ust a few miles southeast of Columbus lies hundreds of acres of what some call the area’s best-kept secret.

With an 11-acre lake full of fish, a 355-site campground, an aquatic center bustling with families and an 18-hole miniature golf course, it’s difficult to get bored at Ceraland, a 345-acre recreational park in the rolling heartland.

But Ceraland is no secret for North Vernon mother Carrie Owens and her family, who consider the park their home away from home.

For years, the Owenses have been frequent visitors at the park, even long before Carrie Owens’ 14-year-old son was born.

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At the start of summer, the family parks its camper at a site in the back of the campground, a peaceful place, as Owens described it.

“Our camper usually stays out, if not a month, maybe two months during the summertime,” she said. “We just left from being there a whole month. We stayed most of the month of May into June, then we go back the 30th of June and stay through the 16th (of July).”

The park’s executive director Jim Kreutzjans said it’s visitors like the Owens family that have transformed the park into the success it has become.

What is Ceraland

Founded by the Cummins Employees Recreation Association (CERA) in 1963, Ceraland opened to provide a recreational outlet for Cummins employees and their families.As operational funding levels changed, so did the park’s business plan — and Ceraland in 2014 opened its doors to the public.

From the beautiful water illuminated by the sun to the freshly mowed green sports fields, every piece of Ceraland became the community’s park.

Since opening to the public, the park team has been tasked with creating new marketing schemes to spread the word about the facilities.

By using social media, visitors from as far away as Utah have shared their Ceraland stories and experiences on the park’s Facebook page, Kreutzjans said.

But after 50 years of Ceraland being a private park, Kreutzjans said many people — even Columbus residents — still are not aware of the park’s existence.

“We’re trying to get away from being the best kept secret and make sure everybody knows about us,” he said. “This is a community park for all of the community to come in and be a part of it.”

More, more, more

Before making the transition to a public park in 2014, Ceraland saw about 75,000 visitors annually.But after being open to the public for one year, attendance more than doubled to around 160,000 in 2015.

In 2016, its second year as a public park, attendance grew to more than 200,000.

“We’ve been able to double our attendance and our participation,” Kreutzjans said.

Ceraland is on track this year to break attendance records with an anticipated 250,000 visitors.

“Our phone is ringing off the hook,” Kreutzjans said. “We’re extremely excited about how the growth is coming with our campground, the attendance of our tournaments.”

Both Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends attract campers from across the Midwest filling all 355 campground sites both weekends.

The upcoming Fourth of July holiday, the campground’s busiest weekend of the year, is also fully booked.

James Lay and his family will make the two-hour trek from their home in Ramsey — west of Louisville — to camp at the park during the upcoming holiday weekend.

Lay visited Ceraland’s campground last Halloween for his family’s annual fall camping trip. Shortly afterward, he booked a spot for the Fourth of July weekend.

“If I would ever own a campground and could get the best of the best, Ceraland is what I would shoot for,” Lay said.

This response is exactly what Kreutzjans strives to hear from visitors. And the campground isn’t the only thing boosting attendance at the park.

Kreutzjans said sports tournaments take over the fields and diamonds starting in March and extend throughout the summer season. By the time a team leaves, players are often asking when the next Ceraland tournament is, anxious to return.

The park only hosted a few tournaments before the 2014 transition. But this year, a tournament has been booked for every weekend dating between March 18 and Oct. 29.

In accordance with the 2014 transition, two pass options were created: a day pass and an annual pass.

Visitors must pay a park entrance fee of $2 for a day pass, which grants them general access to the park. From there, visitors may purchase a $12 fun-day bracelet to use the lake, access the swimming facilities, play unlimited rounds of miniature golf and use the indoor fitness center. They can also pay individual prices for each attraction.

The $500 annual pass, which covers a family, includes unlimited access to the sports and fitness center, aquatic center, miniature golf, boat rentals, go-kart track and rifle range. It also offers a discounted rate for camping and other park facility rentals.

Ceraland business manager Corey Behymer said the park has always had fees and passes for visitors, despite previously being a private recreational park. But increasing the fees was a necessity for revenue growth.

“When people are out here for the day, they definitely get the fun-day bracelets,” Behymer said. “Over the last two summers, I’ve seen a huge increase.”

Owens said she has had an annual pass since they were first available.

“We love the pool — from all the pools we’ve been to, it’s very nice,” Owens said. “I normally work out in the gym and I love to run at Ceraland.”

But more than anything, Owens said Ceraland is the best place to make memories.

What’s new

When visitors first enter the park, they’re greeted by Sammy S’more, the park’s new mascot, who celebrates his first birthday next month.Kreutzjans said the creation of Sammy S’more fits well with the campground setting.

Other new additions include capital investments that will continue to be made throughout the park, specifically in the campground.

Kreutzjans said work will be initiated this fall to level rugged camp sites and pave other sites for larger camping vehicles entering the park. Restroom facilities throughout the campground will also receive a makeover with new facilities and flooring.

In the future, Kreutzjans said he would like to add a facility for indoor sports such futsal, a variation on football usually played indoors, as well as additional campground sites.

For now, however, Kreutzjans and his crew have one goal in mind — to provide the community with a world-class recreational park worth visiting.

Fourth of July holiday special events at Ceraland

Park opens at 8 a.m. July 1-4

July 1:

  • Cera Kids Craft: Craft Stick Flag, Noon to 1 p.m. at Pool Courtyard, $5 or free to annual pass holders.
  • Bounce Jump and Beenbag Tournament, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Pool Courtyard

July 2:

  • Pancake Breakfast, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at vending area in campground, $5 for 3 pancakes, 2 sausage links and 1 drink
  • Movie Night: “Independence Day,” 9 to 11 p.m. at Ceraland Amphitheater, free admission

July 3:

  • Bike Parade, 7 to 7:30 p.m. at Campground.
  • Movie Night: “The Sandlot,” 9 to 11 p.m. at Ceraland Amphitheater

July 4:

  • Fourth of July celebration and fireworks display, 8 to 11 p.m.

Ceraland Park

Hours: Open to the public daily, from March through September, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., see Ceraland.org for off-season hours

Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve at 3 p.m. and New Year’s Day

Location: 3989 S. 525 E. Columbus, Indiana

Fees:

  • $2 for a day pass to enter the park
  • $500 for annual pass, which includes free entrance, unlimited access to all activities and discounted facility and campground rentals
  • $12 for a Fun Day bracelet, which includes unlimited access to several park activities

Peak time: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, all day Saturday and Sunday

Information: visit ceraland.org or facebook.com/ceralandpark