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Hike into nature's past at Potato Creek

Hike into nature's past at Potato Creek

A glimpse back at the way Indiana looked before urbanization is just a convenient drive away for Northwest Indiana residents.

Potato Creek State Park, near North Liberty, is notable for its variety of activities and natural landscapes.

"The visitor at Potato Creek experiences woods, fields, restored prairies and wetlands," Tim Cordell, interpretive naturalist at the park, observed.

Activities include camping, fishing, hiking, picnicking, bicycling, swimming and even cross-country skiing and ice-fishing in winter.

Covering six square miles, Potato Creek State Park attracts an estimated 600,000 visitors a year. Camping is the biggest draw, according to Cordell.

The relatively new park ranks in the top four or five in the state in the number of visitors, lagging behind Brown County, the most popular park, and in the running with Dunes, Turkey Run and Spring Mill.

Created in 1977, eventually Potato Creek State Park will be all woods, except the areas that are being treated as prairie with controlled burning used to maintain a prairie landscape of native grasses and forbs, or wildflowers.

Wildlife is abundant too, especially in the restored wetlands, where one might see songbirds, raccoon, fox, coyote and wild turkey. The park has two osprey nests.

The diversity of habitats contributed to the park's being named an Important Bird Area in 2006. The designation is reserved for areas that are critical for birds during some part of their life cycle.

One of the changes made when the park was opened 1977 was the damming of Potato Creek to form Lake Worster. The creek had been dammed earlier in several places to create mills in pioneer days.

Lake Worster is used for swimming, boating and fishing. The late Darcy Worster had been an early booster of a park on Potato Creek, collecting edibles and nuts along the roads, and fashioning the latter into figures of bugs and other creatures.

One of the recent additions to the park is a mountain-bike trail that is being maintained by a new volunteer group, the Friends of Potato Creek State Park.

The park has hiking trails ranging from 1 mile to 2-1/2 miles long and from easy to rugged. Bicycle trails and three bridle trails also are in the park. No horses are available for rent.

Camping is restricted to designated campgrounds. There are also family cabins that are rented Saturday to Saturday during the summer and may be rented on weekends at other times of the year.

Various programs for visitors are provided throughout the year. A full-time naturalist is on duty at the nature center, where many of the programs are held.

The northwest area of the park contains the Swamp Rose Nature Preserve, home to beavers and other wildlife.

Potato Creek State Park is located in a historical part of the state, near the site of an African-American settlement that produced a pocket of integration in the years before and after the Civil War.

Descendants of these pioneers and others are buried in the Porter Cemetery near the park's center.

What to bring ...

Depending on your interests, things like fishing poles, mountain bikes or camping gear.

If you go ...

Parking spaces are readily available in all areas of the park open to public use. The daily entrance fee for Indiana residents is $4 Monday through Thursday and $5 Friday, Saturday, Sunday holidays. Annual permits are available, and various fees apply for special purposes like boat and canoe rentals. Family cabins are for rent; reservations are advised. Motels are available in Plymouth. (574) 656-8186. Information about Indiana state parks is available at www.dnr.IN.gov.

How to get there ...

Potato Creek State Park is located at 25601 State Road 4, North Liberty. Take the Indiana Toll Road east to U.S. 31 and go south through South Bend to State Road 4, then go west to the park entrance. Other routes include following US 6, US 30 and US 20 and Ind. 2.

What's there ...

The variety of natural areas makes Potato Creek State Park a special treat.

You'll like ...

Visitors enjoy the opportunity to relax away from the city and to camp near the lake, seeing sights like the park's two osprey nests.

Kids will like ...

All the natural beauty and the nature center with its special programs and opportunities to learn crafts.

And don't miss ...

The restored prairie plants, whose scenery resembles what much of the Midwest looked like years ago.

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