Great Gatherings at Indiana State Parks

State Park Recreation Buildings 

Face it. At some point, you’ll face the daunting task of finding a site for a wedding, family reunion, or other event that carries can’t-fail peer pressure. And you—or at least some of your guests—will demand more than an open-air picnic shelter. Wait. What’s this doing in a travel magazine? Read on. And fear not. 

Many of the same Indiana state parks you visit to relax and recharge offer an affordable solution. Their answer might even wind up being one of the hits of the party for years to come.

Disguised under the pedestrian name “Recreation Buildings” in the DNR Indiana Recreation Guide, is the chance to rent these beauties. Fort Harrison, McCormick’s Creek, Mounds, Ouabache, Pokagon, Potato Creek, Prophetstown, Shakamak and Tippecanoe River state parks each have one.

Similar to the cabins at various state parks, the price and features of the respective buildings vary widely— some are not fully enclosed. The one at each park will suit many needs, but those at Tippy, near Winamac; McCormick’s Creek, near Spencer; Pokagon, near Angola; Mounds, in Anderson; and Ouabache, near Bluffton; can meet most. And, the first three are on the National Historic Register, as is all of Mounds State Park.

Kathy and Jason Bazemore of Winamac chose to celebrate tying the knot at Tippy’s Tepicon Hall in September 2017. “I had been to that building for company picnics,” Kathy said. “We drove by there one day and I said, ‘this would make for great pictures with the river.’ The hall was gorgeous and there is this great stone fireplace.”

Tepicon was completed by the Works Progress Administration in 1938 as the dining hall for the Tepicon group camp, which no longer exists.

“There is a full kitchen. We did all of the cooking there. They have plenty of picnic tables. You just have to arrange them where you want them. They have bathrooms in the building and a couple of other bathrooms around the building.”

Mrs. Bazemore plans to rent the hall again for a family reunion or get-together. “It’s very reasonable,” she said of the rate. Property manager Vern Gillum said the fireplace, which isn’t safe to operate currently, should be ready to go for next summer.

The CCC Recreation Hall at McCormick’s Creek is another historic option with a few different chapters in its story. Indiana’s first state park didn’t get its current form of recreation building until 2009, nearly 100 years after the park was founded.

The structure was built as an open-air shelter for the Purdue Engineering Camp, which was held at the park from 1923-1928. Company 589 of the Civilian Conservation Corps enclosed it to be their rec in hall in 1933. After the CCC left in 1935, the building was converted into the first nature center in Indiana state parks.

Called a nature museum back then, it closed in the early 1970s when the current nature center and swimming pool were built.

The building sat dormant for years until a restoration/preservation effort in the late 1990s. It re-opened for rent in 2004. “Since that time it’s hosted numerous family gatherings,
special events and company retreats,” said interpretive naturalist Sam Arthur. “It’s part of the historic fabric of the park.”

The other recreation building on the National Register is Pokagon’s CCC Shelter. It’s Pokagon’s only building on the register, built by Company 556, which completed it in 1936. Their giant stone fireplace is in working order. The building has upper and lower sections that can be rented separately or together. It also has at least one other feature no other recreation building in the system can claim—a view from either level that overlooks the swimming beach and Lake James. “We have a lot of family reunions there,” said interpretive naturalist Nicole Ball. “The building is well kept. You’d never guess it’s as old as it is.” Pokagon hosts an annual conference called The Great Lakes Parks Training Institute every year.

This past year, the conference featured a social in the building. Ball uses the lawn as a meeting place for groups going on firefly searches. Although the shelter is a four-season building, there is no heat except from the giant fireplace. During the winter, the building is mainly used as the park’s cross-country ski rental headquarters.

Pokagon’s location in northeast Indiana, near Ohio and Michigan, makes it a convenient central meeting place for many Midwest families.

The Lodge, at Ouabache State Park, was built by CCC Company 1592 when the land was the Wells County State Forest and Game Preserve. In its early years, the building was used by governors as a scenic overnight getaway near Kunkel Lake, which the company also built. While the Lodge is day-use only now, it has unique features because of its lofty past.

A former bedroom now serves as a bridal suite, with a dressing table, mirrors, hooks for dresses, and a variety of chairs, including a futon. It too has a huge stone fireplace. Like Pokagon’s rec building, Ouabache’s welcomes its share of family reunions. The family of Bill Aspy, who lives in Hartford City, has gathered there since the mid-1950s.

Last year, they had about 120 guests representing four generations. Some came from as far away as Arizona and Florida. “The Lodge has pretty much stayed the same over the years,” Aspy said. “We really like the fact that the main room is still large and open, the fireplace is still working, and the old cast iron stove in the kitchen is still useable. “Many of our younger family members have never seen anything else like that stove.”

Depending on your needs and where you live, these buildings or those at the other parks men-tioned earlier, might fit your needs and quell the pressure that comes with hosting.

Why settle for having your event in a humdrum setting? Go for history surrounded by Indiana’s outdoors.

Note: Before reserving a recreation building, contact the property from which you intend to rent for specific details. Recreation buildings may be reserved as far as one year (to the date) in advance. Prices range from $79.50 to $150 plus state sales tax and vary by property. The renter will be billed for any damage, breakage, or cleaning cost associated with the rental.

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