Brown County State Park
by Jeff Tryon
Brown County State park is the crown jewel in Indiana’s state park system, a natural treasure that is consistently ranked among the nations best national parks.
It all began with the idea of Nashville resident Lee Bright, who wrote a letter to Col. Richard Lieber, a national leader of the state park movement, about the idea of a Brown County State Park. Col. Lieber showed no interest and no funding was available. But in 1923, George Mannfeld, state superintendent of the Division of Fisheries and Game, became interested in the idea and pushed Col. Lieber to establish a game preserve here. The Indiana Conservation Commission authorized the purchase of several thousand aces of land, some bought as cheap as ten dollars an acre.
The largest park in the state park system, Brown County first opened to the public in 1929 and within the first few years developed hallmark facilities still sought out by sightseers and travelers today: The Abe Martin Lodge, cabins, the saddle barn, Strahl Lake, and the swimming pool. The entrances and many of the roads and trails were developed in the first few years.
In 1932, the Park got another of its landmarks, the covered bridge, which spans Salt Creek at the North Entrance. The Department of Conservation dismantled the Ramp Creek Bridge near Fincastle, Indiana and moved it here the following year.
Then in 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began a monumental work of planting black locust, black walnut, pines, and spruces to help combat extreme erosion on the property. These CCC workers also built many of the existing buildings, shelters, ovens, roads, and trails as well as the two rustic lookout towers at either entrance.
It was the CCC workers who cleared most of the vistas along the park roads, and by 1935 they had built Lake Ogle.
By 1940, the purchase of private lands had ended and most of what is now the Brown County State Park—about 15,000 acres—was owned by the state. Small purchases since that time have added another 1,000 acres.
About 70 miles of bridle trails and over twelve miles of well-developed hiking trails including a new easy-access trail, allow visitors to get into the forested hills and take in the scenic grandeur on foot or by horseback. Most of the area of the park, in the southwestern and eastern sections, can only be visited this way.
The Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve within the park provides a beautiful, self-guided nature trail.
The park is a picnicker’s paradise with facilities ranging from roofed shelters with fireplaces and nearby comfort stations to a few picnic tables scattered along an incredible Brown County vista.
The Park’s nature center gives a close-up look at snakes, turtles, bees and a room from which to watch birds. In addition, there are several museum-type exhibits which educate and fascinate, including a collection of junk and oddities picked up along the back trails by park employees through the years.
Naturalist services are available year-round and are headquartered at the nature center.
Wildlife abounds at Brown County State Park and visitors are likely to see or encounter a whole range of species that are adapted to life in the forest and the forest fringe, including white-tailed deer, raccoons, gray squirrels; and songbirds like robins, nuthatches, bluejays, cardinals, and crows. Sightings of wild turkeys—sometimes large groups of them—are not uncommon.
Visitors in vehicles should pull off the road to observe wildlife. Feeding of wildlife is prohibited.
In Brown County’s early history, bears, wolves and cougars, or panthers as they were known locally, were recorded in these parts around the mid-1800s. Local legend has it that two bears made their residence somewhere on Weed Patch Hill (sight of the current firetower).
Campsites are available year-round. The campgrounds have electrical hook-ups, showers, and modern comfort stations. Camping is permitted only in designated campgrounds. Youth groups must be under adult supervision.
There is also a horseman’s camp located in the southern part of the park.
For a more comfortable visit, visitors can try the 84-room Abe Martin Lodge or one of 24 sleeping cabins in the surrounding woods. The lodge also offers meeting rooms and a dining room.
The park has a swimming pool, two large shelter houses, children’s playground equipment, two fishing lakes, and a country store for picnic supplies and souvenirs.
Swimming is not allowed in the fishing lakes and there’s no fishing in the swimming pool!
For more information you can write Brown County State Park, P.O. Box 608, Nashville, Indiana 47448 or call the park office at 812-988-6406.