Reprinted with permission from the Vincennes Sun-Commercial newspaper

December 4, 2021

Members of a new nonprofit arm of Knox County Indiana Economic Development say they will soon pour over the some 1,000 responses they received as part of a survey to gauge desired quality of life improvements.

Shepard Dunn, the economic development organization’s vice-chair, is currently leading its new Knox Life Community Improvement Team — or, more simply, Knox Life — which this fall launched a survey on social media in an effort to garner feedback from the community in regards to what kinds of quality of life improvements people want to see in coming years.

Dunn told members of Knox Economic Development’s board of directors as they gathered for their regular meeting Friday morning at Vincennes University’s newly-renovated Shake Learning Resource Center that the committee went over the preliminary findings of that survey last month, and he called it a “good response,” one “indicative of the community.”

He said the committee — one comprised primarily of local, young professionals — will meet next week to go over the results more thoroughly and prioritize them into a working list.

“What I saw on the survey is everything from a drive-in movie theater to a new skate park to more hiking trails and talk of (restoring) the bandshell at Gregg Park so we can have music down there,” Dunn told the board. “It was a full array of things that came through.

“So now we have to decipher those, go through them and figure out how best to prioritize them.”

Dunn, too, said the survey results indicate people are already paying attention to improvements being talked about amongst local officials.

Mayor Joe Yochum, for instance, earlier this year announced that he’d set aside $250,000 for a new skate park, money he hopes to use to leverage even more by way of a grant.

There has also been much talk amongst city officials of securing a state historic preservation grant to restore the bandshell at Gregg Park as a music venue.

And committee members, too, have alluded to a private individual interested in opening a drive-thru movie theater here.

“So some of these things are already being discussed in the community,” Dunn said. “They’re things people are hearing. The mayor has also talked about extending (the Riverwalk) all the way out to Ouabache Trails Park and (the other way) to the Indiana Military Museum.

“So these aren’t new initiatives,” he said. “But they do seem to be things the community wants us to resurrect and build for future generations.”

The survey, which was available for weeks via social media, asked everything from information on the participant’s gender and ethnicity to rating both interest in and availability of recreational activities, things like swimming, pickleball, tennis, soccer, hunting, hiking, and bicycling, among others.

It also specifically asked about interest in other outdoor amenities, such as a meditation garden, a sculpture garden or a community garden and outdoor fitness center.

The survey, too, looked to garner interest in several, established local festivals as well as whether or not people would be interested in new events, specifically a Wine on the River showcase of local wineries or a combination brew-fest and chili cook-off.

Knox Life was initiated earlier this year when members of Knox Economic Development began to think and talk about potential quality of life improvements throughout the county, all in an effort to achieve their long-term goal of growing the county’s population, thereby its workforce.

The new committee consists of Lincoln High School biology teacher Samantha Pepmeier, a resident of northern Knox County, as well as Emily Yetka, an assistant professor of English at VU.

Also on the committee is Jamie Dugan, a grant writer at Good Samaritan, Amy O’Dell, the director of human resources at KCARC, and Colton Hostettler, an entrepreneur, business owner and 2019 graduate of the Knox County CEO program.

Its newest member, Dunn said Friday, is Rhonda Foster, the new superintendent of the Knox County Parks and Recreation Department.

Dunn has said they just want to be a “catalyst for change,” whether that be in connecting people to the resources they need, finding the money to pay for certain quality of life projects or holding community-wide events.

Their first event was a countywide cleanup modeled after Burkhart Insurance Agency’s City-Wide Cleanup. That event was held on Sept. 11.

Participating teams collected 90 large bags of trash in just about four hours by dispersing to various parts of the city.

As such, the organization donated money to each team — a total of $1,800 that was then distributed to a dozen local non-profits.