New year and more ways to explore your parks


By Robb Clifford

Darke County Parks

January is somehow behind us already and we’re now well on our way into 2024. The New Year is always filled with excitement, anticipation, and maybe a bit of sadness; 2024 is no different. Many of the Park District’s usual programs and community events will return, trails will be maintained and updated, and as a whole, we’ll continue to offer you a multitude of avenues to get into nature! We at the Park District are excited about new adventures in 2024. You may want to get your calendar out while you read the rest of this article… there’s a lot here you won’t want to miss!

Maple Sugarin’ on the Prairie will be here before you know it! The sap is flowing as I write this article and within days, the sugar shack will be fired up producing that sweet springtime treat! The Friends of Darke County Parks will host their annual Waffle Breakfast at Shawnee Prairie on March 2nd. Tickets are on sale now at the park district office at the nature center and Bear’s Mill. Tours will be hosted that morning, educating on the science and history of maple sugaring. Of course, don’t forget to step into the steamy sugar shack to witness the magic firsthand! Sponsor a bucket for the best deals (details on our website) or buy your breakfast tickets in person today!

The Nature Center Gift Shop now stocks select products from Bear’s Mill! Store favorites like cornmeal, pancake mix, shirts, mugs, and COFFEE are now also sold at Shawnee Prairie. In addition to these items from the mill, maple syrup will soon be stocked… yum! Maybe the most convenient news; credit cards are now accepted at our gift shop!

The solar eclipse is on the horizon and if you haven’t heard about it by now, be sure to check out all the cool events and plans being put forth by us at the Parks as well as across the county! I’ve only been lucky enough to witness one total eclipse, and even though it was partly cloudy that day, it was so cool! This April 8th is going to be an amazing experience. Check out all that Darke County Parks will be offering for the event here:

This year marks the 175th anniversary of Historic Bear’s Mill! As such, we have a variety of special events taking place all year long in celebration! We will have musical guests, open houses, the return of Soup N’ Bowl, and more! And after 175 years, it’s time for some restoration work. This February the Buhr stones, the heart of the mill, will be resurfaced to improve their grinding abilities. This is the first time in over 40 years this has occurred. An expert historical miller visited from Virginia to train our staff on this process. The foundation and the tail-end of the mill race will be getting some vital work done this year as well. This will take care of some critically needed repairs that have been looming over the mill for many years now. Keep an eye on the mill this year and be sure to stop in and tell it “Happy birthday”!

Last year’s inaugural Bash at the Bish was a blast and we’re stoked for round two! If you missed out, mark your calendars for June 22. Many favorites from last year are planned to return, including the BMX bike stunt show, tree climbing, and the fascinatingly unique Corcl boats. We can’t wait!

This year will mark the departure of a favorite event of the Park District. The sun has set on Prairie Days, at least in its most recent iteration. We have made the long-coming, but difficult, decision that while being a great event, the format was far too volunteer-reliant. With our shrinking number of volunteers, we were unable to continue the event in that format. Our September’s won’t feel quite the same. We are exploring options for a new autumn event to begin sometime in 2025-2026.

On a brighter note, we have agreed to take over the Gathering at Garst event! This change of ownership allows us to bring many elements of Prairie Days to the Gathering this year and in the years to come. The Gathering will remain much the same as in year’s past in 2024 and we’ll continue to grow and try new things with it in the coming years. You can expect unique vendors, amazing history and great entertainment and food!

2024 will bring the third annual Tour de Darke back on August 4th! We’ve been so happy to host 200+ cyclists from the county and neighboring regions in the past two years and are hoping to grow those numbers this year! If you like riding a bike, be sure to check out the details on our website, registration is live. All proceeds go towards the bike trail maintenance and updates, such as the new navigation signs installed last year!

Excitement, anticipation, and maybe a bit of sadness… it’s the beginning of a New Year and Darke County Parks can’t wait to experience it with you! Check out our website for all details: We’ll see you on the trails!

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