A bill has been introduced in the Indiana General Assembly that would provide $3.5 million in funding for a visitor's and learning center at Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area near Linton.
The bill, HB 1254, is authored by District 62 State Rep. Matt Ubelhor (R-Bloomfield) and co-authored by District 45 State Rep. Kreg Battles (D-Vincennes) and District 46 State Rep. Bob Heaton (R-Terre Haute).
The bill, introduced Jan. 14, has now been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
If passed this session, the funding would be effective July 1 ---- appropriated to the Department of Natural Resources from the General Fund for use in developing the visitor's/learning center.
Ground for the center was broken in Sept. 2012 by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and other state officials.
The multi-million dollar 4,800 square foot building will be constructed in two phases -- the first being the DNR regional office and the visitor's center/education center will follow, according to DNR Director Rob Carter.
Rep. Ubelhor said currently there is only funding to construct the DNR office and that's the reason he wrote the bill to provide funding for the much-needed visitor's/education center.
"It's very important. It's something that I want to get done (this session)," Ubelhor said. "It's important that we get it done and make sure it's right and make sure that we are not forgotten here in southern Indiana. This is a regional thing. It (Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area) has grown in such popularity and for us to drop it (the visitor's center) would be a disaster."
Ubelhor said he's grateful that Reps. Battles and Heaton have joined him in sponsorship of the bill in the House. He plans to ask Dist. 39 State Senator John Waterman (R-Shelburn) and Dist. 48 State Senator Lindle Hume (D-Princeton) to join him in sponsoring the bill in the Senate.
The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. No hearing date has been set.
"I'm eager to get the bill heard. It is very, very important for us here in my district," Ubelhor said. "The bill has got some widespread support with the Audubon Society and many of the wildlife organizations that are out there. That's good and just because they are supporting it doesn't mean it will receive funding. You have to make sure you are front and center and try and do everything you can to get the funding."
He continued, "There are a lot of people up here (in Indianapolis) that think we have a humongous surplus (of money) up here, but believe me with some of the needs that we've already seen in the Ways and Means Committee, it isn't a slam dunk that we can get this money."
Battles said he's happy to join on the bill.
"The importance is what it brings to the area. Whether you are a voter who thinks this (Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area) is the biggest boondoggle in the world or you are a voter that thinks this is the best investment we've ever made, it's here. It's not going away, so what do we do with this to make sure that we're bringing people into the area. Probably most important for the economics of the area is what are doing to make sure they (visitors) are spending money here, whether it's for gas or whether it's for food or whatever. You've got to have some kind of attraction to bring them in. That is exactly what I think this education center/visitor's center will do. It is a hub that will be a focal point of interest to bring all kinds of people into the area and once we get them into the area they are going to be spending money which goes into our local economy."
He added, "I don't see this as being the tipping point that is going be the one thing that turns around the economy in the area, but I will tell you that when you are looking at a problem economy, you have to fix it one bite at a time. I see this as a piece that certainly helps. If you are bringing people into your area that are not normally there it is only good for our area."
The visitor's center has already received a $25,000 pledge from the Friends of the Goose Pond organization to be used towards its construction.
The proposed site overlooks the southwest part of the 8,000 acre Goose Pond FWA property off of County Road 400S.
Conceptual drawings for the visitor's center include floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlooking the wetlands.