Everyone wears masks coming and going to class. We feel it has never been safer.” After retirement five years ago, Terri and Tom became MCC members at the senior rate. Prior to COVID and the MCC shutdown, the pair had been working out at the MCC between three and five times per week. They share that beyond their usual physical workouts, the MCC is a community where they make and see friends which goes a long way toward keeping them socially and mentally healthy as well. “Before COVID we were at the MCC several days a week,” shares Terri. “Tom likes to use the workout equipment, elliptical, sometimes we take a spin class, and I am usually in a group fitness class. Strictly Strength is one of my favorites and concentrates on cardio strength which is important to me. I was a race/walker and Tom was a marathon runner at one point in our lives and we like to keep moving. When we learned that the fitness classes were going to be online during the shutdown, I knew it was going to be the lifeline we needed.” In early spring, Tom and Terri were walking their neighborhood, painting bedrooms, laying down mulch, and starting and finishing home projects to keep moving and busy as we all moved into “hunker down” mode. They both plugged into

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Like most of us, the Smiths like their routine and agree that uncertainty in our day-to-day lives may be something we all have to adapt to in our new normal. But Terri and Tom are proof that being flexible and committed to staying healthy whether in person or virtually is possible. One thing that is for certain — you’ll see them active and engaged.


The MCC looks to the future We hear it every day. The MCC is more than a physical space created for folks to work out, walk, swim or take a multitude of classes. It is a place where mind, body and spirit are supported, where friendships are found, and where a sense of community is thriving. In March, when the world changed our normal daily routines, Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation was committed to keeping that sense of community alive — even from a distance. Currently, the MCC has returned to in-person workouts and classes. For now, the virtual classroom workout options are on pause. The safety of our members is our priority and above-and-beyond safety protocols are in place throughout the MCC. The ability to adapt quickly and remain nimble in planning and responses, even during a pandemic, has allowed us to continue to provide the best quality amenities for members and to keep them informed on updates along the way. “We feel very safe returning to classes at the MCC,” shared both Terri and Tom. “We were grateful for the opportunity and option to continue working out virtually, but we are also grateful to be able to safely return to in-person classes and see our favorite instructors and friends.” The future, as we’ve all learned, can follow an uncertain path. One thing that is for certain — Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation is committed to member safety while keeping community thriving and supported.






Neighborhood park receives full refresh For the Shirley family, it’s hard to pick a favorite memory of time spent at their neighborhood park, Carey Grove. Over the years they’ve enjoyed swinging side by side, taking walks on the trail and playing sports in the open greenspace. When they moved to Carmel in 2015, access to a park for their children — now a 10-year-old and a toddler — was a big factor in their home-buying decision. When they found the perfect home, its proximity to Carey Grove Park was a selling point. “In the five years we’ve lived here, we’ve made so many treasured memories at Carey Grove Park, mostly because it’s all about spending quality time together — no distractions, no technology, just us, playing together and having fun as a family,” says Jovana Shirley.

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Carey Grove Park was built to serve that very purpose, to accommodate the needs of neighborhood families and provide access to walkable greenspace. As the community around the park continues to grow and new young families move into the area, the park continues to serve that purpose for new generations of park-goers.

History of Carey Grove Park

The land where Carey Grove Park sits, just south of 146th Street along Carey Road, was transferred to the Park Board in 1992, just one year after Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation was founded. At the time, the land was bare except for a cell phone tower.

In 1994, plans for the park included a playground, half basketball court, shelter, backstop and trail. The park has not experienced much change since its completion in 1997.

Looking Forward

Now, 20 years later the park is receiving a total refresh as part of Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation’s Reimagining Parks initiative with funding from the Clay Township Impact Program. Upgrades to Carey Grove Park include two new playground features (one for ages 2 – 5 and one for ages 5 – 12) as well as year-round bathrooms, permanent outdoor exercise equipment, parking lot updates, resurfaced trails and basketball court, and both a community and seasonal shelter. Michael Krosschell, RLA, is a senior project manager for Weihe Engineers Inc. He has worked on several CCPR park projects over the years including the current renovations underway at Carey Grove Park. “The changes coming to Carey Grove Park will make it more functional,” says Krosschell. “Updates like year-round restrooms, while maybe not the most glamorous, make a huge difference and create a better park experience.” Before making updates to any park, Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation hosts community input meetings to get feedback and answer community questions. The community input meeting for Carey Grove Park was hosted in November 2019. While Carey Grove is the smallest park receiving updates as part of the Reimagining Parks initiative, CCPR Assistant Director Kurtis Baumgartner shared that it’s the park that received the most feedback.

“Carey Grove is located in the middle of several neighborhoods, so it receives a lot of traffic from surrounding families, and they’re invested in the park’s future,” says Baumgartner. “I’m really excited about the changes coming to the park. What we’re aiming to do with all of these projects is to create spaces people want to continually visit to make memories that will last a lifetime.”

Memories to Last a Lifetime

Jovana Shirley looks forward to making more memories with her family once the park reopens. “We’re honestly excited to see all of the updates. We’ve been to nearly all of Carmel’s parks, and not one has been a disappointment,” says Shirley. “We know whatever Carmel Clay Parks has planned will exceed our expectations.” The park is currently closed to ensure public safety during construction. The park is projected to reopen in late 2020. Stay up to date by visiting

EXPLORE UPDATES COMING TO CAREY GROVE PARK YEAR-ROUND RESTROOMS Park visitors can plan longer stays with the addition of year-round restrooms.

MUSICAL FEATURES ON THE PLAYGROUND Musical features throughout the playground provide an opportunity to explore creativity and sound. OUTDOOR EXERCISE EQUIPMENT Enjoy permanent exercise bikes while supervising your child(ren) on the playground.


inclusi n AT EVERY AGE

A safe, nurturing environment supports adaptive participants. “Our over-arching goal,” says Michelle Yadon, recreation program manager for Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation, “is inclusion. We want to enable our adaptive participants to be included in their neighborhoods, connecting with friends and family on many levels.” That is a tall order, but one Yadon and her staff take to heart, from the youngest, 2-year-old participants in their pre-school programming to their adult group. Since opening its doors in in 2007, Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation has earned praise and recognition for its adaptive programming, including the National Recreation and Park Association “Excellence in Inclusion Award.” The award applauds CCPR’s efforts in implementing inclusive processes and practices and providing well-planned supports for inclusive participation by people with disabilities and diversity in all programs, services, and facilities.

“Right before the pandemic, we had some great success with these youth programs, specifically an eight-week bike riding course. It’s a difficult skill to master, and we wanted to support it in a way that enables children to be able to ride with their siblings and friends,” explains Yadon. “It was very individualized. One child worked on balance while another was learning to stop.” The physical results: Improved gross motor skills, core strength and hand-eye coordination; perhaps most importantly, these participants gained confidence, built friendships and learned how to support each other through the journey. For younger pre-school (ages 2 – 5) participants, parents are perhaps more reticent to enroll children. “It’s understandable,” says Yadon. “For many of them, the diagnosis is relatively new, and they are just learning about programming and what is available.”

The programming for each age group has a specific focus. The programming for adults is goal based while the programming for teens is a social- and fitness-based approach. Youngsters ages six to 12-years old experience skills-based programming. Children in our Young Athletes (a.k.a. Little Sport Stars) program explore the world through sensory exercises.

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Participants hit the trails in our social and fitness-based program Outdoor Fitness.

grade special education teacher. “Carmel Clay Parks has an outstanding volunteer group who comes in to lend extra one-on-one help,” she says. “Parents should know that the staff can provide peace of mind, and the children thrive with these programs.”

However, a sensory- based focus coupled with a caring and nurturing atmosphere reassures parents of the tangible benefits. Unlike the skills-based activities for the older children, the preschool programs are experiential in nature and more of a play-based group. Inclusion Supervisor Katie Smith explains, “We work hard to create a safe environment to support, develop and continue building skills.” Smith and Yadon both urge parents to visit with them prior to the first day of the class, especially for the preschool group. “It’s really helpful for them to see the room and walk through a program,” says Yadon. “I really like to take them through the whole process, from the time they check in at the front desk, walking down the hall and coming into the room.” She says it’s often beneficial for parents to return with their child to go through the routine together. “That eases a lot of anxiety for both the parent and the child.” Another anxiety-easing factor is a strong team of volunteers who work with adaptive programming, according to Jody Davis, a member services associate, adaptive advocate and a former kindergarten-through-fifth Participants like Lex Sultan get moving in our adaptive yoga program.  Learn more about Lex on our blog!

Even with the current concerns, the adaptive programs remain important for all ages, according to Smith. “A lot of our participants need a routine, and we are trying to do the very best job possible to create a safe and effective environment. When participants come to programs regularly, they gain additional skills and make progress,” she says. Smith encourages parents with questions about a specific program or the adaptive programming in general to contact her directly by email at or phone 317.573.5248.  Click here for a listing of all adaptive programming.



Project Wingspan targets native habitats

As an avid birder and certified Indiana Master Naturalist, Patty Steffen spends a lot of time outdoors. Her favorite spot is Central Park. Usually, she keeps her eyes turned toward the sky as she scours the tree line for feathered friends. But on a warm October day last fall, she found herself in Central Park with a new mission much closer to the ground — collecting native seeds. Steffen and a handful of eager volunteers ventured into Central Park prairies to find and collect milkweed seed during one of Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation’s native seed collection events. Milkweed is an important native plant because monarch butterflies exclusively feed on milkweed leaves and use the plant as its host. In the fall, milkweed’s summer blooms are replaced by seed pods that resemble large, spiky cocoons. If left to their natural devices, the pods break open and their small, feathery seeds are carried away by the wind to start the whole process over again. Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation volunteers were on a mission to locate the pods and collect their fluffy seeds in white letter envelopes. “What I love about our park system is that I’m always learning something new,” says Steffen. “I’ve volunteered with Carmel Clay Parks for years, but I didn’t know anything about native seeds, what seed collection was or why it’s important. After just one day out at the park with

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the Parks & Natural Resources team, I not only learned about the importance of native seed collection but was able to be a part, which was an awesome experience.” Collecting native seeds is one way to help protect our pollinators. CCPR has always placed an emphasis on growing and managing native plant species in its parks. With its own thriving native habitats, CCPR can both sustain existing populations as well as collect and share native seeds with areas in need of restoration — which is what they began to do in fall 2019 as part of the Pollinator Partnership’s Project Wingspan.

What is Project Wingspan?

Over the last few decades, several pollinator species have experienced rapid decline. This can be attributed to a variety of factors including habitat destruction, invasive species and pesticides. This is a devastating problem. Pollinators are responsible for about one in every three bites of food we eat and $20 billion worth of food products every year. One way to ensure a future for pollinators and our food supply is planting native, pollinator friendly plants like milkweed and native wildflowers. While we can all make a difference by planting pollinator friendly specimens in our backyards, a larger concerted effort is necessary. Project Wingspan was launched to: “Increase the quality, quantity and connectivity

of pollinator habitat across the Midwest and Great Lakes Region to support imperiled native pollinators and the vital habitat they depend on.” Project Wingspan dedicates its resources to increasing habitat of two imperiled pollinators, the monarch butterfly and rusty patch bumblebee. The monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable species to be impacted. The rusty patch bumblebee is the first North American bee to be listed as an endangered species.

Project Wingspan is supported by grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and is completely reliant on volunteers and partner organizations. Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation has committed to supporting Project Wingspan for its threeyear duration from 2019-2021 by hosting native seed collection events each fall.

Our parks are home to beautiful native plants, but when you look closely they’re so much more than that — they are a life source for all sorts of critters.

With over 500 acres of parkland home to hundreds of native plant species, CCPR is uniquely qualified to participate in Project Wingspan. In 2019, CCPR volunteers collected eight different types of seeds and sent thousands to be cleaned and redistributed. Joanna Woodruff, CCPR Natural Resources Coordinator, enjoys leading the native seed collection events. “Our parks are home to beautiful native plants, but when you look closely they’re so much more than that — they are a life source for all sorts of critters,” Woodruff says. “Through Project Wingspan and our native seed collection events, we are able to make a broader impact by helping restore the native habitats we enjoy right here in Carmel and across the Midwest.”

An Impact Beyond Carmel

Patty Steffen says she so enjoyed collecting native seeds that she’ll volunteer whenever CCPR offers the event. “What I enjoy most is the work we’re doing is making an impact beyond Carmel,” says Steffen. “We’ve established this amazing native habitat here in our parks, and now not only do we get to enjoy its beauty and reap its benefits, but we get to share that with others. I’m grateful to be part of projects like this and encourage others to come out, too.” If you share Steffen’s interest in the outdoors and protecting our pollinators, consider volunteering for a native seed collection event. In the meantime, make a difference in your own backyard by planting native plants to support pollinators in your corner of the world. Native seed collection events are accessible and no prior experience is required. Find all upcoming park stewardship volunteer opportunities on the Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation website.


Gift yourself me time this season. Self-care includes taking care of your body. We are open and have everything you need! • Unlimited group fitness classes • KidZone childcare • State-of-the-art fitness center


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Park Conversations - Fall 2020  

Park Conversations - Fall 2020  

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