A Local Trailblazer
Meet Kim Freeman, the Woman Behind the Creation of Washington Township Park
A 50-plus year resident of Avon, Kim Freeman first moved to Hendricks County when she was eight years old. A 1976 alumni of Avon High School, Freeman joined the Indiana National Guard in 1978 and served until she got pregnant.
A self-described tomboy, Freeman loved being outside and working with people, which is why she dreamed of a career as a forest ranger. While that dream was percolating, back in 1985, Governor Robert Orr announced plans for a yearlong celebration of everything Indiana called “Hoosier Celebration 88.” The idea was to bring together communities to host a giant celebration that promoted tourism and celebrated Hoosier heritage.
“Each community was challenged to pick a project and set up a committee, and we decided we wanted Avon to have a park,” Freeman says. The Avon Township Trustees office was also looking at establishing a park so Freeman began attending their meetings and Trustee Greg Hurst put her to work.
“I was their unpaid secretary for three years as we worked to incorporate Avon and establish the West Central Conservancy District as a municipality,” says Freeman, who was appointed as park chairman because she, as she says, was the “outdoorsy person.”
Though all of the board members had their feelers out looking for available land, it was Freeman who ultimately stumbled upon it when she was chatting with a grocery store coworker, Layla Kepple, whose husband Keith owned property that he was looking to sell.
“My friend said, ‘Kim, we always thought it would be neat to turn that property into a park,’” Freeman recalls.
The 74 acres of land, which had previously been a hog farm, was ideal for a community park so Freeman obtained a grant to purchase the land in 1989. Soon thereafter, the trustees also bought an additional nine acres on the other side of the creek, just south of the softball diamond.
“An interesting tidbit of history is that there was a house on that property that burned down. During prohibition days, it was a speakeasy for John Dillinger,” says Freeman, who notes that the road that passes over the old iron truffle bridge on the property and is now a walking trail was at the time called Indianapolis Road. “It was the original horse-n-buggy US36.”
The first thing they did when developing the park was to pave the gravel road and parking lot. Next, they built the shelter houses.
In 1990, Freeman was officially hired as park manager, which meant she was in charge of everything — mowing, trimming, painting, staining, fixing fences, changing oil, sharpening mower blades.
“I had to supply my own tools, and I had a bush hog, which I used to mow until I later got a riding mower,” says Freeman, who took breaks to return phone calls for shelter house rentals. “Back then we had a phone booth in the park so my boss gave me a roll of quarters and a beeper. If he beeped me, I was to use one of those quarters to call him.”
Freeman chuckles at the memory. She also laughs when recalling how she was a greenhorn when it came to the park equipment.
“I lost count of the number of times I got the tractor stuck,” she says. “This one time I was trying to move some pea gravel and sunk down deep into it. All I could do was laugh my head off. I got out eventually, though!”
Gary Gamble joined the Washington Township park staff in 2001. The playground that stands today was built in 2003 to replace the one that was erected in 1995 and was out of compliance by accessibility standards. Boasting the tallest Mega Tower anywhere at the time, it graced the cover of Playground Equipment Magazine.
In 2003, the township also purchased Pecar Park as well as the 80 acres the new pavilion sits on.
“Like any fast-growing community, we wanted to get our hands on more property before it was all gone,” says Freeman, who worked closely with Gamble and the Hoosier Mountain Biking Association (HMBA) to create the first off-road bike trails anywhere except Carmel. The DNR suggested using deer trails as a guideline for creating the bike trails since the deer know the routes to take to avoid limbs and brambles.
“It worked, and they became super popular,” Freeman says. “We had mountain bikers coming from all over the state to use those trails!”
Both Freeman and Gamble left WTCP (in fact, when Freeman left the park system after 17 years, she had been the longest employed person with Washington Township, including the fire department personnel).
“We went our separate ways, but we did so much work together that it was hard on all of us, including our crew,” says Gamble, who later became the Director of Operations for Avon Town Hall Parks. Freeman worked for several years as a receptionist at a car dealership. Then one day in 2015, Gamble called and asked if she’d consider working with him again. She agreed, which thrilled him.
“With Kim and I, it was always one of those ‘can’t live with you, can’t live without you’ type of relationships,” says Gamble laughing. “We were and still are the yin & the yang, Batman & Robin, Andy & Barney — Kim is Barney. But seriously, Kim has been an asset to the community for years and deserves recognition for her hard work and dedication to the community as well as The Avon Park system. She’s worked so hard so that others could enjoy the great outdoors.”
As before, she wears many hats in her current position, including that of horticulturist, landscape manager and urban forestry manager. A mother of two grown children and a 3-year-old granddaughter, Freeman couldn’t be happier with the way her life has turned out.
“I just love it. I like staying busy. I love flowers and plants. I have two green thumbs, and I love teaching and helping people,” Freeman says. “I plan to keep doing this as long as my body will let me.”
Her granddaughter, Katie, adores visiting both parks in Avon, and she has a special nickname for each of them. Because Freeman’s daughter worked at Washington Township Park when she was a teenager, Katie calls that “Mommy’s park.” And since Freeman now works at Avon Town Park, Katie calls that one “Grandma’s park.”
For the rest of us, we think of both parks as wonderful places to go for fun, fresh air and fellowship.
“Only a handful of people know about Washington Township Park’s history and who gave them the opportunity to work there,” Gamble says. “Now they know that it was Kim who left them with a beautiful canvas to paint on.”