Summit Lake is a state park in the U.S. state of Indiana, located approximately 20 miles (32km) northeast of Terre Haute near Bluffton. The park was formed after the damming up of a small creek to create farmland and power for local industry; today it features recreational facilities including camping sites, boat launch, picnic areas, hiking trails, mountain bike trail, playgrounds, cabins, and lodge. It also preserves several archaeological sites from various eras, ranging in age from prehistoric times to World War II.
Two historic buildings are part of the park’s Summit Lodge complex, which includes four additional structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1934 and 1938. The park receives nearly 640,000 visitors annually. In 2015, an extension to the park opened, increasing its size to 1,300 acres (530ha). A new dog park has been created with space for 75 dogs. There are over 200 campsites at the park, ranging from modern RV sites to tent campgrounds to primitive walk-in sites. Backflow from the reservoir provides potable water for drinking and cooking. Boats can be launched into the lake waters or into the adjacent Paw Paw River. Hiking leads to scenic overlooks on both sides of the river, nature trails through wooded areas, and access to the CCC ruins. Bicycling is allowed throughout the park, but not on the lakeshore.
Dogs are permitted off their leashes within certain parts of the park, and there is a designated area just for them. There is one main entrance to the park, though there are other entrances around the perimeter that may be used depending on where you plan to fish; these are free unless posted otherwise. Access via I-70 requires users to pay an entrance fee, however pedestrians may enter the park for free when there is no gate present. Campsites cost $10 per night, and reservations are accepted. The park closes at dusk, so the campers have to be in the park and others out of the park at that time. Pets are prohibited in all campground/reservoir areas. No alcoholic beverages, glass, kites, drones, fireworks, hunting, or unlicensed motor vehicles are allowed.
The lake freezes during winter, but swimming is never recommended because of the dangerous conditions. Ice fishing takes place along the frozen surface, and skating occurs on the lake during warmer months. Skating rinks are provided during warm weather months. Summit Lake has a beach on the north side of the reservoir, accessible via a road across the dam spillway. This is the only public access to the lake itself, and swimming is not allowed. On the south side of the dam, there is a group camping facility run by the Friends of Friendswood. It has 50 sites, each with electric hookups, plus restrooms, showers, and a holding tank dump station. Water is available nearby.
There is another public access area providing views of the lake and beach, as well as parking for about 100 cars, and a boat ramp. Boat ramps are found on both banks of the reservoir, although they are free only on the lower bank. Fish cleaning stations are provided, and bait & tackle shops are nearby. The park contains two major historical resources dating back to the 1930s: the CCC ruins and the Summit Lodge.
The park hosts educational programs offered by the Environmental Education Division of the Department of Natural Resources, school groups, family day events, and interpretive walking tours. Interpretive displays inside the lodge and at the park visitor center provide insight into the lives of the workers who built the park, their families, and the communities in which they lived. The park has five loop trails totaling more than 30 miles (48km), some passing through multiple ecological zones. All are easily accessible from the park’s paved multiuse path system. Trail information is available at the park office. The Summit Lodge is located at the top of the hill above the campground and the reservoir. Built by the CCC, it consists of four separate buildings connected by covered arcades. Three of the buildings contain single room suites, while the largest contains dormitory style rooms accommodating 40 people each.
Each building has a full kitchen, bathroom, and indoor plumbing. Outside there is a large grassy yard surrounding a pond, as well as a smaller yard next to the garage. The lodge is heated in the winter season, and air conditioning is available for those who wish to have it on during the summer. Visitors can rent bicycles to use on any of the park trails, or take guided hikes led by a professional hiker whenever the main paths are closed due to snow or icy conditions. There is a 2 mile (3.2km) mountain biking trail specifically designed by Velo Orange. The park has a special permit required to drive onto the dam spillway, as it is private property. Permits may be purchased at the park office. There is a popular spot to view the spawning patterns of the brown trout in the spring, located upstream of the dam spillway. An easy 0.5-mile (0.80km) hike leads to a scenic overlook of the entire park. Dog owners should note that there is a 75 cent fee for each dog that enters the park.
The former were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, and the latter received similar treatment in 1996. The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) was established during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal era to provide work relief during the Great Depression. Over 16,000 men were assigned to government projects in every state. They constructed bridges, roads, shelters, parks, dams, and waterways. Their efforts left behind a lasting legacy of infrastructure improvements that benefit society today.
One hundred years later, Summit Lake State Park continues to preserve and promote the preservation of our natural environment. The CCC ruins are open year round, and many of the original structures remain standing, including three stone fireplaces, a concrete water tower, and a custodian’s house. These are protected under the Indiana Heritage Trust Act.
- northern pike