A Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana released; In search of Bret Kimberlin Lake on the Hickory Ridge Trail

Copies haven’t hit the bookstores yet, but A Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana was released by IU Press on April 1. I don’t have my complimentaries yet, but a reliable source says they will be in stock at Bloomington’s bookstore (yes, the Book Corner is the only one) on Tuesday, April 9.

Signed copies can be ordered from the Natural Bloomington Nature Books website.

Meanwhile, I spent that same April Fools’ Day exploring the Hoosier National Forest’s Hickory Ridge Trail Section 19 in Jackson County, unsuccessfully seeking a path to the elusive Bret Kimberlin Lake. While the 2.5-mile trek's primary mission failed, it did produce the first signs of life in the Southern Indiana backwoods and perhaps one image worthy of my upcoming Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest.

A Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana

The Northern Indiana guide is a companion to the 2016 Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana and is subtitled 125 Unique Places to Explore. The two together feature 244 preserves in Indiana that are protected from development – to different degrees – and open to the public.

Sites include national, state, local and private parks, forests, nature preserves and fish and wildlife areas. They range from 10 acres in size at Latimer Woods behind the Bloomington College Mall to the 204,000-acre Hoosier National Forest, which spans parts of nine counties from Monroe Lake to the Ohio River.

The northern preserves, situated between Interstate 70 and Lake Michigan, are on average much smaller than their southern counterparts. But they are arguably more ecologically significant than the south's more traditional wildness, given the northland’s massive levels of settlement, development and landscape conversion over the past two centuries. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

“Prairie is the most precious natural landscape in Indiana, north or south. Of the estimated two million acres of grasslands that occupied Northwest and North Central Indiana in pre-European settlement times, only one thousand remain. And 40 percent of those survive at just one site—the Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve, a Natural National Landmark situated fifteen miles due east of Cressmoor [Nature Preserve] in Griffith.”

An article will soon be published in Great Lakes Echo, a nonprofit news site at Michigan State University that watchdogs environmental issues in the Great Lakes Basin. Written by Gina Navaroli, the article will feature comments from Matt Williams, author of Indiana State Parks: A Centennial Celebration, also published by IU Press.

The mysterious Bret Kimberlin Lake

While plotting a hike on the Knobstone Trail’s Hoosier National Forest section south of the Charles C. Deam Wilderness, I spotted a small waterbody on Google Maps apparently named for a man known as the Speedway Bomber.

What I know, largely from local lore and a 1992 New Yorker article "The Prisoner and the Politician," is that Brett (two Ts) Kimberlin was a 1970s Broad Ripple businessman and dope dealer who did time in federal prison for marijuana smuggling and a series of random bombs that exploded in 1978 near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Prosecutors argued the explosions were intended to distract attention from the murder of a Kimberlin employee and acquaintance. No one was killed, but one man lost a leg. Kimberlin was not charged relative to the murder.

He also claimed to have sold pot to Vice President Dan Quayle when the latter was a student at Indiana University.

I believe it was the article that said Kimberlin owned a home in Jackson County, which made the namesake lake in that county’s northwest corner all the more curious. Was it possible that he owned the land and built the lake, which the federal government ended up with after his trial? A better question: Does it exist? It's not common to find Hoosier National lakes and ponds without at least a walking path.

Google Maps places Kimberlin Lake west of Tower Ridge Road above Combs Creek. Via a windshield survey, I found no obvious path from the roadside at the creek. From Trail Section 19 on a towering ridge top above the creek, I located the ravine that would feed the lake but no trail or visual contact. It does not appear on Forest Service or other maps I consulted.

I’m not intrigued enough to research the lake’s history, but the mystery was compelling enough to plan a hike around. And through that, I embarked on a maiden journey through a section of the 48-mile Hickory Ridge Trail I’d never wandered.

That produced some much needed exercise and a small but seasonally encouraging Photo Album.

Hoosier National Forest Photographs: Hickory Ridge Trail, Jackson County.


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