This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

INDIANAPOLIS – During the pandemic, our local parks have been a destination to get some fresh air and enjoy nature. The parks stayed open and keep improving thanks to the people who work and volunteer there.

There’s one Hoosier Hero that’s considered an essential member of Eagle Creek Park.

Nearly 20 years ago, Ned Lewis visited the park for his birthday. That’s when a sign inside what was known as the nature center back then, caught his attention.

“I walked in there and one of the first things I noticed was a handwritten note asking for volunteers,” explained Lewis.

Since then, he’s volunteered more than 8,000 hours.

“One of my retirement resolutions was to stay active and volunteer,” said Lewis. “After 8 months of doing chores around the house, relaxing – I had to get out and do something.”

Lewis is one of the 168 volunteers who spends his days taking care of projects around the park.

“I’m the old man of the group,” he said. “They know that.”

It’s hard to list everything that Lewis has done for the park. For starters, he’s developed trails, designed and built bridges, even picked up trash. Lewis started what’s called the big tree project to identify the largest trees in the park. He also helped create the Ornithology Center that welcomes thousands of visitors and teaches them about the history of the park and the nature that’s in it.

“I spent one whole year coming here two to three days a week working on this building, remodeling it, and putting in displays,” Lewis explained.

One of his favorite activities is leading hikes for school field trips.

“One time with a kindergarten group I used the word soil, and I got the question – ‘soil, what’s that?’ It’s dirt!” Lewis laughed.

Brittany Davis, the regional manager of Eagle Creek Park said it’s impossible to thank Lewis for everything he’s done,  but there is one way they’ve found a way to honor him.

“We could not do half of the things that we accomplish without our volunteers,” said Davis. “Ned has served as a mentor, an inspiration for all of the new coming volunteers. He’s so active, I’ve been at the park for 12 years. I’ve never known Eagle Creek Park without Ned Lewis.”

The park staff named a barred owl after him.

“We trained him for educational programs and feed him and take really good care of him. His name is Lewis, named after Ned Lewis,” said Davis. “Lewis the owl is now retired, but Ned Lewis keeps working!”

Ned Lewis doesn’t consider himself a Hoosier Hero, but his team members say his dedication and passion for Eagle Creek Park qualifies him as one.

“If there’s any volunteer duty, Ned has participated in it,” remarked Davis.

“To me, this park is a jewel,” added Lewis.

Eagle Creek Park sees roughly 1.2 million visitors annually, and that increased 33 percent over the pandemic.

If you would like to volunteer, click here.