March 30, 2016
6855N 675W Shipshewana IN, 46565
For this hike, I returned to my home county of LaGrange and back to a park I used to hike periodically when the kids were younger. Even then, the park had its share of troubles and I had been warned to be careful when visiting. Especially when visiting with kids. I am a bit hard-headed and was not about to let some low-lifes ruin one of the few publicly accessible natural areas in my part of the state. After exploring the area a couple of times, I approached the county naturalist about placing a Geocache in the park and was granted permission. His response was that he was very much in favor of providing a draw to the park for the “right kind of people”. The right kind of people being those who were looking for a chance to enjoy nature, not those looking for a place to do drugs or perform illicit sex acts. The naturalist informed me that they had removed the bathrooms due to the above mentioned activities. I placed my Geocache and visited regularly to maintain it. There were quite a number of visits and many positive comments about the geocache and the park. However, life got busier and I was no longer able to visit the geocache regularly so I retrieved it and archived the listing. Several years passed before my return to the area. (If you are unfamiliar with geocaching, visit http://www.geocaching.com).
One of the first things you will notice when pulling in is the covered footbridge. It was one of the things that first attracted me to the park and still one of my favorite features! Despite the park becoming run-down, the bridge is still solid. One of my daughter’s friends walks her horse across it to access the trail. I’m not sure it was intended for horse traffic but I am quite sure that there are worse things being done on and around it! We crossed the bridge with a 4-legged companion, albeit a much smaller one. Today’s herd included my daughter, Casie, and our dog, Diego.
Just after crossing the covered bridge, the trail turns left and comes to a shelter devoid of picnic tables. Another sign of better times for the park. I honestly don’t know if the shelter is ever put to use but for now, it appears to be abandoned. The trail actually goes through the pavilion.
After passing through the pavilion, the trail follows a low ridge running between the Pigeon River and a low, swampy area. The trail is not maintained and is very difficult to traverse in places. Lots of downed trees mean plenty of yoga hiking and in places, the trail is actually washing away into the river. A sign at the parking area says to use at your own risk and the nature of the trail makes it evident why the sign is necessary.
Given its name, it is not surprising that the park is the site of an old mill. If you are in to ruins, there are some to be found here. This appears to be what is left of a dam that presumably was used to power the mill.
Despite winter’s continued attempts at holding on, spring is making her presence known in the form of wildflowers pushing up through last fall’s leaf litter.
This trail is essentially an out and back with one small loop near the beginning. At the end we found what appeared to have been a bridge at one time. It seems the property owners on the other side of the river are taking advantage of the bridge remains to make a comfortable fishing spot.
After heading back on the trail and crossing over the remains of the old mill site, we veered left off the main trail and headed down a hill. This allowed us to do a short loop before returning to the main trail. The trail led us through some low ground and along a tributary of the Pigeon River.
As we looped back to where we started, I took advantage of the still day to catch a reflection of the bridge in the mirror-like water.
As much as I like to promote the LaGrange county parks, I have to share this one with a bit of caution. There is beauty to be found here but also sadness in its decline and a need for vigilance due to some of the problems that have plagued this park over the years. In some ways, I think it is a reflection of society in general, where the few have ruined many a good thing for the majority. This is a public access site for the Pigeon River and would make a nice place to stop while on a canoe or kayak trip through the area. The more it gets used for good things, the less appealing it will be for those who wish to use it for selfish ones that detract from other’s enjoyment.