Let's Go Down The Big Hill - March 2015

Many of you probably read the title and know exactly what I'm talking about. For those that don't you soon will. But first I would like to dedicate this addition to the late Clark Ketchum. Clark was the Greenfield Parks and Recreational Superintendent for 20 years, from 1985 to 2005. I had the pleasure of working with Clark during those years. I got to really know Clark while playing pickup basketball games in the Memorial Building. Although Clark was height challenged he made up for it with enthusiasm and craftiness.

Clark would have provided some historical input for this article that I'm afraid may be lost forever with his passing. Most history is not documented or collected. Most history is based on first-hand knowledge from those that were there at the time of the event. Once those are no longer with us that history leaves us forever. Historian Joe Skvarenina is doing an excellent project through the Library of Congress called the Veterans History Project interviewing and preserving the first-hand history of our veterans from Hancock County. I can't wait to learn from those stories. This is a great way to document that first-hand history.

In this addition we're going to talk about traditions and the history that comes from those traditions. Everyone has some type of tradition, could be a family tradition or holiday tradition, but these tradition is what makes life exciting and special. In this addition we're going to talk about a very fun and simple tradition that has been taking place every winter here in Greenfield for centuries.

The "BIG HILL" that I'm referring to is just that the big hill in Riley Park. It sits on the east end of the park by the Old Log Jail and is easily visible from US 40. Going sledding down the big hill is one of Greenfield's top traditions.




I took a group of kids to the park recently to enjoy some outdoor winter fun and you can't help but be a kid yourself......no matter how hard the next day I paid for it physically.....we had great fun.

Riley Park opened in 1924. Although the area has always had it's park like setting even before settlers first came here. I'm sure sledding occurred in the park area long before the official opening of the park.

Unfortunately it's not exactly known when the Big Hill was created. This is where Clark's historical knowledge of the park would have come in. Building the hill is something that has gone undocumented. Mother Nature created most of the big hill but at some point the Park Department added to it. There is no doubt that Clark's influence growing up in Michigan had something to do with enjoying the winter outdoors with sledding. A few years ago the City again built the hill back up as it became eroded over the years from weather and use. They also added some great safety features as well. So it's hard to say exactly when sledding began taking place in the park but I think it's safe to say that locals began sledding there as soon as they saw the first snow fall.

I remember sledding on the hill as a kid in the 70's and 80's. One thought that is funny is that I can never remember ever being cold! As a parent I wrap my kids up so much they can't move but I never remember leaving the park because I was cold. The excitement of sledding totally took your mind off of being cold. Plus you did work up a lot of body heat walking all the way back up the hill!


A look at the Big Hill from the bottom end


One goal of every sledder was to reach the creek. Brandywine Creek runs through at the bottom of the long hill. We would come close but you flatten out just enough that you can't quite reach it. Probably a good thing!

If the Big Hill isn't your thing there are several other smaller hills over in what we called "The Bowl". This is an area to the north of the Big Hill over by the Shelter House in which Mother Nature created an almost circle of hills which creates a nice bowl shape. Those slopes might not be long but they are fast and exciting.


Look at the Bowl


Now as fun as sledding in the park is there is one more thing that is even more fun........night sledding! Yes, sledding at night is loads of fun. It's usually not as crowded, and the darkness adds a certain quiet and calmness to the night that is fun. There's just enough light from the street and park lights and the moon light to make it safe. Just don't be in the park after 11:00pm!

Sledding in the park offers up more than just winter time fun. On our trip recently two boys were waiting at the top of the Big Hill for their turn and not previously knowing each other they quickly introduced themselves and since one of the boys sled has seen better days his new friend offered up a ride on his.....and down the hill they went. Sometimes you make a new friend by crashing into them on your way down the hill. Or at least hopefully you make a new friend in doing so.


Group of kids getting ready to go down the Big Hill


There was a common bond with everyone.....fun! Everyone was just enjoying life. Everyone was helping each other with their sleds or getting up out of the snow. Everyone was looking out for each other. And yes everyone got a good laugh or two out of the many big wipeouts that would occur. If you're afraid of wiping out and don't want to be laughed at then sledding might not be for you. You have to be able to laugh at yourself.

It's also fun to check out all of the creative sleds that people bring. There are all kinds of new modern looking sleds. Snowboards are also popular today. Some will bring a simple flat piece of plastic or cardboard. But since I'm old fashion I'm a little partial to the old rail sleds or the old tractor tire inner tubes.

If you need a break from sledding some people simply relax by leaning up against a tree and having a seat. Relaxing and watching people sled down the hill. Or you will see them making snow angels or a snowman. And you can't play in the snow without having a snowball fight!

As Indiana winters can be quit long you have to somehow find a way to embrace the cold and snow and what a great way to do that then going sledding. It's also fun when you're done because you can go home and fix a nice cup of hot chocolate and relax under a blanket and let your body recover.

So this article is about traditions. Reliving them or making a new one. This article was also meant not so much to tell you about history that you didn't know and can learn from but more about you remembering good times you had in Greenfield or about the possibilities of good times to come. There are many other traditions and things to find around Greenfield to do that's fun but in the winter time sledding in the park is a must.

So what's your family tradition? You can have more than one. If there's time left in this winter or maybe you wait until next winter make sledding in the park a new family tradition. It's fun, its exercise, it's free but the laughs and time spent with family and friends are priceless.


Greg Roland


-- Have a story you would like to read? Some Greenfield history you have questions about? Let us know, we are always looking for ideas.



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