La PORTE — Paddlers will have a chance to experience some of the city's history and enjoy some of its most beautiful natural areas on the annual boat trek on La Porte's chain-of-lakes.

The La Porte County Conservation Land Trust and the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association co-sponsor the free event each year to encourage the public to enjoy the =local lakes. Each year between 25 to 30 boats and 50 to 60 individuals take part.

The 10th annual celebration and boat trek is Sept. 21, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., co-sponsored by the La Porte City Parks and Recreation Department.

The excursion will begin at Cummings Lodge and follow two different paths. One route will travel north into Pine Lake. Boaters following this northward deepwater trek will reach Unity Park.

The other route will head southward through Hennessy Lake to the Weller Avenue bridge, and features a course of wild, natural habitats of many native wetland species. Because the bridge is an impediment to further passage, paddlers will turn around and return from there.

Intrepid boaters are encouraged to trek the length of Lily Lake, from Hawthorn Street to the Weller Avenue bridge, on their own time. Lily Lake also presents boaters with a wild, natural aquatic environment. This will give a perspective of how much additional territory could be added to the Blueway if passage under Weller Avenue was possible as it was in the past.

This year Wilderness Inquiry will join the event to offer boating instructions and rides on voyageur canoes.

Robert J. Boklund, vice president of the La Porte County Conservation Trust, said La Porte has been associated with its lakes since its beginning.

“Nineteenth century historian Jasper Packard noted that these lakes were the very reason why the county seat was located here, in the first place,” Boklund said. “The French habitants of this region had called them La Petite Lacs: ‘the little lakes'.”

Boklund said boating on La Porte’s chain-of-lakes is an ancient tradition.

“It likely began when the Potawatomi or the Miami first plied their canoes or dugouts across these waters,” Boklund said. “They were probably looking for game or other sustainables.”

Since the establishment of the town in 1832, Boklund said, boats of all kinds have traversed the lakes as have countless boating fishermen.

“I can recall in the 1970s when a transplanted Louisiana Cajun took his pirogue over the waters of Lily Lake every day when that lake was sufficiently ice-free,” said Boklund. “He collected snapping turtles from his traps for turtle soup.”

The heyday of the steamboat on lakes was from the 1870s to the early 1890s.

“The steamboats brought statewide fame to La Porte back then,” Boklund said. “One summer ... newspaper editors held a convention here. Having been treated to a night time cruise, they declared La Porte to be ‘... the prettiest little city in Indiana.’”

A lengthy period of low water levels occurring in early 20th century precipitated a multitude of “ills” that would befall this lake system, Boklund said.

“Not the least of these was a kind of public ‘amnesia’ about the lakes’ former areal extent,” Boklund said. “Too frequently, this ‘amnesia’ resulted in our lakes being permanently fragmented by causeways, atop which streets, railroads and other thoroughfares were built.”

Often the resulting smaller lake fragments were filled. When water levels rose again, said Boklund, the surface area of the lake system was diminished, creating floodwater situations.

A considerable extent of the inter-connectedness of these local lakes remained through the 20th century to the present, Boklund said, but the public consciousness of that inter-connectedness never returned to what it was in the heyday of the steamboats.

Participants in the boat treks will meet at the Stone Lake beach house. Boats and life jackets will be provided for those without their own. Kayaks and canoes can be reserved at nwipa.org, but event organizers need prior notification to know how many boats are needed.

Participants are responsible for their own water, sun screen and bug spray. Old tennis shoes are better to wear than sandals or flip-flops.

The event will begin with registration at 9 a.m. at Cummings Lodge. The launch will begin at 10 a.m. An orientation session featuring safety and historical information will precede the launch, and a potluck will be held at the trek’s end.

For further information, or to make a reservation, contact Stan Shepard of NWIPA at (219) 921-3050 or Stylianos.Shepard@gmail.com. For more information about the sponsoring organizations, go to nwipa.org and lpcct.org.

—From staff reports

Remembering a past journey through La Porte's Chain-of-Lakes 

La PORTE – Robert J. Boklund, vice president of the La Porte County Conservation Trust Inc., recounted his own trek through some of La Porte’s lakes.

Boklund recalled how back in the 1970s, he and his brother William tested the recreational potential of the chain-of-lakes by traveling via johnboat from Central Avenue to Johnson Road.

They had to portage at two places — Hawthorn Street, where the culvert pipe linking the two parts of Lily Lake is less than 2 feet in diameter, and the Weller Avenue bridge, which is really a large culvert.

“Incredibly, in the 1950s, when water levels were much lower, fishermen would sometimes be able to traverse under that ‘bridge’. They would lie down in their boats and hand walk their vessels until they came out the other side.” Boklund said of the Weller Avenue culvert. “By the time we took our trip, that passage had been completely blocked by water and muck.”

The trip took the Boklund brothers two and a half hours.

“The characteristics of these interconnected lakes changed successively like a kaleidoscope as we traveled this route,” Boklund said.

He described Lily and Hennessey as quiet with abundant wilderness while Stone had choppy, open, deep water.

“From the instant we left the Stone Lake Channel, huge Pine Lake was abuzz with activity,” Boklund said. “So much so that our little johnboat had to practically hug the shore in order to avoid getting swamped by speedboats and skiers.”

During this trek, they encountered a small, slightly submerged island just off the Holmes Island peninsula. The island was created from the dirt of a temporary road linking Holmes Island with Pine Lake Road during the 1960s lakes’ dry-up. As water levels began to rise, the road was bulldozed.

“This ‘snag’ provided us with mild amusement,” Boklund said. “We took turns standing upon it, while the other took pictures.”

From there, they rowed to their final destination, Johnson Road. After completing the trip, they headed to where Kiwannis-Teledyne Park is today and landed their vessel.

“It had proved to be an interesting, intriguing trip, but what stuck most in our minds was that we very well may have been the first people in the 20th century to take this particular boat route — even though it had been a routine course for steamboats in the 19th century,” Boklund said.

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