Remember how cold and wet Friday was? Not a day I would choose for a walk, but that was the scheduled date of the Wildwalkers introduction to Trine State Recreation Area, and since I really wanted to see the newest park area, especially since Fred Wooley was leading the walk and letting us peek into the buildings, I dressed for the weather and marched on. When you think about it, we’re really pretty soft in this day and age. The pioneers didn’t let a little rain stop them and they didn’t have a lot of the gear that we have.
The Trine State Recreation Area officially has a grand opening on May 15 (mark your calendars now!) but we got a sneak preview. It is located on the east side of I-69, very close to Pokagon State Park, and will be operated as an extension of Pokagon State Park. The entrance is from Feather Valley Road. It borders Gentian Lake, one of the Seven Sisters lakes which were a gift from the glaciers. This newest park will have a handicapped accessible fishing pier, among other amenities. It is the only one in a state park. We walked out on the pier, which was a cold endeavor considering there is still about 20” of ice on the lake and the wind was whipping across the ice.
Actually our entire walk was not fitting the name “Wildwalkers” since it was almost entirely on paved paths, but considering the weather, that was okay with us. We started at the Welcome Center which is a beautiful building overlooking the lake, the boat rental dock, and the fishing pier. Boat rentals are limited to fishing boats with electric motors, paddleboats, and kayaks. In order to control the traffic on the lake and ensure a peaceful experience for all, no private boats, canoes or kayaks will be allowed.
This whole area was part of the Wing Haven Resort run by Helen and Ben Swenson, who were innkeepers at Potawatomi Inn in Pokagon for many years before opening the resort. There were originally 12 cabins and a dining lodge. Our next stop was at the Swenson Lodge, the dining hall of the old resort which has been restored into a lovely small conference center. It has a kitchen, dining room, sitting room, library, and meeting room with seating for 26. It is available for rentals.
Each cabin was named for a bird and decorated in that bird’s colors. The cabins have all been renovated and are available to rent for a night or a week. They are not luxuriously furnished – the luxury is in the secluded woodland setting and the view of the lake – but they are nice. Six have a tiny kitchen, a bathroom with shower, a living room, and a bedroom with bunkbeds. Six others have a sleeper sofa in the living room but no separate bedroom. All have a screened-in porch with a table and chairs – the best place to sit and enjoy the view.
There is a mixture of oak woodlands, oak savannahs and wetland areas. After the Swensons sold the resort to a church group a lot of buildings were added, most of which have been removed by the DNR to enhance the natural areas of the park. There are three trails: a half-mile paved bike trail that connects the gatehouse to the picnic shelter and welcome center, a half-mile trail along the lake, and a 2.5-mile trail for multi-use, including mountain bikes. The longer trail loops through woodlands, along wetlands, and over open meadows.
The land was acquired in 2007 through the coordinated efforts of Ralph and Sherry Trine (hence the name), ACRES Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, the Natural Heritage Trust (the license plates with the eagle), and other local organizations and individuals. When everyone works together, amazing things can happen, and this new property is a prime example of that.
We walked out to the picnic shelter and beyond to view what at one time was a concrete amphitheater and is now being restored to a natural wetland. Along the way we saw a pair of sandhill cranes. Fred said they had nested along the shoreline in the past.
Fred tried hard to find us a skunk cabbage as a sign that spring really would be here soon, but to no avail. But don’t despair. Saturday I found a whole bunch of them growing in the park behind my house, so spring really is coming!