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SUMMER / FALL 2019      © 2021 812 Magazine

STATE PARKS: Brown County


The largest state park in Indiana, Brown County holds a special place in the hearts of 812 Hoosiers. No matter what age, Brown County has something for everyone.


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Fallen trees lay across a ditch along Trail 1 in Brown County State Park. /Photo by Nicole Krasean.

As Indiana’s largest state park, Brown County holds a special place in the hearts of Southern Indiana Hoosiers. Whether you’re hiking the many trails or going for a ride on a horse from the Saddle Barn, 812 has your insider guide.

Spanning over 15,000 acres, Brown County can fit Spring Mill, McCormick’s Creek and Clifty Falls inside its borders and offers options for every type of person. Mountain bikers can test their skills at the famous Hesitation Point. But if that sounds too risky, you can still hike up and see the beautiful view.

“My life wouldn’t be complete without it,” says Don Glass, a naturalist at Brown County. “I like every part of it.”

Must-sees

If you have a day to spend in Brown County, these are must-sees.

Hesitation Point: One of Brown County’s most famous biking trails, mountain bikers come from all over the country to attempt the trail. It’s a two-mile uphill or downhill ride, depending on which way you come from. Luckily, it’s accessible by bike and car, so hiking enthusiasts and families with small children can all take advantage of the view.

Nature Center: Head to the Nature Center to learn about all the wildlife of Brown County. The center offers interactive exhibits to immerse you in the park, including different garden displays and a live snake exhibit. As an added bonus, you can observe birds and other forest animals in the bird watching room. If you aren’t up for hiking, the center also offers a guided audio tour you can listen to in your car.

The Saddle Barn: Anyone interested in horseback riding can head over to the Saddle Barn for a relaxing trip through the forest. There are guided trail rides for adults and older children that let you explore the park without having to hike the hills yourself. Rides cost $15 for 35 minutes or $25 for one hour. Riders must be at least 7 years old.  Younger kids can take pony rides that cost $2 per lap.

Ogle Lake: Ogle Lake is open year-round for fishing, even when it’s frozen over. Though there is no formal boat rental, visitors are allowed to use their own non-motorized personal boats. Be sure to stop at the park office to get a fishing permit if you haven’t already. Permits are required to fish and cost $9 for the day or $17 for the year.

What gems is Brown County hiding?

Some of Brown County’s hidden places.

Being the largest state park, Brown County has plenty of places that are off the beaten path. We asked some naturalists what their favorite hidden spots in Brown County are.

These places aren’t normally shown on the map, so make sure that you ask a naturalist where to go and don’t try anything above your skill level.

Deserter’s Cave: Though this isn’t an actual cave, it holds some interesting history to Brown County. Deserter’s Cave is an overhang discovered during the time of the Civil War. Legend claims the sandstone structure was the site where some soldiers hid after deserting their troops, hence the name.

Deer Rock: This rock is the spot where a squirrel hunter supposedly shot the last surviving white-tailed deer in Brown County in the 1990s. Since then, the deer have repopulated thanks to reintroduction efforts.

Hesitation Point at Sunset: Hesitation Point may be one of Brown County’s most well-known spots, but not many visitors take the time to see Hesitation Point at sunset. Because it’s facing west, you’ll get the perfect view of the colorful sky.

Finding Bigfoot

The search is on, and it’s in Brown County.

The search for Bigfoot is happening right here in Brown County State Park. According to the Bigfoot Field Research Organization, there have been 76 reports of the elusive beast in Indiana — including reports inside the park's borders.

The last two reports in Brown County were in the 1990s, the organization reports. But that doesn’t stop the hunters. Plenty still employ a series of strategies to lure Bigfoot out of hiding, Bigfoot hunter Brad Gutman said. 

If you’re taking a hike and want to try your hand at finding Bigfoot, Gutman has are some things to keep in mind.

1. Use a Bigfoot call

Bigfoot make a very specific call, like a low-pitched wolf howl. After making the call, Gutman says to wait and listen for a reply.

2. Make some tree knocks

Another traditional Bigfoot signal is knocking on a tree. Pick up a large stick and bang it against the trunk. Gutman says that tree knocks usually yield the best results.

3. Be patient

Gutman says Bigfoot are very intelligent and sometimes it can take a little while before you get a call or knock back. Keep trying, and listen closely for anything unfamiliar in response.

Trail Guide: Trail 5

By Nicole Krasean

At just three-fourths of a mile, Trail 5 is the shortest of the 12 hiking trails in the park, but it’s also the most rugged. Trail 5 also features 17 stations on a self-guided nature tour, but I found it to be a great hike through the undisturbed Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve.

The 41-acre preserve was created to protect yellowwood trees discovered there in 1933. While hiking the trail, I saw several yellowwoods as well as beeches and ferns. I thought the yellowwood was the prettiest, and make for wonderful pictures. While I didn’t see any creatures besides squirrels and another hiker’s dog, salamanders, deer, turtles and raccoons are said to be living here, too.

In the spring, the Nature Preserve comes alive with foliage. You can find mayapples, spiderwort, celandine poppies and other wildflowers while on your walk, so bring a camera to get photos of all the colors.

I entered the trail at the end of the Ogle Ridge and Rally Campground parking lot and walked down the flights of stairs that lead to the dirt trail. (I would find out later that the stairs are easier to climb down than up.)

Once on the trail, I wound my way around a ridge that overlooks a ravine. In a couple places I had to step over large fallen tree limbs or bend some overhanging branches to walk past. I really enjoyed the obstacles, but I recommend good walking shoes and pants.

Walking one way along the trail took me about 20 minutes – I was surprised when it was already over. The trail descends 240 feet into the ravine and then runs into moderate Trail 4, which loops back to the campground. You can also pick up Trail 7, one of the park’s most popular hikes, which circles Ogle Lake.

For similar “rugged” adventures, check out Trails 9 and 10.

Brown County by the numbers

By Nicole Krasean

1. 15, 776 acres of land

2.  9 mountain biking trails, totaling about 25 miles

3.  5 bathroom areas

4.  3 towers; the North Lookout Tower, the West Lookout Tower, and the Fire Tower

5. 1058 feet above sea level at the base of the Fire Tower, the highest elevation

6.  500 feet above sea level near the Covered Bridge at the north entrance, the lowest elevation              

A history of conservation

By Nicole Krasean

Long before Brown County was a state park, it was home to tribes of Native Americans like the Delawares. They harvested the food animals hadn’t eaten, like berries and nuts, and lived in temporary wigwams made of reeds and cattails laid over saplings bent into domed shapes. These people left the land mostly undisturbed. Naturalist Jim Eagleman says that the Native Americans were probably content with simply admiring the landscape around them.

But the settlers who came around 1820 weren’t so careful. They cleared most of Brown County’s trees in the 19th century for farming.  The settlers used the wood to sell as furniture, with hickories going to barrel trades and white and chestnut oaks going to leather tannery businesses.

This deforestation came to little as settlers found the hilly land and poor soil wasn’t good for farming, and many gave up and abandoned the area.

But Richard Lieber, known as "the father of the state parks," visited Brown County in 1910 and suggested a portion of land be set aside for a state park. At the time, state funds couldn’t be used for the purchase of land for a state park, but they could be used for a game preserve.

So Lee Bright, a Nashville school teacher and insurance salesman, purchased land as an agent of the state. This land was used to establish a preserve in Brown County in 1926. He spent $12.58 an acre.

“The land is so vast and really rewarding,” Don Glass, Brown County park naturalist, said. “After you leave the park, you’ll be tired, but you’ll feel good having experienced it.”

In 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted hundreds of trees and plants to heal erosion and built many of the limestone structures that remain today.

Brown County was officially made a state park in 1941. In the years since, it has evolved into a nationally known destination.  “Comparing how your favorite vista has changed since you last saw it could be the most enjoyable outing of the year,” says Eagleman in an essay he wrote on the park. “Or, perhaps, of your life.”      

Saddle Barn's oldest resident

By Nicole Krasean

Of the 70 horses and 10 ponies at the Brown County Saddle Barn, one stands out. Macaroni the pony has been at the park for almost 20 years, arriving in 1996.

Macaroni is a female strawberry roan, which means her chestnut brown skin has a pink tint to it. She normally wears a black saddle. From mid-March through the first or second week of November, Macaroni gives rides to kids three or four days a week for $2 a lap. She gets to rest on her days off.

Twice a day an employee at the barn feeds her corn and oats. She eats hay in her stall and gets baths when it rains.

Jordan Bair, who has run the Saddle Barn for nine years, says Macaroni is well-behaved and sweet, which, combined with her lengthy career at the barn, makes her a celebrity. Sometimes people she gave rides to when they were kids come back with kids of their own.

If your child wants to ride Macaroni, you'll need to accompany them.

Meet a deer

By Nicole Krasean

“Oh, hello there. I thought I saw you out of the corner of my eye; you startled me."

“A hundred years ago, none of us lived in Indiana. Luckily, some people decided to bring us back to the forests where we are now.”

“Don’t be deceived by my mild manner. My family and I can decimate a forest when we’re hungry.”

“We like to eat flowers, grass and other leafy things. Contrary to my nimble body, I can eat 15 to 20 pounds of food a day.”    

“We deer don’t have any other animals hunting us around here. Isn’t that lovely?”

“A couple decades ago, humans hunted us to make sure we didn’t eat all of the forest. It was very scary and now we're even shyer around people.”

“Humans says our family sizes have to be kept under control to keep the forests healthy. I love my home, so I’m okay with that.”

A memory of Brown County

From Jake Brinkman

“I remember it quite well. It was a chilly morning, December 5, 1992. There were five of us. I had only been in Boy Scouts for a few weeks. We were supposed to travel from Strahl Lake to Ogle Lake. We somehow got turned around on Taylor Ridge, and it was too difficult to backtrack. One of my buddies and I decided to build a fort. We huddled together throughout the night. It got down to 15 degrees and was sleeting. There were helicopters flying overhead with heat sensing technology, but they only found sleeping deer and missed us. In the morning, runner Chris Curtain found us. It was an adventure. Definitely a lesson in being prepared. That’s the Boy Scout motto.”