Indiana's Pokagon State Park
Steuben County, in Indiana's northeastern corner, is home to Pokagon State Park. Famous for its toboggan run, Pokagon is Indiana's place for winter activities. Steuben county has 101 lakes, more than any other county in the state. The park is located on the shores of two of those lakes, Lake James and Snow Lake. When it was created in 1925, it was called Lake James State Park. Potowatomi Indians once lived in this area. The park was later renamed to honor two of their leaders, Leopold and Simon Pokagon.
A good portion of Pokagon State Park is occupied by the Potawatomi Nature Preserve. The nature preserve includes much of the park's wetlands. Trails 3, 6 and 9 go through the preserve. If you are looking for trails that aren't too difficult, trails 4 and 5 are rated as easy. Their lengths are 1.4 and 0.7 miles, respectively. Trail 9 is the only one rated as rugged. It is 1.7 miles long and passes through wooded swamps. Trail 3 visits Hell's Point, which is the highest point in the park. To get there,you will have to climb up a lot of wooden steps. There is a nice view at the top, but not as nice as it once was. At one time it was possible to see Lake James from Hell's Point. Since then, trees have grown taller and blocked the view of the lake.The longest trail is only 2.2 miles long, but you can easily connect trails together for a longer hike. There are a total of 11 miles of trails inside Pokagon.
Adjacent to the park is the Beechwood Nature Preserve, which is owned by the ACRES Land Trust. It encompasses almost 90 acres and has a 1.7 mile hiking trail. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources plans to link Trail 8 in Pokagon with this trail.
There are a wide variety of birds at Pokagon State Park. Waterfowl are common on Lake James and Snow Lake. Bald eagles are sometimes seen around Lake James. A significant portion of the park is wetlands. Although it doesn't show up on park maps, there is an area known as County Road Marsh near the saddle barn. Birds that nest there include
- Marsh wrens
- Virginia rails
Common moorhens, sandhill cranes and eastern bluebirds can sometimes be seen around the marsh as well.
Trail 3 is probably the best trail for birding. Species that can sometimes be seen along it include:
- Brown creeper
- Hooded warblers
- Cerulean warblers
- Pine warblers
Trails 6 and 7 are also good choices for birdwatching. Veerhies and hooded warblers occur along trail 6. Sandhill cranes and eastern bluebirds can often be seen on trail 7. Sometimes a small wild turkey flock can be found near trail 9. If you want some easy birdwatching, there are feeders at the Nature Center and the Potowatomie Inn. These attract Baltimore orioles and hummingbirds during the summer and red-headed woodpeckers throughout the year.
The toboggan run has operated each winter at Pokagon since it was created in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It now draws around 90,000 each winter season. The toboggan run operates only on Friday evenings and all day Saturday & Sunday. The season runs for about three months each winter, from late November to late February. The track is refrigerated and one quarter of a mile long. Rides last about 30 seconds and can reach speeds close to 40 miles per hour.
Cross-country skiing is allowed at Pokagon when there is at least six inches of snow on the ground. There is a beginner's trail that is about one mile long and a more advanced trail that is approximately four miles in length. Skis and poles are available for rent by the hour at the CCC shelter. There is a warming center near the toboggan run that offers hot drinks, sandwiches and snacks. For more information about cross-country skiing at Pokagon, visit http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/files/sp-Pokagon-CrossCountrySkiInfo_09.pdf.