Winter Recreation: It’s Never Too Cold…
Where winter is concerned, some people hunker and some hanker.
Winter recreation in northeast Indiana requires a robust winter, the sort of robust winter that causes some people to hunker down, but makes winter recreation enthusiasts yell, “Yee haw,” even if they’re not cowboys.
There is a lot of misunderstanding between winter recreation enthusiasts and those who prefer to hunker.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
What the people who hunker need to understand is that some Hoosiers depend on a robust winter for their liveliness, and some Hoosier businesses depend on it for their livelihoods.
A winter characterized by light snowfall weighs heavily on both.
“There’s No Business like Snow Business” is the song that snow shovel and snow blower salesmen would sing, if they didn’t fear getting sued by the estate of Ethel Merman.
If you are one of the Hoosier hunkerers, perhaps this is the year to give winter a spin. Northeast Indiana is a fantastic place for making the most of winter.
POKAGON STATE PARK AND OTHER STEUBEN COUNTY OPTIONS
Pokagon State Park is roughly 45 minutes north of Fort Wayne.
The 1,260-acre park features three well-groomed cross-country skiing trails, totaling 7 miles.
Skis and other winter equipment are available for rent on weekends at the Civilian Conservation Corps shelter for $8 per hour per set for adults and $5 per hour per set for skiers 15 and younger.
What has earned the park an honored place in the annals of winter recreation, however, is its toboggan run.
First built in 1938 by the Civil Conservation Corps, the toboggan run is now a refrigerated, two-lane affair that drops 90 feet over a quarter-mile.
A ride lasts 25 to 30 seconds and can go as fast as 42 miles per hour.
Toboggans are $13 per hour per toboggan. Each toboggan holds up to four people (apparently, the greater the weight, the faster the ride).
Pokagon State Park’s Interpretive Naturalist, Dylan Allison, said ice-skating and ice fishing are permitted on Lake James when the ice thickness reaches four inches.
There is no snowmobiling permitted within park borders, but there is a 32-mile trail called the Potawatomi Snowmobile Trail north of Angola. It is not affiliated with the Department of National Resources, Allison said.
One of the convenient things about winter recreation on the Pokagon property is that the park offers the perfect place for taking a break from it: The Potawatomi Inn, on the shore of Lake James.
The inn has two restaurants, a library, a game room, a sun porch, an indoor pool, a bonfire pit and a large fireplace.
Ice-skating of the indoor variety can be enjoyed in Angola at Trine University’s new Thunder Ice Arena.
The 6,200-square-foot facility, which opened in August of 2017, is home to the university’s hockey teams.
It features a skating-related pro shop and skate rentals. The University offers an open skate period at Thunder Ice Arena at least twice a week.
Elsewhere in Steuben County, there is ice fishing, when conditions permit. Clear Lake, Lake George and Hamilton Lake are your best bets.
SKIING, SLEDDING, SKATING AND CELEBRATING IN FORT WAYNE
People often argue over what things originated in Fort Wayne, but no one has tried to make the claim that Fort Wayne is the birthplace of downhill skiing.
People looking for downhill skiing in Fort Wayne face an uphill climb. Northern and central Indiana are not exactly known for extreme topography, so residents have to get creative.
Cross-country skiing can be done almost anywhere, of course, as long as certain precautions are taken, such as knowing where the bodies of water are under all that snow and knowing whether the landowner even wants you on her property.
Of course, winter recreation enthusiasts can avoid being accused of trespassing by opting for public lands. Area county and city parks are great places for winter recreation enthusiasts to go when they pine for snow, ice and pines.
For example, two Allen County Parks system properties fit the bill: Fox Island County Park and Metea County Park.
Cross-Country skis are available to rent at both parks, said Bob Dispenza, a park and education manager for Allen County Parks. But there’s a catch.
“To rent skis,” he said, “we must have at least four inches of snow on the ground. Visitors can bring their own skis and ski on any snow cover they feel is adequate.”
Allen County Parks superintendent Jeff Baxter said his department adds a “ski conditions page” to the website every winter.
Code Yellow means, “We’re not renting, but you can bring your own,” he said, and Code Green means, “We are renting. Come on out.”
When conditions are optimal, skis and boots are rentable for $6 per hour (adults) and $5 for children 12 and younger.
Sarah Gleim of WebMD wrote that a person would be hard-pressed to find a better full-body winter workout than cross-country skiing.
“The pushing and pulling motions create the ultimate lower- and upper-body exercise, burning between 500 and 700 calories an hour,” she wrote.
A vigorous cross-country ski session can burn more than 12 calories per minute, according to the Compendium of Physical Activities. That is a better workout than running.
Metea has a 20-foot-high sledding hill, a hill as tall as a giraffe and half as tall as a Brachiosaurus, neither of which has been sighted in Metea. Yet. Sledding is also a good workout and is available at Metea any time there is enough snow and the park is open. There are no sleds for rent, however.
Another good thing about sledding is that it’s a little like Huck Finn tricking his friends into whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence: Your kids will think it’s all fun and games, but they will be engaging in vigorous exercise.
As for skating or ice fishing on the parks’ bodies of water, Dispenza said both are now prohibited. “Skating or ice fishing would involve frequent measurement of ice,” he said, “and some of our ice areas are spring fed, so ice depth constantly varies.”
The risk and liability of skating and ice fishing are just too great, Baxter said. The situation is similar in parks closer to the city center.
Citizens used to able to skate on ponds in Lakeside Park and Ivan Lebamoff Reservoir Park, but that is no longer the case, according to Natalie Eggeman, public information officer for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department.
“We no longer allow skating on any of our ponds because of safety issues,” she said.
Because of these new rules, you’re probably thinking that you’re not going to be able to enjoy an idyllic skating party in a winter wonderland like the Peanuts do in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or like Dudley the Angel does in “The Bishop’s Wife.”
Well, the Parks Department has you covered.Every fall, Eggeman said, they install a portable ice-skating rink at Lakeside Park.
And, of course, there’s the big outdoor rink downtown in Headwaters Park.
The Headwaters Park Ice Skating Rink offers a big-city skating experience, spectacular views of downtown, concessions and an unbeatable ambience.
“Our admission price has not increased since we opened in 2003,” Headwaters Park Executive Director Geoff Paddock said. “Prices are still $3 for children under 14 and $5 for 14 and over and adults. Skate rental is $2. There is a free skate day for children under 14 every Wednesday beginning December 6.”
The Parks Department will present the 2018 edition of its annual winter celebration called Winterval on January 27, 2018. It happens in various locales around downtown and includes arts and crafts activities, ice carving demos and a snowman-shaped bounce house.
The Foellinger-Friemann Botanical Conservatory not only offers ways to make the most of the season, it provides considerable respite from winter as well.
The conservatory’s rooms devoted to replicating tropical and desert climates can provide mini-vacations from the frigid conditions outside.
Pokagon State Park
450 Lane 100 Lake James, Angola
Potawatomi Snowmobile Trail
Steuben County, Angola
Potawatomi Snowmobile Club
6 Lane 100 Lake James, Angola
Thunder Ice Arena
619 W. Maumee Street, Angola.
Fox Island County Park
7324 Yohne Road
Metea County Park
8401 Union Chapel Road
1140 Lake Avenue
Headwaters Park Ice Skating Rink
333 S Clinton Street
Foellinger-Friemann Botanical Conservatory
1100 S Calhoun Street
January 6 – February 25, 2018
Holiday Garden Exhibit
Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory’s winter exhibit is dedicated to Snow Days, those days when school was cancelled because of winter weather. Snow days were a surprise, a break in routine, an invitation to play. In the Conservatory’s holiday imagination, snowkids go out for snowball fights and forts while moms bake cookies and prepare hot chocolate. Snowmen and snow angels mark the spot where families spent time together. This exhibit celebrates the splendor of Mother Nature’s holiday gift to school-children. 1100 S. Calhoun Street, 260.427.6440, botanicalconservatory.org
The 6th Annual Winterval celebration in downtown Fort Wayne is Saturday, January 28, 2018. The day is filled with indoor and outdoor winter fun.
The Community Center’s free winter carnival from 1 – 4 pm includes horse and carriage rides, face painting, games and crafts. 233 West Main Street
The Botanical Conservatory has activities from 10 am – 3 pm including crafting a winter bird feeder, interactive displays and an ice carving demonstration. 1100 S Calhoun Street
Allen County Public Library’s plaza will have ice carving from 12-2 pm. 900 Library Plaza
For a complete list of the day’s activities and events visit wintervalfw.com
Trails To Try
Indiana has four snowmobile trails:
Miami Snowmobile Trail
There are 60-miles of trails around Goshen, Bristol and Middlebury in northeastern Elkhart County.
Heritage Snowmobile Trail
There are 34-miles of trails around Hoagland and Maples in southeastern Allen County.
Buffalo Run Snowmobile Trail
There are 63-miles of trails west of South Bend in St. Joseph County.
There are 40 miles of trails on public land along the south side of Salamonie Reservoir in Wabash and Huntington Counties.
The snowmobile trails are open December – March when snow conditions are permitting. There are trailheads at each trail for parking vehicles and trailers. Only registered snowmobiles may be used on the trails. For info on trail conditions, isatrailconditions.info
Fresh Air Fun
Fun runs are a great way to get out and enjoy the winter air.
The Huff 50K Trail Run And Relay
Chain O’Lakes State Park
2355 E. 75 South, Albion
This is the area’s most popular ultra-marathon. The day’s races include the 50K individual trail run, one-loop (10 miles) and 50K three-person relay.