UFO’s and other curious finds in 50 years of Elkhart County Parks – South Bend Tribune

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To mark the 50th anniversary of the Elkhart County Parks, I rooted around for its oddest, most mysterious parts. So, when you come to the parks’ free birthday bash Sunday at Ox Bow County Park, maybe you’ll find evidence of that UFO.

Far out discs

Ox Bow County Park, the first of the county parks, is the former site of the Elkhart County Home, opened in 1887 and torn down a century later. One relict, a cemetery, remains. The park drew 217 competitors from 15 countries in 1996 for the Disc Golf World Championship. Its 18-hole course had been installed in 1989. But in 1973 county police received reports from people seeing another kind of disc or orb, perhaps a UFO. A news clipping described it as a “large blue ball with a yellow tail” that seemed to land north of Bristol, which is away from Ox Bow. But a police officer did see something near Ox Bow that, the clipping states, “exuded a brilliant greenish-yellow flashing light before it disappeared. No explanation was given as to this sighting.”

Ox Bow County Park, 23033 County Road 45, Goshen

Curious finds in Elkhart County Parks

Edward William Bonney had envisioned a whole community built around his mill. That never happened, but it gave the name for Bonneyville Mill County Park in Bristol. Photo provided

Town that never was

You may have seen the historical water mill at Bonneyville Mill County Park, but did you realize the man who built it, Edward William Bonney, had plans for a community here? Yep, the pioneer bought 80 acres here in 1837 and built the mill believing it would become a hub for people to sustain themselves. But you don’t see any buildings near the mill, other than a one-room schoolhouse that was reconstructed in modern times. That’s because Bonneyville never happened, skunked by a railroad and canals that never reached this wooded spot on the Little Elkhart River. The mill, though, still grinds grain as the oldest continuously operating mill in Indiana.

Bonneyville Mill County Park, 53373 County Road 131, Bristol

Curious finds in Elkhart County Parks

Hikers on the orienteering course at River Preserve County Park in New Paris pass this canal. Tribune Photo/JOSEPH DITS

Seek and find

All you need is a compass. Or a GPS unit. Then you can follow the orienteering course — a seek-and-find challenge — that Nathan Hite, of New Paris, created in Baintertown Park for his Eagle Scout project in 2012. It’s made for Boy Scouts, but anyone can try it. When I asked, even local Scouts officials didn’t know about it, though Hite says some troops do find and use the course each year.

Curious finds in Elkhart County Parks

This first marker in the orienteering course at River Preserve County Park in New Paris is found on the park’s information sign. Tribune Photo/JOSEPH DITS

You start from the visitor information sign by the parking lot. Brochures are sometimes available on the back side of the sign, but to be sure, find a digital copy linked to this story. The brochure lists the 27 markers you will set out to find. It also explains how to measure out your pace so that you can, for example, hike 120 feet at 70 degrees on your compass. There’s also a list of GPS coordinates, if you prefer that. You’ll follow open areas and trails. For each destination, you’ll have to snoop around to locate the red-and-white marker. You’ll enjoy a roughly 2-mile hike by a historical canal, dam and a handsome, red-brick hydroelectric power plant that’s no longer in use — all part of the River Preserve County Park. Hite, who aged out of the Boy Scouts in May, will go to Washington, D.C., this fall to be honored for earning all of the 138 merit badges that are available to Scouts, plus five more.

Baintertown Park, 67380 County Road 29, New Paris, is one of seven sites in the River Preserve County Park. From Goshen, take Indiana 15 south, turn east on County Road 29 for 1 mile and find the park at the intersection with County Road 142.

Curious finds in Elkhart County Parks

Pipewort Pond is seen beyond the buttonbush at Lieber Nature Preserve in Bristol. Tribune Photo/JOSEPH DITS

Cranberry bog?

Don’t come to hunt cranberries for Thanksgiving. Lieber Nature Preserve, aka Pipewort Pond, is sometimes referred to as a “cranberry bog.” Park staff believe it may have viburnums called “highbush cranberries,” which aren’t cranberries at all. Nor are they edible. Besides, it’s forbidden to remove anything from this state-dedicated preserve of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Curious finds in Elkhart County Parks

A platform allows visitors to their only view of Pipewort Pond at Lieber Nature Preserve in Bristol. Tribune Photo/JOSEPH DITS

But there are rare wetland plants and nesting sandhill cranes, along with American woodcock. I hiked the quarter-mile, looping trail on mowed grass to a line of trees. I found a small wooden platform and a hole through the woods to view the wetland. I was greeted by water-loving plants like buttonbush and the bluish-purple flowers of pickerelweed. Hints of late-summer red speckled trees on the horizon. Overhead, a great egret squawked at me and flew off. The county parks maintains the trails and public access at this DNR site.

Lieber Nature Preserve, 51602 County Road 23, Bristol. From downtown Bristol, take Division Street north across the river, veer left and follow County Road 23. The small parking lot is a half mile north of the Toll Road on the left.

Curious finds in Elkhart County Parks

Pipewort Pond is home to several rare plants at Lieber Nature Preserve in Bristol. Tribune Photo/JOSEPH DITS

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