Patoka Lake goes virtual to connect with public

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Patoka Lake Interpretive Naturalist Dana Reckelhoff photographs frogs and tadpoles for a social media post outside the Patoka Lake Nature Center on Wednesday. Reckelhoff said the nature center is working on virtual programming as a way to provide people with experiences they might normally have in person.


PATOKA RESERVOIR — Nature centers at Indiana’s state parks may be closed, but that hasn’t stopped the naturalists from bringing programming to state park patrons.

In the weeks since Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the stay-at-home order, state parks staff have developed #VirtualINStatePark, a social media campaign to connect Hoosiers with educational posts about the state’s public lands. At Patoka Lake, Naturalist Dana Reckelhoff has brought the lake’s Facebook page to life with posts tagged with the hashtag.

“We still want to be able to give those educational opportunities,” Reckelhoff said. “This is us giving people the opportunity to learn more about Indiana’s natural and cultural heritage.”

In one of her first #VirtualINStatePark posts, Reckelhoff and other staff recorded a kayak tour of the lake during which Reckelhoff showed off some of the historical artifacts from the towns that were flooded when the reservoir was built. She also shared stories about the areas now under water, including one about the local currency — rabbit checks — that Thomas A. Parks created for use at his general store in the town of Newton Stewart.

Reckelhoff often hosts kayak tours of the lake during the warmer months. This year, though, she had to cancel the first one due to COVID-19. Rather than doing away with it completely, she said, she took it online. She hopes to do that with some of the other programs she’d planned to hold this spring.

A frog is seen in a pond outside the Patoka Lake Nature Center on Wednesday.

Right now, the team is running a Facebook contest to come up with a name for the gift shop in the nature center — the contest runs through April 30 — and the staff is posting a photo series of items they find around the park. So far, they’ve posted a close-up of an eagle’s neck feathers and a photo of a dwarf iris, one of many wildflowers that grow along the hiking trails.

“We want people to feel like they’re still very much involved with what’s going on at Patoka Lake,” she said.

Coming up with ideas for posts has been pretty easy, Reckelhoff said, since her job already requires her to bring information to the public in creative ways. The challenge has been in taking those ideas onto the internet. Internet connectivity at Patoka Lake is spotty, so Facebook Live hasn’t been an option, Reckelhoff said. She also doesn’t have professional video or photo editing software.

“I’ve just been using whatever comes on my Galaxy smartphone,” Reckelhoff said.

Patrons haven’t seemed to mind. So far, Reckelhoff said, she’s been getting positive feedback on her posts.

Although Reckelhoff can’t hold programs in person yet, she’s still seen plenty of Hoosiers using Patoka Lake. The parking lot at the hiking trail heads is often full, and the boat ramps are getting lots of traffic.

“It has not slowed down at all,” Reckelhoff. “I think we’re actually seeing a little bit more [traffic] because people are off work.”

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