72.7 F
Thursday, April 18, 2024

Get Outside

In our corner of the Midwest, we’re fortunate that warm weather means a wide variety of things: strolling on riverfront walking trails, navigating a kayak through inner-city creeks, birding at state parks, planting vegetable seeds, climbing ancient rock formations, or sipping away the afternoon on the porch of a winery. Memorable experiences await all over the Tri-State. Here are some of our favorite ways to greet the new season and get outside!

1. Bike the Greenway Passage
Coast along the Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage’s nearly 7 miles of shared-use urban trails that connect Evansville’s north neighborhoods to the Riverfront Downtown. With five sections winding through natural settings, over bridges, and around public art instillations, the trail, also known as the Evansville Greenway, is one of River City’s premier biking paths.

While many residents haul their own wheels to the trails, the Evansville Trails Coalition launched a new program in 2016 that has recently made a comeback after a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Upgrade Bike Share is a city-wide bike rental program operated through the BLOOM Bike App. Download the app, pick your payment plan (pay as you go rides are $3 per hour), scan your bike, and start riding.

“It provides experiences and a way of getting around,” says ETC executive director Lorie Van Hook. “What better way to experience our trails than on a bicycle?”

Upgrade bike racks are located at several points along the Greenway, including the Four Freedoms Monument at 201 S.E. Riverside Drive.


2. Commune with Nature at Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve
Evansville has long enjoyed the 200 forested acres on the city’s East Side. So, what better place to enjoy nature as it reawakens from its winter slumber than at Wesselman Woods? The country’s largest urban old-growth forest is teeming with wildlife and plants, as well as winding trails from which to observe and sit among them. Book a guided tour through the woods or engage in forest bathing, immersing your senses in the natural atmosphere.

Communing with nature is not just about sitting and enjoying its company. Protection and preservation work also play a big role. Among Wesselman Woods’ many opportunities to appreciate our natural surroundings is the Indiana Master Naturalist class, which pairs participants with natural resource specialists to study geology, arthropods, trees and wildflower identification, and Indiana ecology in an effort to cultivate a stronger understanding of the plants, water, soils, and wildlife right here in the Tri-State.

“Part of connecting and appreciating nature is learning about nature. This class allows people to learn about their environment, because the more you learn, the more you can appreciate it,” says Cindy Cifuentes, Wesselman Woods’ director of natural resources and research.

3. Break a Sweat on USI’s Burdette Trail
Exercise in a gym if it’s your thing, but in spring, nothing beats working out in the great outdoors. Evansville’s West Side boasts some of the Tri-State’s finest scenery, on perfect view via the three miles of pedestrian, bike, and nature trails of the USI-Burdette trail. The greenway path crosses over gently sloped hills, open fields, and old-growth forest with a diverse species of trees and plant life, giving each workout-minded visitor a front-row seat to Southwestern Indiana’s natural beauty, while connecting the picturesque Burdette Park with the University of Southern Indiana’s campus.

Completed in 2012, the winding path is accessible at trailheads next to USI’s Recreation, Fitness, and Wellness Center, to the side of USI’s baseball field, at the Broadway Recreation Complex, and via a paved connecting path from the end of Rochelle Lane.

4. Kayak on Pigeon Creek

The Ohio River may get most of the attention, but when it comes to relaxing water sports, don’t overlook Pigeon Creek. Cutting through six miles of Evansville on its way to the river, the city’s “blue trail” is the perfect way to get out on the water but in a less-trafficked area.

Canoe and kayak launches are positioned on two spots of Pigeon Creek: one on North Green River Road where the creek crosses the road near the Keystone subdivision, and another at the northernmost point of Heidelbach Avenue. Along the way, urban development is shielded from Pigeon Creek by towering trees and lush foliage, nestling kayakers and canoers in another world.


5. Plant a Garden for Good
Put your green thumb to use for the community in partnership with All Saints Catholic Parish (704 N. First Ave.) and Seton Harvest. For the past four years, the church and the community-supported agriculture farm run by the Daughters of Charity have joined forces to host free community produce giveaways in late summer and fall.

But work for the event starts in April each year. For 2022, Seton Harvest is providing several hundred starter seeds donated by Mead Johnson for community members to grow in their own gardens, then harvest, and bring to the giveaways starting in August.

As community support grows, so does the event. In 2021, the parish band played at giveaways, and the wellness committee provided free drinks and recipes. A grant from Welborn Baptist Foundation even covered reusable bags for distributed produce.

“We’re trying to promote healthy lifestyles and healthy eating,” says Deavron Farmer, an event organizer.

Starters will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis by the parish in late April.


6. Stroll Newburgh’s Rivertown Trail
Looking for a scenic stroll? Look no further than Newburgh, Indiana’s Rivertown Trail. Extending nearly the entire length of the town along the Ohio River Scenic Byway, the trail winds past historic downtown and connects the New Locks and Dam Park on French Island Trail to just north of the Driftwood Parke subdivision.

For those with exercise on the brain, the trail offers runners, bicyclists, and pedestrians an up-close view of riverfront beauty, complete with steep banks, sunlight glistening off the Ohio River, and dense woods. Each year, the town hosts 5K and 8K races that use the trail as a substitutional part of the course.
Would you rather enjoy a relaxing walk? Get you steps in along Newburgh’s Water Street. A portion of it has been converted to accommodate single-lane, one-way traffic on half the road while pedestrians use the other half.


7. Engage with History at Angel Mounds
Native American grounds come to life at Angel Mounds State Historic Site in Evansville’s southeast corner. Located on the banks of the Ohio River, Angel Mounds is a preserved constellation of 12 earthen mounds built by Native Americans for ceremonial and residential purposes between the years 1000 and 1450. The grounds’ 600-plus acres now house an interpretive center, recreations of Mississippian buildings, and a working reconstruction of the 1939 Works Progress Administration archaeology laboratory.

“We often do have families from the area and even outside the Tri-State that come to explore, whether that be through an educational experience at our interpretive center and the mounds themselves or the nearby trails and open spaces,” says site manager Mike Linderman.

The non-archaeological portion contains a nature preserve with hiking and biking trails and an 18-hole disk golf course as well as the Angel Mounds Loop Trail, spanning roughly four miles and slicing through the site’s impressive archaeological history and stunning scenery. The site will also be host to a statewide mountain bike rally this fall for the first time ever.


8. Catch a Rare Site at Audubon State Park and Blue Grass Wildlife Areas
John James Audubon State Park, directly across the Twin Bridges in Henderson, Kentucky, is 1,373 acres of woodland, and the newly acquired Audubon wetlands, full of activities from camping, hiking, biking, and — its most popular — birding.

Home to warblers and neotropical migrants, Great Blue Heron, bluebirds, waterfowl, sparrows, and more than 300 total species throughout the year, both Audubon locations are especially active in the spring when Eastern bluebirds, Carolina wrens, and Carolina chickadees court and nest. The Audubon Museum & Nature Center inside the park even has a bird observation room.

“We are known as a birding hotspot,” says Lisa Hoffman, park’s programs services supervisor. “Most of our forest is listed as a nature preserve, so for the exception of trails, it’s left in its natural state. So, it’s a good habitat.”

Traipse the park on your own for a quiet, intimate bird watching experience or join hundreds of enthusiasts who flock to the birthplace of the Audubon Society for the annual Ohio Valley Birding Festival. This year’s event, held in partnership with the Evansville Audubon Society, will take place April 22-24, with day-long main events happening at Audubon on Saturday and Sunday.

Blue Grass Fish & Wildlife Area in nearby Chandler, Indiana, also has ample activities for birders on this side of the Ohio River.


9. Explore Howell Wetlands
A rare ecosystem in the Midwest, the 35 acres that make up Howell Wetlands on Evansville’s West Side provide a close look at marshland, sloughs, and a remnant river oxbow. An abundance of biodiversity lies across the cypress-dotted wetlands and upland meadow, on which cranes, muskrats, beavers, raccoons, and migrating birds gather, offering year-round opportunities for education and recreation. Stroll the more than two miles of hiking trails, wooden walkways, paths, and bridges that encircle and cross Howell Wetlands, Indiana’s largest urban wetlands.


10. Go Fishing and Camping at Lynnville State Park
For good fishing, you don’t have to head south to Kentucky’s lakes and streams. Lynnville State Park, only a half-hour drive from Downtown Evansville, was once Peabody Coal strip-mined land and now boasts 17 interconnecting lakes spread across 275 acres in northern Warrick County. The main lake is stocked with bluegill, catfish, crappie, and large-mouthed bass, and is visited by Canadian geese, beaver, and ducks.
While fishing, keep your eye trained to the wooded acreage surrounding the lakes, as it’s home to whitetail deer, quail, rabbits, squirrels, muskrat, songbirds, wild turkey, and red fox.

Feel like making it a multi-day trip? Lynnville State Park also hosts 24 modern campsites with water, electric and sewer hookups; 16 campsites with water and electric hookups; and 22 frill-free campsites to pitch a tent and sleep under the stars.


11. Tour the Azalea Path Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
Evansvillians love azaleas. We greet spring with vibrant swathes of reds, pinks, purples, and soft whites set among cool-colored hydrangeas and golden forsythias. So, join us as we make the trek north to Azalea Path Arboretum and Botanical Gardens in Gibson County. Beverly and Steve Knight display a staggering 4,000-plus azalea bushes — including 37 of 38 Schroeder azalea hybrids — spread over 60 acres of forest trails, lakesides, koi ponds, and gardens, culminating in one of the largest, most dazzling collections in the region. Traverse three miles of walking trails to study the blooms up close, and don’t miss the intricate artwork carved into surrounding trees that complement this unique Garden of Eden.

The Azalea Path Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is open annually from April 1-June 1. The arboretum also hosts an azalea sale each spring, benefitting the Gibson County Chamber of Commerce’s beautification efforts.


12. Take a sip at Patoka Lake Winery
On the edge of the Hoosier National Forest, Patoka Lake Winery (2900 Dillard Road, Birdseye, IN) describes itself as more than a tasting room. With a gift shop, event venues, onsite lodging, and lakeside surroundings, we couldn’t agree more.

If you’re looking to unwind in the Tri-State, the winery’s tasting room is the place to be. Open daily to the public, a visit can include samples at the wine bar or wine, wine slushies, meats, cheeses, and chocolates purchased and savored in the indoor seating areas or on the covered patio.

Visitors can also buy wine to go and take it back to one of the winery’s unique suites for a complete weekend getaway. Attached to the winery, the two-story silo suites are cyclical luxury rooms built inside of authentic, converted silos. Stay in style while you peruse Patoka Lake, the second-largest reservoir in Indiana, known for its deep blue waters and boating, fishing, tubing, and other aquatic activities.


13. Paint Your Heart Out
Spring hasn’t sprung until New Harmony, Indiana, kicks off its annual First Brush of Spring Plein Air Paint Out. In its 23rd year, the event offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy the outdoors by painting al fresco.

From April 20-23, up to 150 artists from across the country will flock to the preserved utopia for the annual painting competition and exhibition across the idyllic town of New Harmony hosted by the Hoosier Salon New Harmony Gallery.

The weekend starts with the fast-paced Field to Finish competition — with paintings displayed in the salon for the remainder of the weekend for judging — and ends with a final competition judging.

“This show is very special,” says Jeanna McLeish, a painter from Mooresville, Indiana, who has attended First Brush of Spring for nearly 20 years. “It’s the first big event of the season and we get to see a lot of our friends we haven’t seen all winter. Of course, it’s a beautiful little town — an unlimited number of things to paint. There’s always something to paint in New Harmony.”

Not confident in your artistic talents? Spectators are welcome to observe the artists scattered across town or peruse their completed pieces for sale at the Art Sale from 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday in the Ribeyre Gymnasium at 603 Main St. Artists can register online until April 22.


14. Be In Awe at Jasper’s Geode Grottos
Jasper, Indiana, is home to not one but two gorgeous geode grottos. Envisioned by Father Phillip Ottavi in the 1950s as a tranquil space to connect with God, the St. Joseph and Mother of God grottos were built across four city blocks along Bartley Street over the course of a dozen years. The caves, shrines, planters, and monuments are constructed from clusters of locally sourced geode stones set in concrete mortar and interspersed with a mix of natural and man-made objects, such as religious artifacts, marble, seashells, and Indiana’s famous limestone. The site also features large religious sculptures imported from the world-renowned marble quarries in Carrara, Italy; these exquisite pieces of art provide decoration around the St. Joseph shire at the north end and the Mother of God shrine at the south.

Equally awe-inspiring is the Friends of the Grotto’s four years of volunteer work relocating dozens of pieces of the St. Joseph grotto to the Mother of God side because of a planned expansion onto the property by the adjacent Memorial Hospital.


15. Hike at Garden of the Gods
Deep in the Shawnee National Forest of Southern Illinois, Garden of the Gods springs from the ground and rewards hikers with a breathtaking view of the lush greenery that manifests the Tri-State’s largest forest.
“Garden of the Gods consists of spectacular overlooks and views of unusual rock formations,” says Carol Hoffman, executive director of the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau. “One formation, known as Camel Rock, is featured in the America the Beautiful Quarter Program representing Illinois and came out in 2016.”

The unique rock formations that compose Garden of the Gods were formed by more than 320 million years of wind and rain, sculpting natures geology. The result is an awe-inspiring sight and some of the most gorgeous geological formations east of the Mississippi River.
Southern Illinois’ outdoor adventure includes 5.5 miles of interconnecting trails traversing the lively environment of flora and fauna specific to the region. Garden of the Gods is also home to 12 campsites outfitted with fire pits, picnic tables, toilets, and drinking water, allowing guests to set up camp in the scenic forest.


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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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