Big city attractions with a small town flair
story by GLENDA WINDERS
For the past two years Muncie has held a festival called “Fire Up Dwntwn,” the perfect name for a place whose city center and its surroundings are already fired up and ready to enchant and entertain visitors. A stroll down Walnut Street, for example, will yield more shopping, activities and eateries than you can pack into a day.
Start at HeidiJHale Designs, home base of the local designer of the same name. Hale has journeyed to such far-flung destinations as Bali and Madagascar to look for the gems that she uses in her beautiful one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces that are surprisingly affordable.
“I want to make unusual things like you’d see in a larger city but priced for Indiana,” Hale said. “I make unique pieces that you can only find in Muncie.”
Those pieces include a “namedala” —your name made into a mandala—dramatic pendants, earrings, bracelets and more. What her store doesn’t have is the stiffness and formality you en- counter in some jewelry stores. Instead, she also stocks candles, soaps, pillows, cups and table linens in a welcoming environment where both of her parents are part of the staff.
Also on Walnut are Made in Muncie, where you can stop in and make your own pottery, and Debbie’s Handmade Soaps – cleansers and lotions created with sensitive skin in mind. And be sure to run upstairs to the Carrie Wright Silk Gifts and Gallery, where you’ll find elegant scarves, pillows, nightlights and bags – all made from hand-painted silk. If you’d like to learn to paint silk yourself, time your visit to take part in one of her classes.
Step across Walnut and you’ll discover the gallery where the Muncie Arts and Culture Council is temporarily housing its art pieces while a perma- nent location is being renovated. This group, a partner of the City of Muncie, aims to spark diversity of thought by beautifying the city and engaging its cit- izens and visitors. One of their projects is a sculpture that now lights up Dave’s Alley, so named for David Letterman, who went to college here.
Nearby is the Cornerstone Center for the Arts, a restored Gothic Revival Masonic Temple whose graceful spaces are now used for art shows, theatrical performances, classes and special events. Within walking distance is the Muncie Civic Theatre, a Prohibition-era Vaudeville theater that is barrier-free and aims to engage everyone in putting on quality theatrical productions.
Also here is Canan Commons, a downtown green space with a performance stage that houses the free Three Trails Music Series in the summer. If you happen to visit in the winter, this is where you’ll find the city’s Christmas tree. And it’s all close to the Muncie Children’s Museum, where the goal is to make learning fun. Kids will enjoy working in and shopping at Marsh Market; driving a big rig; playing farmer, doctor, teacher or veterinarian; dressing up to perform on TV; and learning about nature in the Outdoor Learning Center’s tree house. If they’re 5 or under, a special Totspot will keep them entertained.
One of the people who is most enthusiastic about what the city has to offer is its mayor, Dan Ridenour.
“Muncie is the perfect-sized community,” he said. “We have everything we need without the expense or traffic of bigger cities. We have an incredible trail system that includes the Cardinal Greenway, which at 62 miles is the longest in Indiana.”
He said people who visit, live, or retire here quickly get to know one another and take part in the goings-on around town. He points to the solar lights in Canan Commons and the fact that the city employs a full-time maintenance person to clean and repair downtown’s buildings and streets as evidence of Muncie’s livability.
Experiences are also here for the taking. Bryan Matheny is the owner and trainer at Perfect Fit Plus, where he’ll help you get into shape or guide you through a refreshing whole-body cryogenic treatment or relaxing compression therapy. Spend some time in their sauna or take a spin on their Peloton bike.
If dancing is more your thing, stop in at Harmony Movement Studio. Here instructors such as Michele Owen will teach you to tango, salsa, line-dance, swing-dance and bellydance. They also offer tai chi and yoga, and they welcome drop-ins – even if you’re just here for the day.
The Marriott Courtyard at the Horizon Convention Center is a good location for exploring downtown since you can walk everywhere you want to go. The center also houses the Erskine Green Training Institute, whose mission is to empower people with disabilities to obtain meaningful employment.
Hungry yet? The downtown area and nearby environs offer more tasty places to eat than you’ll have time to sample. For a quick coffee, try one of the small- batch roasted varieties at The Caf- feinery. To add a sweet treat, there’s Rosebud, just a short drive away and cleverly located in a renovated bank. For a full-on breakfast or lunch, By Hand & Fork will whip up savory eggs, yummy pancakes and much more.
Another good lunch place is brand- new Bloom, a collection of eateries under one roof. Their nachos are the best, and you can get popcorn, ice cream, and other snacks here, too. For a truly special dinner, Ron Lahody’s Trust Your Butcher Steakhouse will have you thinking you’re in New York City with cocktails, fine wines, and cooked-to-perfection steaks. Vera Mae’s Bistro is the place to go for chicken, seafood and pasta, and they do steaks, too. Lowery’s Home Made Candies will send you away with some of the best chocolates you have ever tasted. Muncie also hosts Indiana’s oldest LGTBQIA+ bar, the Mark III Taproom.
When you’ve seen downtown, how- ever, you still haven’t taken part in all that Muncie has to offer. Some of those trails the mayor mentioned connect with the Prairie Creek Reservoir, a park with 1,275 acres of water and 750 acres of beautifully landscaped and maintained land where you can enjoy whatever outdoor activity you prefer. This is the home of the annual Iron Man competition, and you can also swim, fish, boat, ride horseback, walk, run, bike and picnic.
Also outside the center of the city, where there is plenty of room to fly, is the Academy of Model Aeronautics and the accompanying National Model Aviation Museum. Come to watch model-builders compete with their crafts or browse through the museum to see models of all kinds.
For museum-lovers, Minnetrista is not to be missed. The 40-acre grounds on the White River are home to the legacy of the Ball family, whose glass-making operations have funded many of Muncie’s signature places and activities. In addition to a museum that tells the family’s story and offers changing exhibits are elaborate gardens and historic homes to explore. This is where PBS recorded many of Bob Ross’ TV programs, and “The Bob Ross Experience” allows you to tour the exhibit as well as sign up for a painting workshop or paint here on your own. Children will enjoy playing in toy-filled Betty’s Cabin and having interactive adventures in the gardens.
And we haven’t even gotten to Ball State University yet. In addition to musical events and sports com- petitions, the school is also home to the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse & Environmental Education Center located in scenic Christy Woods, a 17-acre outdoor classroom. The greenhouse contains some 2,000 orchids, the largest university-based Kcollection in the United States.
Known as “the DOMA,” the university’s David Owsley Museum of Art might also have you thinking you’re in a much bigger city. The collection includes some 11,000 pieces from every continent and 5,000 years of civilization. The place to catch a bite when you’re finished here is Roots, which has good food, a full bar and a distinct “we’re on the campus” vibe.
Surprising and exciting Muncie offers all this and so much more. You’ll find that it isn’t just a travel destination: It’s an experience.
For more information: visitmuncie.org