Friends of Hamilton County Parks Begin a Metamorphosis
Writer // Neil Lucas Photography // Submitted
The Friends of Hamilton County Parks (FHCP) is undertaking a remarkable metamorphosis. Created in 2006, the FHCP has been almost exclusively engaged in administering the endowment related to the development of Coxhall Gardens (Coxhall) until recently. FHCP is now looking to spread its wings and expand its efforts to help other Hamilton County parks.
Because Coxhall is located inside the Carmel city limits at 116th and Towne Road, most people assume that it is owned and controlled by the Carmel Parks and Recreation Department. However, the real estate that comprises Coxhall was bequeathed by Jesse and Beulah Cox to Hamilton County. Therefore, Coxhall is now operated by the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Department. In addition to the real estate, the Coxes also created a sizable endowment dedicated solely to provide funds for the costs associated with transforming their property into the beautiful public park that the Coxes envisioned. The FHCP has spent nearly $2 million in creating Coxhall and fulfilling the Coxes’ dream to “preserve an oasis in a sea of homes.”
With much of the work required to transform the Coxes’ property to Coxhall now completed, the FHCP is turning its efforts to raising money that can be used to improve all 13 existing Hamilton County parks and possibly develop more parks in the future.
FHCP never had an employee until four months ago when it hired Executive Director John Scott Foster. Foster is a zoologist by training with a deep love and appreciation for nature and parks and a firm belief that having convenient access to nature improves everyone’s way of life. Foster insists, “Parks are not a nicety; they are a necessity.” Prior to this role, Foster commuted from Carmel to Evansville every week for several years to be the executive director of the Wesselman Nature Society, a not-for-profit preserving the largest old growth forest in the state of Indiana.
When asked about the FHCP, Foster compares the evolution of the FHCP to the stages of life of the monarch butterfly, not surprisingly given his background as a zoologist. According to Foster, the first stage of the monarch is that of a busy caterpillar. Foster acknowledged that until recently, the FHCP has been a very good caterpillar in that it has worked hard and has done a great job in overseeing the creation of Coxhall.
Foster says presently, the FHCP it is in its chrysalis stage. At this stage in the development of a butterfly, the changes are significant but are going on inside and are somewhat out of view. For the FHCP, that means they are working diligently to redevelop their website, build a larger and more diverse board of directors, putting in place a donor database and working with Al Patterson, the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Director, to identify a list of prioritized projects for the FHCP to support from the county’s Master Plan. Within the next year or so, Foster hopes to have the FHCP in a position to begin to emerge as the fully developed butterfly he sees the organization becoming.
As everyone knows, Hamilton County parks are supported by tax dollars. This raises the question as to why a not-for-profit would be raising funds for parks that are tax supported? Foster sees the future relationship between Hamilton County and the FHCP as one where Hamilton County provides the operating funds for the parks’ employees and other operating expenses, while the FHCP will look to provide funds for capital improvements that the county typically can’t afford. Additionally, Foster hopes the aid that will be provided by the FHCP will allow the county to continue to offer residents outstanding facilities, like the nature center in Cool Creek Park and the Taylor Center of Natural History in Strawtown Koteewi Park, without having to charge for admission. Foster thinks it is important that local teachers can continue to take their students to places like Cool Creek and Strawtown for free.
Foster admits there is a great deal of work to do and much needs to be accomplished for the FHCP to reach its lofty goals. As a result, the FHCP needs volunteers with a vast array of skills. If anyone is interested in being a part of a team dedicated to enhancing the parks in Hamilton County and thereby the quality of life we all enjoy in the county, please contact Foster directly at [email protected].