Check out the outdoors

When the Indiana Department of Natural Resources says it wants Indiana residents to “check out” state parks this year, the department means it literally.

Beginning this month, library visitors around the state, including those who visit the Bartholomew County Public Library, may check out a pass for free entrance into state parks and state forest recreation areas.

About 240 state park passes have been distributed to libraries around the state, and by handing over a library card, you can guarantee a free visit to one of the 32 state parks where entrance fees are charged.

The State Park Centennial Annual Pass Library Check-Out Program is a partnership between the state parks and the Indiana State Library designed to encourage people to visit not only parks, but libraries too. The program is part of Indiana’s 200th anniversary in 2016, state parks officials said.

Bartholomew County Library adult and branch services coordinator Angela Eck said the opportunity to offer a free state parks pass for library checkout is one of the most unique partnerships she’s ever encountered.

It’s an incredible resource, she said, particularly for those doing local historical research at the local library’s Indiana Room.

“We’re all about life-long learning,” Eck said. “But, sometimes, the best way to learn is to get out there and visit some of these sights.”

The Indiana State Library is helping pay for the parks pass program.

Local libraries may purchase additional passes if they wish to have more available to library visitors.

While Bartholomew County doesn’t have a state park, several are located nearby. Brown County State Park is 16 miles west of Columbus. Clifty Falls State Park is about an hour southeast of Columbus near Madison and Turkey Run State Park is west of Indianapolis, about two hours from Columbus.

The pass will not grant free admission at all state parks and sites. The Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center near Clarksville and Prophetstown State Park near West Lafayette do not accept annual state park passes and will continue to charge an entrance fee.

The library received notice from the state in late December to participate in the program and does not yet know how many passes it will receive or how the permits will be offered for checkout, Eck said.

She hopes the program will be especially useful for lower-income residents who might not have been able to afford admission to the state parks.

Eck said the local library does not plan to limit who can check out one of the free passes — they will be available to anyone with a library card through Dec. 31.

Checkout duration for the passes might vary by site.

The free passes offer a significant savings if families plan multiple visits to state parks throughout the year.

Indiana residents who purchase an annual pass to Indiana state parks usually pay about $50.

To learn more

Interested in checking out a free pass to one of Indiana’s 32 state parks.

The Bartholomew County Public Library is located at 536 Fifth St. in Columbus.

For more information: Call 812-379-1255 or visit mybcpl.org/.