A day or two ago, I thought I’d take a ride and soon Miss Fanny Bright was seated by my side… Angola doesn’t have any sleighs for the public to rent this year, but we do have the next best thing toboggans!
That’s right it’s toboggan season at Pokagon State Park. Talk about a great way to spend a snowy day with family or friends! The quarter mile track is one of the best rides around and is sure to get your heart pumping.
The refrigerated run was built in the 1930s as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps project and has been a staple at the park ever since. I have fond memories of not only riding it in the winter as a kid but also hiking it and hanging out in the shade of the tower during the summer as a teenager.
So I didn’t think twice about having my 6 year old climb the 30-foot tower for this vlog. To his great delight, we’ve walked the path of the run several times in summer. The plan was to take a few rides down it after I finished filming. We watched the first group of riders—with a boy about the same age—board their toboggan atop the wooden rollers that help propel the sled down the incline. My son’s eyes grew wide as workers pushed the riders over the 90-foot vertical drop.
“Mama, mama, let’s get down right now.”
At first I thought he wanted to go down, but then I saw he’d gone gray.
“Mama, I’m going to puke.”
That’s when I think we both learned he has a major fear of heights.
I’d always enjoyed the 30-second ride with wind whipping through my hair at 40 plus miles an hour. Every kid I’d ever met had too. Exhilarating and rush are some of the best words to describe the heart-pounding fun. Back on the ground everything was good again. Color returned to his cheeks as he watched with excitement as the sleds raced by. In fact, I had to pull him inside about 15 minutes later because his lips were turning blue. He wouldn’t go until I promised that he would have an even better view from inside the window-lined walls of the warming house.
So even though we enjoy the run in different ways, it’s still a great experience for both of us. As I understand it, it’s also a great place to work. Both my brother-in-law and oldest son have worked there. In fact, my son called it, “the best job I ever had”—keeping in mind he was 19 at the time.
The only downside is that once you get to the end of the track, you do have to carry your sled the quarter mile back. And if you want to go again, up dozens of stairs to the launch pad. As a tired mother lugging her sled said the other day when I was there, “no wonder they rent by the hour.”
So here’s what you need to know if you want to try it out. First, don’t worry about the weather. I’ve been there when it was 40 degrees out the day after Christmas and it was running thanks to the refrigeration unit. But I’ve also been on days when it was snowing. The ground crew is great at keeping the track open and free of snow. Sled rentals are $13 an hour. If it’s not busy you can do it for longer. They accept cash or credit cards. Depending on the size of the people either three or four people can fit to a sled. There are bathrooms and a warming facility with hot drinks and snack nearby. There is an entrance fee to get into the park. It’s $7 for in state cars and $9 for out of state. But if you have an Indiana Park Pass it will work for any state park.
The toboggan runs on the weekends only Friday: 5:30-9 p.m., Saturday: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. for most of the season but will be open every day for Christmas Break from Dec 21-Jan 2and will stay open through February 25, 2017. For more information or to see other activities at the park visit http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/4699.htm.
Angola, Indiana looks like it’s straight out of the movies about picturesque small towns. A lot of us do know each other. We have a perfect little courthouse and plenty of quaint shops. But one night of the year is just a bit more magical than others. It’s become tradition for families to gather on the night after Thanksgiving on the town circle.
The monument, Columbia, plays host to lights that form a giant Christmas tree. A calliope is wheeled out to play holiday tunes, and various elves and Dickens like characters mingle with excited children as the hour approaches.
As everyone waits with baited breath, the scream of a fire truck siren cuts through the night. The crowd jostles to get a good view of eight reindeer pulling Santa and Mrs. Claus’ sleigh. Two police cars, lights flashing, follow behind guarding the celebrities as they make their way into town. As tradition goes, they always circle the mound three times before getting out to greet the kids of Steuben County.
Santa often knows them by name, and shouts out such things as, “there’s little Mikey,” and “has Dickey been good this year?” Excited children crowd around him as he laughs and pats them on the head or shakes their hands.
But the excitement’s far from over. Though Santa has held court in many shops around the circle over the years, his latest hangout has been The Brokaw Theater.
The line to see Santa often wraps around a block or more. But it’s a hot ticket and most kids are willing to wait. It is Santa after all. Who else are they going to share their deepest Christmas wishes with? Once they reach the inner sanctum of the Theater, elves serve hot chocolate and cookies to warm them up.
Inside the dark warm doors, Santa and Mrs. Claus make their way to place of honor—two thrones on a small stage in one of the theaters. On the screen above them, old Christmas movies play to keep the long line of children happy while they wait for a chance to sit on Santa’s lap.
When good little boys and girls finally reach the lively old elf’s lap, he always asks the tireless question, “What do you want for Christmas?” He’s very diplomatic with his answers. For instance when one child asked for a pony, he told her that they needed a lot of space, but he’d be happy to listen to another wish. He also let another child asking for a long list of electronics, that all those things would be very expensive, and he didn’t know if he could manage the entire list.
Unlike many places that commercialize Kris Kringle’s visits, it’s still a throw back here to another time. Parents are free to take photos of their children sitting on Santa’s lap, but there are no photographers selling high priced Polaroids. I don’t even think there’s a fee to see the jolly old elf!
All is calm at the Outlet Shoppes in Fremont, Indiana. But behind the scenes things are heating up. Decorations are already in place. The Christmas trees have gathered, soldiers stand at attention, and merry-go-round horses ready to ride. Not to mention shopkeepers are unpacking scores of holiday deals and readying the shelves for eager customers who’ll come knocking Thanksgiving evening.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working at Bath and Bodyworks at the Outlet Shoppes during the first night of the Christmas shopping season. Writers often live very solitary lives. I wanted the chance to interact with people and experience some of the excitement of the season. We prepared for the night, days ahead with a meeting debuting all kinds of specialty items. Our stockroom was packed to the gills. The night of the big event we all got there early. It was all hands on deck.
Customers lined the sidewalk hours ahead of time and pressed their noses to the window watching us switch out the latest scents and pile new items higher. At the appointed hour a human wave washed over the store. There was barely standing room for anyone as customers smelled the latest candle scents and vied for a limited number of specialty fragrances. I should have felt claustrophobic, but there was such infectious excitement in the air that it was difficult to be anything but joyful. The hours passed quickly—more like a party than a job. And from what I heard from workers at the other shoppes, the experience was similar.
This year promises to be even better. The southern shoppes (those south of 120) are coming back. For those of you old enough to remember this is the site of the original shoppes. When I was a kid, it was the hotspot because KB Toys was there. These days that side of the road has gotten a facelift with a bright new coat of yellow and red paint. Everything from Rue 21 to Carters to Dressbarn and Kitchen Collection are there along with plenty of other great stores. Christmas music is already being piped throughout the area. Across the road, surround by protected wetlands, are two more areas to shop including Maurcie’s, Justice, and Tommy Hilfiger to Claire’s The Gap, Coach, and Under Armour. For a full list of stores please visit http://www.theoutletshoppesatfremont.com/.
Most of the shoppes will be holding midnight sales for Black Friday. Even if you forget to mark the calendar, the shoppes will send out a reminder via searchlights in the Thanksgiving night sky. After that, they will have extended evening hours until Christmas and anything but silent nights!
Nothing goes better with autumn than apples. Last week, I wrote about Stroh’s Orchard, but this week I want to concentrate on another kind of apple. Johnny Appleseed. As many of you know his real name was John Chapman. He dedicated his life to planting nurseries throughout the upper Midwest. While legend says he sprinkled apple seeds everywhere, he actually carefully planted orchards and put up well-engineered fences to ensure quality harvests.
Today that same spirit of quality lives on in Chapman’s Brewery on Industrial Drive in Angola, Indiana. The company opened its doors in 2012. Though the tasting room and brewery is new, they are quick to point out that local beer crafting is an old tradition. Just a century ago, most towns of substantial size had at least one local brewery.
There are a few perks and updates to the old way of doing things. For instance, precise measuring devices and stainless steel equipment, as well as a quality supply of steady ingredients makes for richly flavored and consistently drinkable beer. It’s their hope that customers will find the beer fresh and smooth, so that they’ll always want another.
They keep the menu simple with just six main beers. Valiant, is an American stout with hints of chocolate and espresso. Enlighten, my favorite, is a Kolsch ale. It’s light and crisp. Undaunted is Chapman’s IPA. It has a more hoppy spice and pine flavor. (As a disclaimer: I make soap using these three beers as base ingredients. They are incredibly popular with customers.) Englishman, their most popular variety, is a southern brown ale. It’s a traditional pub beer, malty with a sweet caramel flavor. Wry American is a red rye and one of the brewery’s newer beers. Brighten Pale Ale, is a lighter beverage with a perfect combination of malty and hoppiness. Finally there’s the Rolette Series. These are small limited release beers. The idea is that it allows the brewery to work on new flavors while getting customer feedback. Sometimes the new brew work out so well, they become regulars like Wry American—which was originally called Red Ryeding Hood. (Cute. You should have kept it.)
The simple menu has worked so well, it’s allowed Chapman’s to open additional tasting rooms in Ft. Wayne, Columbia City, and soon Wabash. They’re also in hundreds of retailer and many restaurants throughout Indiana.
During Indiana’s Bicentennial, hoosier breweries were asked to make beer using Indiana products. Chapman’s came up with BicentenniALE. Unfortunately, the batch was only big enough for one tasting room—which went to Columbia City. But not to fear, more great holiday and celebration flavors are on the way. This season they hope to have a Russian Imperial Oatmeal and possibly a barley wine ready for the holidays. They’re also working on a light fizzy blond ale, which they call Harvester.
John Chapman became a legend in his own time for his important nursery work and for always giving thanks as the song goes for the sun, the rain, and the apple seed. Now his namesake is well in it’s way to become a living legend too and all those who pass through its doors have one more thing to be grateful for too.
For more information on Chapman’s visit www.chapmansbrewing.com
Michigan may have an apple named for it, but many Michiganders head to Indiana when they want the best apples. And they’re not alone. Customers often come hundreds of miles to visit G.W. Stroh Orchard in Angola. That’s because the Stroh’s grow many varieties of apples that can’t be found in grocery stores.
Ginger Gold, Winter Banana, and Northern Spy are just a few of the off-beat varieties, at Stroh’s. The orchard grows 35 kinds of apples on a dozen acres.
Gary Stroh was encouraged to grow his first apple tree by a high school teacher. But he’s quick to add that his dad was a big influence in his decision to go into the orchard business. It’s worked well now for almost 35 years. Today, he and his wife Susan have 3,000 apple trees, as well as 10 peach trees, 3 pear trees, and 1 plum tree.
It isn’t hard to see that everyone in the family enjoys their orchard fruits. Even their big yellow dog, Kelly, who doubles as the shop mascot, isn’t above a few tricks to get himself an apple.
While the orchard used to be u-pick, it’s popularity has made it too much of a risk for the trees. But all the apples are still hand-picked daily often by Gary. And it hasn’t stopped people from stopping by for favorites like Honey Crisp or Golden Delicious.
This time of year the cider press is also going strong, churning out gallon after gallon of truly superior cider with a fresh from the tree taste. There are also plenty of pumpkins and squash to choose from at their shop along with jams, jellies, and Stroh’s own honey. After all, what would an orchard be without bees to keep it well pollinated?
Stroh also furnishes the apples for Satek Winery’s award winning Autumn Classic wine.
While it’s easy to attract customers with a great product, the Stroh’s may have a secret marketing strategy. They grow their own customers, by opening their orchard to schools for field trips. It doesn’t take long for the kids to taste the difference. Over the years those students return time and time again, eventually bringing their own children and whole new generation to the orchard.
G.W. Stroh is located at 2620 N State Road 827 in Angola, Indiana. For more information visit them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GW-Stroh-Orchard-138821157086/.
There’s a place on 20 North where pumpkins float in a sea of orange, ducks race down water pump streams, and kids swim through corn kernel pools. But it’s not one of the 101 Lakes in Steuben County. It’s Ridenour Farms.
My family and I have made visiting this fall attraction an annual event. It may sound cliché but it really does have something for the whole family. For starters there’s a mini play area including a junior corn pool and bouncy castle for the iddy biddies.
The main area consists of huge industrial pipe slides, a giant straw bail climbing mountain, larger corn pit, big kid bouncy castle and two race tracks—one for peddling contraptions and one for bouncy horses.
The corn maze is great for older kids and even more hair raisingly fun at night when it and the surrounding woods become “haunted.” During the day families can enjoy the same area with a hayride or “train excursion” (tractor pulls several mini carts behind it).
The fire pit is always lit and there are a variety of candy confections at the snack bar including something called caramel apple nachos. I’m not going to give away the surprise you’ll just have to go see them for yourself!
Ridenour Acres is open through October 30. Admission is $7 per person, free for 3 and under. For more information visit http://www.ridenouracres.com/.
It’s Sunday October 2, 2016. So many memories come for me with Indiana’s Bicentennial. When I was 6 years old my family and I went to a special bicentennial celebration for our country. My little sister and I got to wear long dresses and bonnets just like our first settlers. I still remember watching my shadow and wishing I could wear an outfit like that every day as. My family and I walked to the big church picnic in Bloomington, Indiana—my sister and I taking short turns pushing our baby brother in his stroller before being distracted again by our shadows. At church everyone was wearing period costumes, playing games, and eating tons of great potluck. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.
Little did I know, just 40 short years later I’d be helping Indiana celebrate it’s bicentennial too. Trying to explain the torch relay to my 5 year old hasn’t held the same mystique for him as the great experience I had when I was his age.
“Indiana’s turning 200,” I told him.
He looked at me blankly. “Why?”
“Well it just is. It’s very old now and we’re holding a birthday party for it.”
“Will it get presents?”
I considered telling him about the gift of the new buffalo statue by the new public restrooms in downtown Angola, but answers must be kept short with ADHD 5 year olds.
“No, but people are going to run with something like a big birthday candle.”
He looked at me skeptically. “That does not sound safe.”
I smiled. “This one time it will be all right…and there will be cake.”
He brightened at that and all in all has been a very good sport in the 5 hours it took for me to shoot the torch relay.
Twenty torchbearers have now escorted the flame from Trine Recreational Area to Pokagon State Park, where it circled the area in a seaplane piloted by Randy Strebig. (You see, I did find a way to work in some seaplane footage after last week’s fiasco!) A short ceremony has followed in which it was pointed out to Tourism Director June Julien that we get to celebrate another bicentennial, this time for Steuben County, in just 21 more years. By then maybe my son will bring his children to a celebration event. But for now he’s just happy to be eating (and wearing) a bicentennial blue iced cupcake!
Enjoy the video of the day’s highlights.
A mermaid watches over I-69 from high atop her hill at the EZ Camp just off N 50W. She and her friends the squirrel, raccoon, and bear along with whatever other seasonal inspirations strike creator Jeff Pelkington, have been keeping guard over the area for the past couple of summers.
Jeff’s mother, is a collector of nautical themed knickknacks. Several years ago, she acquired some pieces that weren’t particularly well made. Jeff thought he could do better and the challenge was on. He’s been sculpting with his chainsaw ever since.
Things went so well in fact that he quit his day job in order to cover the world in whimsical art. He and his dog, Baby Girl, spend the warmer months at the campground working. Of course his art is always on display for passersby and anyone who might want to stop in to watch him work.
The little pieces take less than an hour to complete—a day if you count the painting. Then there are the bigger things. He’s done several downed trees, turning the stumps into yard art. Eagles, Tiki Gods and even a Rastafarian banjo player, decorate the landscape in his wake. There are also plenty of bears and a German Shepherd coming out of tree trunks, not to mention Spiderman climbing a wall and an angel wrapping her little patch of land in peace, and an extremely oversized set of boxing gloves. If you can imagine it and have the tree to do it, Jeff can make it reality.
Jeff will be at the EZ Camp until the end of October when he moves to warmer accommodations for the winter. But don’t worry, he has every intention of being back next spring to keep helping Steuben County be an even more interesting and exciting place. For more information on Jeff and his work you can contact him at email@example.com or 260-431-9001.
It was going to be an awesome video. I had seaplanes taking off and landing right on the front lawn of the Potawatomi Inn at Pokagon! I captured them splashing down, taking off, flying low right over our heads, close-ups of pilots doing final checks, ground crews pulling planes to shore, children playing in the sand with rows upon rows of seaplanes behind them. I had it all. Apparently it was so good, that my five-year old couldn’t resist taking the camera into his own hands once we got home and no one was looking, and umm, adding to it. In his excitement to be part of the action, he deleted it all…every last perfect fall day shot of the 14th Annual Fly-In!
Luckily, I did snap a few photos too, so all is not completely lost. An event like this is hard to find anywhere let alone in a small northern Indiana community. But yet, it’s been going strong for more than a decade, thanks to Randy Strebig, a local seaplane pilot and president of the Indiana Seaplane Pilots Association. Part of the success is also due to the fact that Lake James (the lake on which the event is located) has been designated a public seaplane base. That means anyone can fly in instead of getting private permission in advance to attend.
My family and I have made an annual event of attending rain or shine, in warm or cold weather. Believe me, we’ve come in our share of bad weather. To their credit, the pilots and their planes always show in great numbers and put on a great event. They’re truly an accessible lot, opening up their aircrafts for spectators to look inside. Often they’ll allow people to climb inside to test out the pilot’s seat and see everything up close. Most of the pilots are more than willing to share stories of their experiences and answer any questions.
While the Fly-In is a great chance for seaplane pilots to congregate, it’s an even bigger chance for the general public to get a first hand look at something most landlocked people don’t often get to see. There’s also a drawing for several chances to take a ride in many of the planes.
I don’t know much about seaplanes, but it’s still a lot of fun watching all the different kind so planes come in. Some are very old with historical significance, others are state-of-the-art with all the bells and whistles, and a good deal of them are experimental. What’s that mean for us? No two are the same. So there’s always something new to watch as they take off and land.
Which brings me to the land…as I mentioned before it takes place on the lawn of Potawatomi Inn at Pokagon State Park. The event itself is free, but normal fees for getting into state parks apply—unless of course you have a state park pass (good at all Indiana State Parks). Pokagon is located just off I-69 at exit at 450 Lane 100 Lake James, Angola, 46703. But my favorite directions for the event are those posted for the pilots: Fly direct to Angola airport (KANQ) in the far northeast corner of Indiana, then fly out runway 05. You will overfly some water but keep your eyes out for an island with a house on it, then look 30 degrees to the north and you will see a large inn with a red roof!
Make plans now to join the fun next year—always the last Sunday in September. You might even make a weekend of it and plan to camp at Pokagon or stay at the hotel!
One of the things I like best about Steuben County is that it’s not just a place for the body, it’s a place for the whole person. That may sound silly at first, but how many times have you gone on vacation and caught yourself thinking about all the things you need to do back home? The email you forgot to send, the meeting you’re not attending, the lawn you’re not cutting…the list of responsibilities elsewhere goes on and on.
But here in Lake Country we have the unique advantage of plenty of hidden places to lose yourself in from crystal lakes with water still as glass in the early morning, to canopied woodlands sheltering gentle surprises of nature, to sunny fields full of sweet grass and bird songs, all of them perfect for quiet reflection, centering yourself, and taking a moment to enjoy being exactly where you are.
While being in the “now” is a great way to refresh the whole person, sometimes it’s not that easy. One of the activities that helps me reboot is hunting. But my kind of hunting doesn’t involve guns or getting up in the wee hours of the morning. Instead, I choose a subject and take my camera on a hike to find as many of it as I can.
For example right now mushrooms and fungus have popped out all over the place. As my 5-year-old would say, “Ewww!” Granted, I might have been right there with him, but in my latest walks, I’ve acquired what a friend calls “black truck syndrome.” In other words once something has been called to your attention, you see it everywhere. That’s what’s happened with mushrooms and me. I’d never noticed just how may varieties there are: large, small, stalky, delicate, and in so many colors I thought only existed in the tropics. They’re everywhere framing trees in lace, hiding in the shadows, upturned and blocking my path as if to scream, “you must take my picture.” And so I do.
If I knew more about them I might physically collect them, but shooting can be almost as much fun as eating—without the added calories or horrid death should you misjudge the poisonous ones! And yes, I’m aware of the silly psychedelic subtext that could come from all this, but honestly that isn’t what this is about. I love catching these little fungi in all their broken beauty, covered in bits of dirt, growing at odd angles, and missing tiny chunks. If you stop to think about it, these tiny systems are pretty cool. Whether you believe in God, evolution, a mixture of both, or nothing at all however they got to be as they are is pretty amazing. It becomes like a game trying to see how many new varieties, different textures, and strange places I can find them. This is a great activity to do with your kids (or someone else’s if you don’t have any of your own).
If mushrooms aren’t your thing, there are always plenty of other things to hunt, the changing leaves with all their different shapes and varying patterns, moss covered stones and brightly speckled rocks, clouds that look like folk art. Spider webs can be especially fun with Halloween fast approaching. They can pop up in the most unique places—the crook of a tree or angle of a street sign. The delicate threads might be difficult to shoot at first, but if you go out in the early morning while the light still filters at an angle and the dew is fresh, the tiny drops make spider webs easier to film.
There are as many ideas for “hunts” as there are species of plants, creatures that prowl, and rocks that shine. Whatever your collecting fascination, it’s bound to be found in the hidden places of Lakes Country if you dare to stay in the moment and fully be in the quiet beauty of Steuben County.