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.
If you’ve never given rainbow trout a try, you really ought to. Personally, I like it smoked best. Trout was all the rage where I used to live in the mountains. But here, it’s a bit more difficult to come by. Sure you can get it in some restaurants and select super markets, but I’m talking about the fresh out of the water caught a half hour ago kind.
Luckily, there is at least one great place, Lake Gage to find trout in Steuben County. It doesn’t hurt that the lake is gorgeous too. (Clear Lake used to have great trout fishing, but hard times have changed that.)
Recently, veteran fisherman Bill LaVigne and his friend Tom, both of whom have been trolling for nearly 40 years, took me out for the afternoon to see what we could catch (watch the video above for more on our adventure). We hadn’t even set up when we saw a school of cisco on Bill’s gps. He informed me that they’re somewhat of a rarity in Steuben County these days too.
Bill and Tom worked at GE making tools before early retirement, so it’s no surprise that they’ve developed their own spoons and canon balls for better trout trolling.
Trout are cold water fish. In the spring, fisherman often catch them fishing from the shore or in the shallows with a kayak. But as the water warms the fish go deep, sometimes as much as 30 feet deeper.
We went out on September 1, just at the end of the season. Even though it was the day after a storm with a northeast wind (which they informed me was not good for fishing) they were able to deliver a few fish for the camera.
The DNR stocks Lake Gage annually, so most of the fish caught are less than a year old and come in between thirteen and fifteen inches long. Occasionally, Bill and Tom catch something much bigger. Not long before I joined them Bill got a 30-inch pike by accident.
Getting to Lake Gage by boat is a bit of a trick. The only public access point is on Lime Lake and boats must fit under a very low bridge from the CCC days. If the boat is too big it won’t make it and if the water’s too low it won’t make it. So fisherman must wait for those Goldilocks ‘just right’ conditions. Of course, there’s always the possibility of making a friend with property on the lake who might allow private access.
Bill suggests using a gps, not only to track fish, but also because it’s very easy to get turned around on the lake. On this day three fish were caught between 38 and 40 feet down. Typically, he likes to catch and release. But exceptions are often made for guests. And so I went home with fresh fish perfect for smoking.
The year was 1834. The Whig political party became official, anti-abolitionist riots were taking place in New York, and in the northeastern corner of Indiana a group of pioneers from Vermont decided to settle the area. They called their new home the Vermont Settlement, but it would later become known as Orland, the birthplace of Steuben County.
The town of less than 500 looks like one of those picturesque little places you might read about. You know the wholesome small town where everyone knows everyone else? Indeed, for the most part that’s true. But it, like most of the area, welcomes its share of tourists—with good reason too. For a place so small it has it’s share of great eateries. There’s always the Draft Horse Saloon featuring homemade bread in its sandwiches, yummy wings and other appetizers. Across the street there’s Chubby’s Fish & Steak with all the comfort food you could desire. Biscuits and gravy reign supreme our the breakfast menu while burgers and real shakes (not the pre-mixed slop) delight lunch patrons. Then of course there’s always Mister Brats, home of the Hawaiian Brat. A little on further down are other hidden gems like Wall Lake Tavern.
After a tasty meal, visitors might enjoy a little down time in the city park listening to the babbling sounds of the fountain. The park also features a Bicentennial Memorial honoring all those who’ve served their country in war and peace. Visitors might also pop into the local library to learn more about the town’s history. Or they could visit an authentic barber shop for a trim off the top. Just don’t plan on stopping by on Thursdays. They’re unapologetically closed.
Up the street visitors can also see a military helicopter up close at the Veterans post or travel north on 327 and check out the fish hatchery.
Orland can be found in the northwest corner of Steuben County at the crossroads of 127 and 327.
Sometimes history seems so…well long ago, like something that happened to a bunch of dead people with no connection to our own lives. We assume the attitude common to so many pre-teens—you know the one, “I don’t have parents (substitute ancestors for adults) I was hatched from an egg,” when it comes to our heritage. But the truth of the matter is we are all here due to the deeds of those before us.
Steuben County might seem like just another tiny place with a bunch of smelly, dirty trappers, soldiers, and pioneers making up its ancient history, but our area took part in something really big—like super star huge. Even better than that, our predecessors got to be the historic good guys! That’s because this area was part of the Underground Railroad.
After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 residents of both Fremont and Orland deliberately spurned federal authorities by providing safe haven to runaway slaves on their way from the South to freedom in Canada. Many of these houses are still standing today, some of private residents and some are open to the public by prior arrangement (more about this later).
Russell Brown, S.U. Clark, and Captain Samuel Barry, whom all lived in the Orland area around that time all helped slaves escape. Barry an abolitionist was eventually arrested for sheltering slaves though he never was convicted. The accounts vary some saying he was fined three dollars for his crimes while others insist it was more like a thousand. Today the street Barry’s house still stands on is named after him, though it looks different. It remains private. The house of SU Clark still stands as well about a block and a half up on the main drag, while the Brown House, also private, is about a block north on 327.
History buffs may be able to schedule a visit at the Erastus Farnham House, just south of Fremont at the intersection of Swagger Rd and 827. The nineteenth-century home still has the cupola that served as a lookout point and an internal cistern that allowed the house to support additional guests without raising suspicion.
Current owner, Mavis Church welcomes tours by appointment. She dresses in period clothing and weaves a rich tale of the underground as she leads her guests through the various rooms. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 260-495-7101.
Who knows you might even catch the spirit of a past tenant gently swinging in the great tree near the house!
We’re walking in the woods and he’s spotted some black raspberries. For weeks he’s been eagerly watching the green buds turn from yellow to pink to red. He’s asked every day knowing full well that deep purple means they’re ready.
I smile. “It’s time.”
Of course the first several berries don’t make it in the pail, but go directly in his and our dog Echo’s mouths.
“Mmm, it’s good,” he gives the thumbs up.
So good in fact that we spend more than two and half hours collecting berries. And that’s the thing isn’t it? We always forget how good the real, fresh stuff tastes. Somehow as autumn slips into winter and fresh local varieties are replaced by less and less flavorful substitutes. It happens so slowly we’re lulled into believing I’m still eating a “real” produce.
Did you know that some super market apples are more than a year old when we buy them? Yuck! The bottom line is most commercial fruits and vegetables are clones. That’s how Fugi Apples and Bosc Pears look so flawless and symmetrical. Instead of good old fashioned pollination most commercial companies use cloned plants to replicate perfection.
Sure real food might not be as pretty, but there’s something to be said for unique and oh the flavor! Fruits and veggies taste better when they’re ripe and in season and they’re better for us.
Steuben County has some of the best fresh eating experiences around. No I’m not referring to restaurants (though we do have some really awesome places). I mean the real up close and personal, total food emersion events like gathering your own food. There’s a certain sweetness that comes with the experience of picking your own food. Not only is there satisfaction in the success of gathering your own food, but in the personal interactions of doing so with family and friends. It is to be a bit cliché, the stuff memories are made of.
So where can these kinds of opportunities be found in Steuben County? For starters, berry season is upon us. Strawberries are coming to a close, but there are still plenty of blackberries and black raspberries growing like wild, in the wild. With a keen eye you can easily spot them around the county in the woods, along the side of the highway, and down country roads. Just be sure to ask permission before you start gathering the juicy goodness.
There are also some commercial u-pick sites with raspberries and blueberries. Not to mention the u-pick orchards will be opening with peaches and apples. And it won’t be long before several more will spring up with pumpkins and other late summer favorites.
If you’d rather not pick your own but still crave fresh homegrown goodies, there’s always the corn from the College Fund. The fresh, locally grown corn can be found at several roadside stands around the county. Of course there are also always the Angola (Wed & Sat 8-noon) and Fremont Farmer’s Markets (Sat 8-noon).
Some local produce experience stops around the area include Bakers Acres & GW Stroh in Angola and Walters Lake Berry & Plant Farm in Fremont.
There’s a place in 101 Lakes County like no other. When you step out of your vehicle, even the crickets and birds sound different. Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve has a deep sense of peace about it. From the grapevines winding up the path to the gift shop to the gigantic crystals in the garden calm encompasses this place in a way you might not understand until you visit.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing owner, Dr. John Trippy for Voice of America several years ago. Since then, whenever I’ve been feeling especially stressed or wanted calm the children I care for, I’ve taken them to Wild Winds. Something magical happens when you visit. The world falls away and somehow no matter how long or short the visit, we come away feeling centered and balanced once again.
Of course the highlight of the visit is always seeing the buffalo. This year, they have more than 40 babies. The light brown/orangey babies can easily be spotted frolicking with the herd or maybe cuddling up with their mothers.
The ride out to see them takes only a few minutes and is filled with plenty of buffalo trivia and information from the driver and guide. Visitors must stay in a canopy covered open truck, for safety, but are often driven into the center of the herd. It doesn’t take long before the more curious members of the herd wander up for a closer look. Others could care less and go about their business oblivious to the “Ooo’s and Ah’s” from the truck bed.
Before heading back the tour makes one last stop taking visitors by a sacred memorial of the female ancestors of the herd. When it’s time to leave visitors are taught a Native American saying often applied to the buffalo, “Your life is now a part of my heart.” For many the sentiment will have lasting implications of peace, tranquility, or maybe just happiness.
Wild Winds located at 6975 N. Ray Road in Fremont Indiana is open from 8 to 4 daily, though they ask for appointments only on Monday and Tuesday. Tours run on the hour from 10 to 3. Adults are $10 each, children under 7 are $7 each. For those interested in a longer stay, there’s also a bed and breakfast. Check out the website at www.wildwindsbuffalo.com or call 260-495-0137.